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Updated: 5 hours 58 min ago
If you’re like me, you’re tired of watching America head downhill, especially when it means the erosion of our culture, wealth, faith, and the steamrolling of our rights and liberties. And if you’re like me, you want to do something about it as soon as possible.
But you also probably know better than to believe that the problems thrust upon us will be fixed by a change of administrator in Washington, though many seem to be falling for this illusion. These days, altering the seating arrangement in Congress every so many years is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We’ve seen the great Pennsylvania Avenue parade before, dozens of times, and each time the wars continue, the welfare increases, government balloons in size, and debt goes through the roof (until they raise the ceiling again, of course). Isn’t it time we focused on something besides the same old failed “solution”?
We need solutions that work, and it’s time to get serious, even if it means starting small, planning long, and making sacrifices.
You’re probably talking to all kinds of people—regular folks, as well as pastors, teachers, politicians, and many other leaders in society—often asking the question, “What can we do?” I have heard that question myself many times, especially in response to the worldview taught here at American Vision. Sounds great, but what is to be done? It was my goal, therefore, to sit down and begin a training project, privately funded, to be promoted and given away free online, that provides simple and clear answers to that question. My project, called “Restoring America One County at a Time,” is that attempt.
We cover ten major topics, beginning with education, welfare, and local government. We emphasize the things we can do right now; and these are the things that must be done first if we are to make any further progress in this battle. This is the heart and soul of the project: recovering local sovereignty and local freedom. Everything else that follows in restoring America is either based on the same principles already covered, or they require much more progress to be made before they become viable to accomplish.
So, since what we covered first is so fundamental, vital, and so ready for the taking, I want to provide it as an overview of the big picture for you. Here’s a “2-minute” version below. (If you wish to move on to the detailed look already, visit my Restoring America master page.
First, education is the easiest thing to recover, and the most vital. Anyone who actually cares that their children be taught Christian faith and liberty, who cares about the foundations and principles of liberty, and/or who decries the principles of socialism (taxing some people to pay for services to others), among other things, is under a moral obligation to provide for their children’s education privately. You’ve got to pull your kids out of public schools. This is how American was originally founded, operated, and it is part of what made America great to begin with. It is time to recover this vision and discipline.
This is quick and easy to do in most states; but it is able to be done in all. In fact, there are no laws in any state mandating that you subject your children to public schooling. This is purely a personal decision—a willing subjugation on the part of the parent—with only economic and lifestyle motivations involved. Every Christian, especially, should pull their children out immediately. Christian children need Christian education. Every church should support homeschooling parents, help with materials and supplemental instruction, and open its own school as well, especially for poorer members. Morally and biblically speaking, there’s really no good reason not to do these things. Only if you let convenience and money trump morality would you continue to support public schooling.
There are still goals to be worked for after making this initial momentous step. We must have in view a world in which tax-funded schooling does not exist, and we must plan and work toward that vision. We should hope to get the State (civil government) out of education entirely. We should at the very least work for tax-exemptions for those who educate at home or otherwise privately. This is only just.
If every professed Bible-believing Christian 1) took responsibility for their own children, and 2) then organized to demand an end to school taxes, the public school system could be defunct within a matter of weeks, and certainly would be within a year. But then again, who cares if they exist in general or not, as long as we obtain the right to opt-out of all taxation that funds the system.
How people react to this first topic of the project to make America great again will show how willing they are to work and sacrifice for freedom in general. If we won’t take back that freedom which lies right in front of us, if we refuse to sacrifice where it’s easiest (although still a sacrifice), then we’re saying on a personal and local level at least, “I want my socialism.” Balking at this point is an admission of complicity in the plunder, or complacency in general. Both reasons would indicate that people are not yet ready to be free. At this point, we’ll see whether the TEA-party is really ready for a party.
Welfare and Social Security
Secondly, centralized State welfare is a failure. In fact, it is a scheme designed to redistribute wealth and enslave us as beggars to the central powers. The answer is individually-funded “retirement” and insurance, family-based welfare for old age, and church or voluntary community solutions for the truly poor and for those few instances which exceed individual or family capacity (true charity cases). A free society will also include at least an option to abstain from the State-run system.
Every church, instead of spending 80% of its income on new building programs and pastor’s salaries, should have a large fund designated for the care of members who are truly biblical widows and orphans. Voluntary communities could do the same, but these would essentially operate as small, private insurance groups (although, don’t dare call it “insurance” or the government and a tribe of lawyers and lobbyists will slaughter you to the gods of the insurance industry in a court of admiralty).
There are some private solutions already successfully at work in this regard. Classically, the Amish and some Mennonite communities have maintained exemption from the Social Security system since they had a private system in place and had religious convictions against it. The same is true of more recent health-care sharing programs like Samaritan Ministries, which obtained exemption from teh central government’s healthcare tyranny for the same reasons.
There is nothing, ultimately, that should limit exemptions to just those groups. Anyone with a religious or any other conviction against it should be free to leave the system. You shouldn’t have to live an Amish lifestyle (though, the country life is a good life!), and you shouldn’t have to prove anything to the government, in order to be free from its ridiculous tyrannies.
The main things we can do here are, first, to create and implement a personal plan in which you provide for yourself and your family first. This means saving at least 25% of your income from as early as possible. If this is currently impossible, then you need to make cuts in your budget until it is. Maintaining a high level of consumption while not saving money, and meanwhile depending on future government taxation of others so that you can quit working at 65, is immoral. For those who profess to believe in freedom, dependence on such coercion-based handouts is self-contradictory. By rather positioning yourself to fund yourself in old age and emergency, you do many great things: 1) you recover individual responsibility, 2) exemplify it for others, 3) you further delegitimize the government system, and 4) you expose the government scheme as unnecessary, and in fact, counterproductive.
There are yet further goals at which to aim. Even while you position yourself as responsible and self-sufficient, the government is still taxing you for Social Security benefits. The goal is to stop this coercive redistribution of wealth entirely, or at least provide an opt-out. The first step is to become self-funded despite the taxation. The second step is to organize a demand for exemption for those who desire it. Obtain this, and you will have freedom from the system, and it will soon disappear altogether. Even if it does not, if it is not allowed to tax (or is prevented by state and local governments) for this purpose, then the option of freedom is on the table for all who would choose it (and of course, who would thereby be agreeing to live with the consequences of freedom as well).
Third, we have got to refocus our political efforts locally. We need much less attention on national elections which tend only to give new rascals the old jobs, and the old rascals huge pensions. We need to plan locally, take back control locally, reject handouts and grants from above, and reject the interference and regulation from higher governments (which often comes attached to the handouts). We need to clean up the socialism and corruption in our own backyards before we pretend to save anything at the national level.
In fact, it can’t happen the other way around. The system itself has grown into a tyrannical bureaucracy. It is theoretically and practically impossible to restore freedom by simply replacing the President and his bureaucrats. The only way to restore freedom is to dismantle the machine, delegitimize it, and/or remove yourself from its path. It is highly unlikely that the vast machine will be dismantled, for the people most in position to do so are also the ones most self-interested in maintaining it. The only way to restore freedom today is to reassert local sovereignty, and this begins with establishing local integrity and freedom, and then moving on to relearn what American local resistance is all about.
For starters, we need to learn about local politics: the people, places, systems, etc. We are way too familiar with national figures, and way too ignorant of locals. Learn about them: names, backgrounds, beliefs, public salaries and pensions, everything. Then, especially, delve into the public finances of your town or county. This knowledge is public, and the financial officer of your locality can provide it for you. Find out how much is taxed, borrowed, paid, on whose authority, and why. You can then better inform and organize for local elections and much more.
Then, start a website documenting everything you’ve learned. Make everything plain and public—very plain, and very public. Find a list of local business owners and make them aware of your work. They are the people who pay the lion’s share of property taxes; they will be happy to see someone tracking it for them, especially if there is corruption or waste. Make everything public. It is not even out of the question to film or otherwise record public meetings, and make that available online also.
Much more. . . .
There is much, much more to cover. We talk about markets, courts, defense, money, and more. We also discuss the need to restore the pulpits of America to positions of prominence, knowledge, and leadership in local political ethics and law—the way the American pulpits used to be! The positions covered are bold, but they represent the way America used to be, and especially the way God’s Word directs us to live. If we want the type of freedom America once had—indeed, even greater freedom—then we have to be honest about things: state it plainly, set goals, and work toward them, even when it seems difficult, uphill, and unpopular. Freedom can be restored in America, one county at a time. If you really want to make America great again, then direct your attention to the hard truths of how it used to be, what the Bible says, how we really lost it, and the hard truth of what it will really take to get it back—sacrifice on our part, and a multi-generation vision of family and church responsibility.
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Help ensure our work in Restoring America reaches as many people as possible. Please like and share our pages, and donate to the ongoing work of American Vision. Check out our hundreds of other resources, and share “Restoring America” with all you friends.
“The welfare state is the best security against communism?”
An essay by Leonard E. Read, from How to Argue with a Liberal . . . and Win! (only $5 in paperback, and free in eBook formats)
This proposed defense against communism is not new, though we hear it afresh almost daily. It has circulated in various shadings since “the cold war” began. A similar excuse was used to finance socialistic governments abroad with American earned income under the give-away programs that by now aggregate nearly $200 billion: “Socialism is a good cushion against communism.”1
Such terms as communism, socialism, Fabianism, the welfare state, Nazism, fascism, state interventionism, egalitarianism, the planned economy, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier are simply different labels for much the same thing. To think that there is any vital distinction between these so-called ideologies is to miss the really important characteristic which all of these labels have in common.
An ideology is a doctrinal concept, a way of thinking, a set of beliefs. Examine the above-mentioned labels and it will be found that each is identified with a belief common to all the others: Organized police force—government—should control the creative and productive actions of the people. Every one of these labels—no exceptions— stands for a philosophy that is opposed to the free market, private property, limited government way of life. The latter holds that the law and its police force should be limited to restraint of violence from within and without the nation, to restraint and punishment of fraud, misrepresentation, predation—in short, to invoke a common justice. According to this way of life—the libertarian ideal—men are free to act creatively as they please.
Under both the welfare state and communism, the responsibility for the welfare, security, and prosperity of the people is presumed to rest with the central government. Coercion is as much the tool of the welfare state as it is of communism. The programs and edicts of both are backed by the police force. All of us know this to be true under communism, but it is equally true under our own brand of welfare statism. Just try to avoid paying your “share” of a TVA deficit or of the farm subsidy program or of Federal urban renewal or of social security or of the government’s full employment program.
To appreciate the family likeness of the welfare state and communism, observe what happens to individual freedom of choice. Under either label (the ideology is the same) freedom of choice to individuals as to what they do with the fruits of their labor, how they employ themselves, what wages they receive, what and with whom they exchange their goods or services—such freedoms are forcibly stripped from individuals. The central government, it is claimed, will take over. Full responsibility for ourselves is denied in order to make us dependent on whatever political regime happens to be in control of the government apparatus. Do these labels mean fundamentally the same thing? As an exercise, try to find any meaningful distinction.
Our planners said, “The welfare state is the best security against communism.” The Russians could have said, with as much sense, “Communism is the best security against the welfare state.”2
We called the Russian brand of governmental coercion “communism.” They, however, referred to their collective as the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” The Russians called our brand of governmental coercion “capitalism.” In the interest of accuracy and clarity, we, also, should call ours “socialist.”
Socialism in Russia (communism, to our planners) and social- ism in the U.S.A. (the welfare state, to our planners) have identical aims: the state ownership and control of the means of production. Further, one as much as the other rests on the use of police force. In Russia the force was more impetuously applied than here. There, they pull the trigger and think later, if at all. Here, the government relies more on the threat of force and acquiescence of the citizen.
Alexis de Tocqueville predicted over a century ago the characteristics of the despotism [the welfare state] which might arise in America:
The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
- The aggregate amount jumped from $78 billion to $200 billion just between the 1962 and 1970 editions of this book. The figure is far worse now: George W. Bush’s 2009 foreign aid budget topped $42 billion, Obama’s 2010 budget contributes $54 billion. The aggregate thus grows by this much per year.
- Since the U.S.S.R. no longer exists, the editor had amended the language from here to the end of the chapter to reflect the past tense. The argument, however, remains just as relevant and ever-present.
Life and Liberty
Life would have its utmost protection in a theonomic state. It would be protected both by the state and from the state. Murderers would be executed (Ex. 21:12–14, 18–25; Lev. 24:17, 19–22). Children in the womb would be protected as living persons. Anyone causing injury to an unborn child would be liable for damages (Ex. 21:22–25). Anyone willfully or through criminal negligence causing the death of an unborn child would be considered a murderer and subject to the death penalty. Abortion would, therefore, be strictly outlawed.
People would be strictly liable for the safety of others on their property. Those found negligent would be strictly liable for damages up to and including criminal negligence for life (Ex. 21:29–36; Deut. 22:8). Pets or livestock known to be a threat to life must be controlled as such. If one should cause injury, damages, or death, the owner could be held liable for all damages up to the death penalty (Ex. 21:29–30). The principle of liability in general, and for life in particular, certainly would extend to factory conditions, workplaces, businesses open to the public, machinery, and more.
Under biblical law, freedom is an aspect of life. While a rehabilitaional form of servitude would exist, the type of chattel (ownership) slavery practiced in the American South would never have existed. Kidnapping, human trafficking, and slave trading all would be punishable by death (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7). Likewise, terrorists, hijackers, all hostage-takers, and carjackers who hold people against their will. The slave traders of the Old South (and other places) would have been executed for their crimes. Likewise, the Fugitive Slave Act would never have been allowed. Slaves escaped from unbiblical jurisdictions would never be returned to their enslavers, but given refuge, freedom, and protection of law, and treated like every other citizen (Deut. 23:15–16). Refugees of war or tyranny would receive similar protections.
By these same life-freedom laws, citizens and families would be protected from the state itself. Government agents who seize children from parents, or who otherwise make false arrests or false imprisonments, could be held liable under laws against kidnapping. Police abuse would disappear as such accountability increased. The privacy of the home would be inviolate (Deut. 24:10–11). A man’s home is his castle, and the castle doctrine would return to its earlier strength, uncompromised by loopholes created by the Supreme Court.
Further, life is protected against malicious witness and fraudulent prosecution. Corrupt individuals who wish to harm others under the color of law will nevertheless meet several hindrances. Two or three witness are required to bring any conviction (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Upon any conviction, the accusers themselves must be the first among parties to an execution (Deut. 13:9; 17:7). Malicious witnesses, however, when discovered, will receive for themselves whatever penalty they wished to execute upon the falsely accused, up to the death penalty (Deut. 19:16–21). This would create a powerful deterrent, which is non-existent today, against false accusations and false prosecutions. Government officials will be held to the same standards as everyone else. Prosecutorial and police immunities would be greatly curtailed if not eliminated.
The laws of warfare maximize the protection of life even during the tragic event of war. Standing armies and military drafts are outlawed. Militias could only be mustered in response to an imminent threat or attack from an enemy. The law provides several exceptions to militia service, including an exception for those who are merely fearful. Anyone perceiving any particular cause to be unjust, and thus anticipating God’s judgment, could decline to serve. This and all other exceptions would not only save conscientious and innocent lives, but would discourage unjust wars. Such conscientious objection would also be considered socially acceptable and even laudable. Only after briefing and allowance for these exceptions would officers be appointed. War proceeds first with attempts at negotiation for peace. If the aggressor refuses peace, war may ensue, but only against military targets. Militias may not target innocents or food or water sources. Upon victory, the nation may extract the costs of warfare from the defeated aggressor (Deut. 20). This means no more lasting debts due to wars, and no more tax increases or inflation to pay for them.
In short, all attempts are made to spare innocent or conscientious life, and warfare is only conducted to repel invaders or attacks. Such laws also entail a foreign policy of non-intervention in general. A theonomic state does not police the world looking for monsters to destroy.
The government would have little to do with sex or marriage. The state would no longer issue marriage licenses. Marriages would be treated as private contracts. Divorces would be handled through private or church courts. Civil government would only enter the picture if necessary to enforce terms of divorce. The integrity of the marriage bed is protected against all forms of incest (Lev. 18:1–18, 20, 22–24). Homosexual marriage would not be a civil right (Lev. 20:13). Businesses could not be required to cater to homosexual celebrations, pretend weddings. Sexual acts with animals could be grounds for punishment (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 18:23; 20:15–16). Transvestitism, pornography, public nudity or indecency, and prostitution would all be shunned (Lev. 19:29; Deut. 22:5; 23:17). Certainly no government could require businesses or individuals to treat transgenders according to their chosen non-gender upon pain of fines or imprisonment. No-fault divorce and easy divorce would be abolished.
Overall, biblical law aims to uphold the biblical family unit—one man, one woman—and to abhor those forms of perversion that threaten its integrity or stability. There are a significant number of moral laws pertaining to sex and marriage, but few remain with civil government sanction.
Some of the most profound improvements would be seen in the areas of property and contracts. First, private property would be a sacred right which would remain inviolate from neighbor, state, and enemy alike.
Punishments for theft would be far more just than our prison system today. In general, the penalty for a convicted thief is restitution. A prison sentence in this light must be considered wholly pagan, unbiblical, and cruel. There is only a slight shade of comparison to what could occur under biblical law, and we’ll cover that in a minute.
More specifically, the standard punishment for theft is double restitution (Ex. 22:4) if the property is recovered. This involves one times the value for replacement of the stolen property, and a second times value as a punitive measure (thus the thief loses exactly what he sought to gain from his victim). If the property is not recovered, the restitution will include any lost production value—four or five times, or possibly more (Ex. 22:1; Prov. 6:30–31). In the rare case a thief comes to his senses and returns the property before he is caught, he is liable only for full restitution plus twenty percent (Lev. 6:1–5).
Thieves who break in during the night or whose actions are otherwise perceived to be life-threatening may be killed in self-defense or home-defense without guilt (Ex. 22:2), but even the lives of thieves are protected when it is clear they are not a threat to life (Ex. 22:3).
What happens if a thief steals only because he is poor and needs only to eat? Even then, Solomon says, restitution must be paid (Prov. 6:30–31). But what if he has no money to pay what is required? This is where the nearest thing to prison—and I hesitate even to place it in the same sentence as that word—appears. It is indentured servitude, often simply translated “slavery” in the Old Testament. The laws for restitution for theft clearly say that if he cannot pay, “he shall be sold for his theft” (Ex. 22:3).
Before we recoil at the thought of modern-day “slavery,” let us stop and consider a couple things. Biblical “slavery” is not slavery in any sense we have understood the word in American history. It is not ownership of a person, has nothing to do with race, protects the rights of the servant, and imposes specific checks and duties upon the custodian. The modern prison system is far closer to American slavery than anything discussed in the Bible. It is this to which we should direct our revulsion.
Modern prisons involve mass incarceration with chains, cages, mass strip searches, mass nudity, gang violence, fights, apathy, haplessness, loneliness, depression, mental illness, waste, sodomy, rampant masturbation, corrupt guards, drug trades (yes, even inside the prisons!), and much more. When a prisoner leaves, he is often a far more hardened criminal, and with more criminal gang connections, than before.
The biblical system, on the other hand, places applicable convicts in truly correctional or rehabilitation programs under custodians (“masters”). They are designed for training in work, discipline, skill, self-confidence, morality, productivity, and community. Private programs similar to this description (though they are few) have far greater success rates than prisons, and prevent recidivism at much higher rates as well.
Under biblical servitude, custodians do have a right to corporal punishment (just as civil governments in general do—Deut. 25:1–3—and parents as well), but are held to strict standards of liability. If a scourging leads to an injury, medical care is the master’s duty and the convict’s right. Any permanent injury, even as slight as a tooth, results in the servant’s freedom from their bonds. When a term of servitude is over, the custodian is required to supply the servant with capital for his future (Deut. 15:12–18).
Biblical penal servitude is similar to modern probation in some ways. Probation involves the loss of certain rights, including the right to bear arms, the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom to travel, the right to serve on a jury, and even the right to vote. The biblical model may or may not include some such things, but it would focus on the more beneficial aspects of training for work, social skills, etc., not provided under standard probation.
Governments must enforce just weights and measures. Cheaters, whether individual, corporate, or governmental, must be convicted as thieves and pay restitution. Governments and banks, especially, may not inflate currency (Deut. 25:13–16). This standard forbids all forms of bribery and lobbying government officials. It also outlaws all forms of government-funded welfare, including corporate welfare. Government confiscation schemes based in “asset forfeiture” laws would be abolished.
All government taxation is theft, and thus, all government-backed redistributions of wealth based in taxation are outlawed. This includes property tax (real and personal), sales tax, income tax, payroll taxes (social security and Medicare), import and export tariffs, transportation and gas tax, all excise taxes, so-called “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol, poll taxes, luxury taxes, ad valorem taxes, all license fees and other fees, and value-added tax schemes. And all others. All of them. Gone.
All public services would be privatized and be better off for it. Police, fire, EMT, 9–11 services, roads, bridges, libraries, civic centers, and even hospitals would be either privately funded services, or else donor-based charitable services.
Immigration would be no problem in such a society because all property would be private. There would be no government-owned property, roads, or borders in need of government agents to patrol or build a wall. Private property owners would be in full charge of whom they let on their property, or not, with the right of home defense against intruders. Further, there would be no welfare benefits to incentivize or reward interlopers who wish to seize amnesty even if they would be unwelcomed. In light of this, the immigrant population would be made of only welcomed and/or hardworking guests.
Like property, contracts would be strictly enforced. The state is charged with enforcing contracts, and with punishing those who harm others via slander or libel, false accusation, or who pervert justice through perjury, peer pressure, conspiracy, discrimination, class warfare, or bribery (Ex. 23:1–9). Further, the reputations of individuals and businesses would be protected from damages inflicted by slander or libel.
The final decision in any case would fall to juries. Juries would be fully informed of their right to decide not only facts but the nature and applicability of the law also. Judges would no longer be allowed to lie to juries concerning these rights, nor intimidate them in any way. Innocence must always be presumed and the burden of proof lay upon the prosecution. Great care must be taken to avoid ever convicting the innocent or righteous (Ex. 23:7).
Finally, covetousness in itself is not punishable by the state, but it is to be forbidden to manifest in the form of the politics of guilt and pity. People who may grow jealous of their neighbors’ wealth or success will not be allowed to engage in political class warfare in an effort to start government welfare programs. This also exposes the root of such political programs focusing on “income inequality,” “the rich,” “the one percent,” etc. The commandment is also helpful in confirming that property is primarily to be owned by individuals (“your neighbor”), not the state.
Yet, as society was allowed to operate freely, and the free market unleashed to address its needs and demands, collective wealth would grow. This has been demonstrated everywhere it has been tried: wealth inequality may grow, but the collective grows as a whole with it, and the poorest are always better off than under systems based on covetousness. In a sense, by seeking the Kingdom of God and its righteousness (law) first, all these things are afterward added unto you.
Many biblical laws which still abide are not “civil” laws—they lack any sanction for the civil government to carry out. They are still, however, social laws which Christ Himself judges in history. If and when the people refuse to carry out such laws like sexual purity, right worship, and care for the poor, Christ Himself will predictably bring judgment upon that nation (Lev. 20:1–5, 6, 22–24; 26; Num. 33:55–56; Deut. 12:29–31; 28–29; Jonah). Likewise, if the nation adopts the ways of pagan nations around it, God still brings judgment in history.
The biblical vision of a godly society is much richer and broader in scope that many people imagine even heaven to be. It is life lived to its fullest and at its freest. It is love in action: the love of God and love of neighbor. Biblical law shows us the bounds of love, and these bounds are peace, liberty, justice, and the prosperity that flows from these.
It is not hard to see that our society is far from this ideal in many ways, but that is no reason for despair. There are many ways in which we can be working towards our goals in the meantime. The vastness of liberty and great amount of widespread self-government required to make it work certainly seem like an intimidating challenge from our vantage point, but it is the vision and law given us in Scripture, and Christians are to embrace it in faith. We are to live it out to the greatest extent we can, and promote it among the nations, including our own time and place. We are to be faithful to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) trusting God that He shall bring it to full victory. In the next chapter, we will discuss how this vision will come to pass.
Next section: How it will come to pass: The Spirit and the Great Commission
FREE PDF eBook download of “Does the Martyrdom of Antipas in Revelation 2:13 Support the Late-Date Composition of Revelation?”
One key argument in the debates over the interpretation of the book of Revelation is the date of its composition. Nearly all dispensationalists and other proponents of Last Days Madness and End Times Fiction demand the “late date” theory. The rival “early date” position places the book in an historical setting that virtually eliminates all of the prophecy scaremongering that goes on today.
One of the recurring arguments in favor of the late date theory is the “martyrdom of Antipas” argument, taken from the passage in Rev. 2:13. But does this argument really hold up like its proponents believe?
When the book of Revelation was revealed to John, written, and sent to the seven churches in Asia Minor is a point of contention among commentators. Was it written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 during the reign of Nero who ruled from AD 54 to 68, or during the reign of Domitian in the mid-90s?
“Does the Martyrdom of Antipas in Revelation 2:13 Support the Late-Date Composition of Revelation?” evaluates a single question exploited by many proponents of the late-date theory: Does the martyrdom of Antipas in Revelation support the late date composition of the book of Revelation? My interest in this issue was piqued when I read the following comment, from one Mr. Scott, to an article I had previously written on the identity of the Beast in Revelation 13:
[Revelation] 2:13 talks about the martyrdom of Antipas, who died in 92 AD. So it was written after, most think around 95 AD. Nero died in 68 AD.
“Does the Martyrdom of Antipas in Revelation 2:13 Support the Late-Date Composition of Revelation?” answers what Mr. Scott — and many other prophecy pundits — assumes to be true. And it’s an answer that is not only surprising in how informative the study is, but in how badly the late date proponents get it wrong.
The FREE PDF eBook can be accessed here and the above links.
I’ve been noticing an advertisement from Zion Oil and Gas, Inc. for Christians to invest in their company. The promotional video and offer for investment information are based on the claim that the Bible predicts that Israel will discover oil. The company is “drilling for the blessings of the deep” (Gen. 49:1, 25-28).
Here’s my advice: If you want to invest in Zion Oil and Gas, Inc., do it based on geology, not eschatology.
Genesis 49:1 is not a prophecy about the distant future and the discovery of oil; it’s about Israel’s future in “the days to come,” that is, the days to come for “the twelve sons of Jacob, and to the twelve tribes, as descending from them.” The King James Version translates the two Hebrew words used as “last days,” but more accurate translations translate them as “days to come” or “in the future,” “when they should be settled in the land of promise” after the exodus from captivity and their eventual entry into the land of Canaan.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about the claim of oil discovery in Israel based on out-of-context Bible passages. An article is out reporting that Israel has discovered oil. Good for Israel. The article carries this title: “Major Find of Oil in Israel? This Will Make the Muslims Angry!” [Note: the article has since been removed.] It probably will since it doesn’t matter what Israel does, Muslims are always angry. But what does the discovery of oil in Israel have to do with Bible prophecy? Nothing.
If finding oil in Israel is viewed by some Christians as a sign of a prophetic end-time blessing, and Islamic nations, who have been swimming in the stuff for decades and are the sworn enemy of Israel, what does this say about Islam? There are a lot of nations that have been enriched by the discovery of oil: The United States, Canada, Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, China, Brazil, and others. Muslim nations make up six of the top-ten oil producing nations.
At the end of the above article, there was a statement about how this potential oil find could be a fulfillment of Bible prophecy for Israel by referencing Deuteronomy 32:1-13 and Job 29:6.
I posted a comment pointing out that the “oil out of the flinty rock” and “rivers of oil” are a reference to olive oil, not crude oil. Instead of people saying, “Thank you for pointing this out to me,” there were attempts to defend the crude oil interpretation.
The context makes it clear that what Moses is referencing in Deuteronomy is how God had provided the “increase of the fields” to His people. You know what’s coming next: “Yes, oil fields!” No, fields as in agricultural fields of wheat and grapes. There’s also mention of honey and other produce. Take a look at Deuteronomy 32:14. Context is important:
Curds of cows, and milk of the flock,
With fat of lambs,
And rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats,
With the finest of the wheat—
And of the blood of grapes you drank wine.
One Bible commentator wrote:
“Oil out of the flinty rocks — Olive-trees growing and bearing fruit best in rocky or hilly places. The expressions are proverbial, and denote a most fertile land.”
Here’s another one:
“‘The high places’ and ‘the fields’ are specially applicable to the tablelands of Gilead as are the allusions to the herds and flocks, the honey of the wild bees which hive in the crevices of the rocks, the oil from the olive as it grew singly or in small clumps on the tops of hills where scarcely anything else would grow, the finest wheat (Ps 81:16; 147:14), and the prolific vintage.”
Bible expositor John Gill’s comments are similar:
“[A]nd oil out of the flinty rock; that is, oil out of the olives, which grow on rocks, and these delight to grow on hills and mountains; hence we read of the mount of Olives [Matt. 21:1; 24:3], see Job 29:6; and so the Targum of Jonathan, ‘and oil out of the olives and suckers which grow on the strong rocks.”
This isn’t the first time that olive oil has been misidentified as crude oil. Hal Lindsey tried to make the connection.1 A book attempted to make the same case: Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil.2 The book’s description reads as follows:
“A treasure map was hidden in the Bible more than three thousand years ago. The treasure, a gift from God to Israel, was buried in the sands of the Promised Land to ensure her prosperity and protection. ‘Breaking the Treasure Code’ pieces the map together and reveals the clues that lead to a vast oil reserve; the source of Israel’s wealth and the key to her survival in the last days.”
That’s the good news. Now here’s the bad news. Israel will be invaded because of this oil find. “The interesting thing is,” Lindsey writes, “that this invasion will be triggered by the enormous wealth that the nation accumulates in this time.”
Israel just can’t win. The Arab countries have been swimming in oil for decades and living the luxurious life from the accumulated revenue, but soon as Israel discovers the long-buried energy source, she’s going to be invaded! Bummer.
Israel may discover oil, but can a biblical case be made for the prophetic significance of oil as it relates to Israel and a future end-time scenario made popular by prophecy writers? We were told the moon was going to be turned into blood. Now we’re being told that olive oil is really crude oil.
Lindsey and the Zion Oil Company believe the phrase “the deep that lies beneath” (Gen. 49:25) is a reference to crude oil. If the “deep” refers to oil, then what are the “blessings of heaven above”? They don’t say. You can see that Genesis 49:25 is a classic example of Hebrew parallelism. How do more accomplished interpreters interpret the passage? “Blessings from heaven above” is a reference to “rain for crops,” while “from the deep” refers to “streams and wells for water”3 (Gen. 7:11; 8:2; Deut. 33:13).
Contextually, this interpretation makes sense since the lack of rain and dry wells, especially for people living in a region not far from desert conditions, would invariably lead to failed crops and depleted livestock. There is nothing in all of Genesis 49 that would lead the interpreter to conclude that buried in the deep is a reference to crude oil. Lindsey and Zion are reading modern-day geo-politics and technology into the text.
Lindsey did a similar thing in his 1973 book There’s a New World Coming when he seems to accept the identification of the locusts that came up out of the pit in Revelation 9 as Vietnam-era “Cobra helicopters.”4
Similar exegetical claims can be found in passages like Ezekiel 38 and 39 where bows and arrows became missile launchers and missiles, chariots become tanks, and horses mean “horsepower.”5
Lindsey continues by appealing to Deuteronomy 33:24 to support his crude oil theory: “And of Asher he said, ‘More blessed than sons is Asher; may he be favored by his brothers, and may he dip his foot in oil.’”
The “oil” of this verse is a reference to “olive oil.” Jack S. Deere, writing on Deuteronomy in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, states that “to bathe one’s feet in oil rather than simply to anoint them would be an extravagant act. Thus the tribe of Asher would experience abundant fertility and prosperity.”6
Jan Ridderbos makes a similar observation: “his land will be so rich in oil that it is possible, so to speak, to wade in it. Indeed, Galilee, Asher’s territory, was rich in olive trees.”7
Anyone familiar with the geography and history of Israel would know “The land of Asher was agriculturally rich, and is still known for its olive groves.”8
When the word “oil” appears in the Bible, it is never a reference to crude oil or petroleum but olive oil.9 Petroleum substances (bitumen) were known and used in Bible times, but they were not identified as “oil.” There were pools of an asphalt-like material often translated as “pitch” or “tar” (KJV: “slime”): “Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits. . .” (Gen. 11:14). The “pitch” or “tar” was used for waterproofing – Noah’s ark (Gen. 6:14), Noah’s wicker basket (Ex. 2:3), and the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:3).
If God wanted to identify a future discovery of crude oil in Genesis 49:25 and Deuteronomy 33:13-14, 24 in prophetic terms, He could have chosen any of the Hebrew words already in use at that time to make the point so as not to confuse modern-day interpreters who read into the Bible what’s not there.
- Hal Lindsey, “Israel, nation of miracles” (April 1, 2004).
- James R. Spillman and Steven M. Spillman, Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil (Travelers Rest, SC: True Potential Publishing, Inc., 2005).
- Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books/Scripture Press, 1985), 99.
- Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming (Santa Ana, CA: Vision House, 1973), 138–139. You can find the quotation in the Bantam paperback edition in chapter 9 page 124.
- See Gary DeMar, The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance: Israel, Russia, and Syria in Bible Prophecy (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2016), 117-134.
- Jacks S. Deere, “Deuteronomy, Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, 322.
- Jan Ridderbos, Deuteronomy: The Bible Student’s Commentary, trans. Ed M. van der Maas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 311.
- Cyril J. Barber, “Tribe of Asher,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2:212.
- See entry of “Oil” in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 603–604.
In his book on New School Presbyterianism, George Marsden cites American historian Stanley Elkins on one reason America failed to end slavery peacefully:
Elkins suggests that one of the causes of the failure of Americans to resolve the sectional crisis peacefully was a breakdown of effective national institutions, including the churches. Evangelical reformers, Elkins further suggests, because of their characteristic unwillingness to compromise morally, failed in their efforts to carry out their programs through national religious institutions. The absolute moralism of the independent antislavery agencies left little room for support from Northern moderates, and only drove the South into its extreme defensive stance. In the national denominations a strong abolitionist stance invariably brought only a division between North and South.
Granted, it was without question a huge fault of the churches, but the problem was more complex than the refusal to compromise among abolitionists. This phenomenon came so late in the process that the “extreme defensive stance” Elkins mentions on the part of the South already had deep foundations from much earlier. The defenders of slavery in the Southern churches met abolitionist propaganda with a large stock of arguments that had been solidified decades earlier in State houses and the national Congress, and even earlier. On the part of the Southern ministers, it was nothing but a program of dressing up the same old arguments in their own personal rhetoric.
Marsden, however, goes on to add a further explanation I find very interesting, for it has ramifications not only for understanding the antebellum South, but our own contemporary battles today.
Another factor may be added to explain the failure of the institutional churches to make a truly significant contribution to the peaceful resolution of the slavery problem. American Protestant denominations are, in general, too democratic for effective social action. The republican ideals of the rights of the individual and the right of dissent were by the early nineteenth century too deeply engrained to be excluded from American religious life. As a result, with only few exceptions, American denominations have been unable to legislate effectively among their own members for reforms of any wide social implications. Often they have participated in important reform movements, but seldom have they been ahead of popular political reforms. They can hardly expect to be. The republican ideology demands that the denominations follow, rather than lead, their constituencies. If the constituency is significantly divided, as is nearly bound to be the case on crucial social issues, effective denominational reform is impossible. Dissenters from the majority opinion, viewing the church as a free agency, which they have every right to leave, in the face of institutional pressure will simply leave. Preaching and propaganda may, of course, alter social mores; but the American denominations as institutions lack any power to effect social revolution. This institutional impotence is classically illustrated in the antislavery campaigns where Christians did attempt to lead a major social revolution during an era when they were remarkably successful in many minor campaigns.
In the Presbyterian Church, which appeared to have both the machinery and the leadership for effective action, all these inherent weaknesses in the evangelical abolition efforts are particularly conspicuous.1
Yes, it was clear in all the major denominations, not just Presbyterians, that this phenomenon took place. The membership and the pews were so filled with people entirely sold out to the slave system that it would have seemed like a career suicide for any minister to condemn it from the pulpit. Add to this that so many of the clergy courted prestige from the upper class and prominent members of the slave owning aristocracy, and you have the recipe for compromise and even worse: outright defense of wickedness and hate.
One of the very few outspoken uncompromised Presbyterian ministers in the South, George Bourne of Virginia, illustrates the case of career suicide. Bourne was so uncompromised and faithful that he was preaching the demand to discipline slave owners for abuses, etc. The slaveocracy in the church responded with discipline alright: for Bourne. He was deposed from his pulpit, and the decision was upheld on appeal. Bourne appealed all the way to General Assembly, but in 1818 the national Assembly, too, upheld the conviction. Bourne was canned.
But this decision rankled the abolitionists in the denomination, who were growing more and more influential. So, the same General Assembly placated with a strong published denunciation of slavery as wholly incompatible with the Christian faith and as sin. It was to be the strongest language from the denomination yet; but compared to the actions sustained against Bourne, it didn’t seem to make sense except as an attempt to please all sides.
The tough language against slavery, however, also coincided with the establishment of the most popular “abolitionist” measure in the church: the American Colonization Society. It was hardly a call for true abolition, but could pretend to be antislavery while not really accomplishing anything. The central tenet of the ACS was that blacks ought to be freed, and then immediately shipped back to Africa. Will you please donate to the cause so we can send blacks back were they belong, rid the American continent of their presence, and thus end slavery gradually? (The corollary was, of course, that if blacks could not be sent back to Africa, it was better that they remained as slaves—better in the view of most whites, that is.)
The ACS was enormously popular among Presbyterians and Presbyterian ministers. It far outstripped all other purported antislavery groups in prominence, star power, and fundraising power. There were others far more serious and far more radical; but nothing could match the ACS. It was so safe for whites to pretend to be in favor of emancipation, raise huge sums, and not really have to do anything on behalf of those suffering.
This is precisely where this story has a modern parallel: pro-life ministry.
The ACS was to the nineteenth century slavery issue as the national right to life groups are so often to ending abortion today. It was big; it had the allegiance and photo-ops with all the big national evangelical leaders; it could raise tons of money, shake hands with politicians, and talk big. But it was abjectly compromised in its methods from the outset, only ever had moderate ambitions for ending slavery, and was failure. As it was, it was not only a tremendous failure, it was a tremendous waste and sink-hole for evangelical money.
A large reason for this failure was exactly what Marsden notes above: the compromised nature of the church, the complicity in the sin in the church; the inability of the church to purify itself on such issues in such a way as to preach an uncompromising message without angering large parts of its constituency.
Far too much of the church is compromised personally on the abortion issue, is afraid of hurting someone’s feelings by calling it murder and calling for total abolition, is so afraid of the national supreme court, or is afraid of a local fight and stand, or is compromised by “two kingdoms” thinking such that they think legal and political change should not be part of the church’s message. Failures, all.
Another corollary of Marsden’s point is this, and we need to think seriously about it: if there is going to come a real solution to the abortion issue, it is probably going to have to come from outside the institutional churches. True, there may be single local churches here or there that can get on board as a group; but until the denominations get far more pure and far less compromised on these issues, the work will only advance by the work of parachurch ministries and highly motivated individual members of the body of Christ.
In the same way that the most prominent abolitionist voices against slavery came from individuals and small parachurch groups, so today in regard to abortion, such forces will need to shake the institutional churches with a powerful, uncompromised message, and even call vast segments of the compromised church to repentance. The abortion ministry world needs the likes of a Christian William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld, and Frederick Douglass, working from biblical grounds to provoke the rest of the body to love and good works.
Let’s hope that the compromised preachers don’t entrench themselves in “extreme defense stance” once again; but sixty million dead dwarfs the civil war; and God will not be mocked.
- George M. Marsden, The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience: A Case Study of Thought and Theology in Nineteenth-Century America (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1970), 88–89.
From Luther’s “We don’t want to see or hear Moses” to Calvin’s 1536 rejection of exclusive Mosaic civil polity as “foolish” and “seditious,” no person seems to have drawn more systematic criticism in regard to the political and social thought of the magisterial Reformation than the Old Testament lawgiver, Moses. Rejections of the need for Mosaic judicial laws, beginning early in the Reformation era, are varied, broad, and explicit. In some cases, such as Luther’s and Melanchthon’s attacks on Andreas Karlstadt (as we shall see), alleged proponents of Mosaic civil law are given by name. In other cases, such as Calvin’s denunciation cited above, they are anonymous. In all cases, however, it is not obvious whether anyone—named or not—actually held the view attributed.
(Now through Sunday, January 15, 2017: Use discount code MOSES and get $5 Off the Hardback edition of Blaming Moses. — Offer applies to Hardback only.)
This situation leaves us to review certain questions: 1) during the period from early in the Reformation until the time Calvin wrote against Mosaic civil law, was there any significant figure who truly advocated imposing Mosaic civil law as the exclusive civil polity of the land? If not, 2) were these various accusations exaggerated (or even fabricated), and if so, why? More generally, 3) why did the most influential of the magisterial reformers—Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin—write so strongly in rejection of Mosaic civil polity, at least in the forums in which they alleged that their targeted opponents held that position?
This study hypothesizes that social, political, and economic pressures influenced the magisterial reformers in regard to crucial theological expressions in which they strongly rejected the need for Mosaic civil law in society. The hypothesis begins by noting that the first question above must be answered in the negative: none of the writers implicated by name or otherwise during the period in question (1520–1536) actually held the view that rulers should govern according to Mosaic judicial law and not according to non-Mosaic legal sources, for example, the common law of nations. If this conclusion holds true after a review of both primary and secondary literature, the hypothesis leaves us to examine what motivated a degree of anti-Mosaic rhetoric incommensurate with the actual positions of those accused. As we shall see, the reformers in question restrained or altered their expressions according to the pressures of external circumstances—most importantly, war and rebellion spurred by so-called “radical” reformers. As alleged theological positions were weaved with reports and denunciations of violence, Mosaic Law emerged as a dangerous ideological force that was to be shunned.
Historical setting of the problem
It must be acknowledged from the outset that the issue of the application of Mosaic Law during the Reformation did not arise in a historical vacuum—neither theologically nor socio-politically. For example, Luther’s fiercest denunciations of Moses came in the midst of the Peasants’ War of 1524–1525. During this time, his refutations of Karlstadt, Thomas Müntzer, and the peasants each employed his already-developed views of natural law and the two kingdoms and absolved the temporal powers of any requirement to obey Moses in legislating and judging. In the process of his writings, the characters and their respective beliefs were blurred—particularly as the turbulent events and Luther’s publications coincided within a few short months—between Karlstadt’s selective appeals to Mosaic Law, Müntzer’s prophetic millenarianism, the peasants’ eruption into violence, and streams of theological mysticism and charismata which flowed throughout the beliefs of each of these individuals and groups, although to differing degrees. Luther leveraged the violence to his rhetorical advantage and implicated Karlstadt’s readiness to impose Moses in society as an expression of a “murderous spirit.” In 1525, Luther wrote,
Now then, let us get to the bottom of it all and say these teachers of sin and Mosaic prophets are not to confuse us with Moses. We don’t want to see or hear Moses. How do you like that, my dear rebels? We say further, that all such Mosaic teachers deny the gospel, banish Christ, and annul the whole New Testament. For Moses is given to the Jewish people alone, and does not concern us Gentiles and Christians. We have our gospel and New Testament.
Once the Revolt had run its course, buildings lay ruined, towns plundered, and roughly 100,000 peasants were dead. As a result, civil authorities grew ever more sensitive to any talk of civil reform to be led at the level of the masses, and likewise to any religious expression that could be perceived as challenging their legitimacy or power. In regard to such religious expression, as far as Luther’s large retinue would know from his writings, those who would “confuse us with Moses” deserved a large portion of the blame. At least as early as 1522 for Luther personally, and certainly by 1525 among the “Lutheran” circles, the mould for blaming Moses was already in place. Any future appeals to the validity of Moses in the public square would have to overcome the stigma of the Peasants’ War, Karlstadt’s alleged errors, and the implicit association of Moses with sedition and tragedy.
The intensity and fallout of that association would only escalate a decade later when more mystical visionaries gained ascendancy in the northern German city of Münster. Disciples of the same tradition of charismatic prophesying that had inspired the earlier rebellion called for likeminded disciples to come join the institution of the Kingdom of God on earth, the New Jerusalem, and under that name instituted a bizarre system of laws involving communism, polygamy, and a series of arbitrary death penalties and other punishments. The carnival eventually led to a siege of the city, mass starvation, and a final holocaust in 1535. That the Münsterite leaders called their kingdom a New Jerusalem certainly invited the old association of Mosaic Law and rebellion, and the association spread once again.
This second round of upheaval featured reaction much less from Luther than from a young John Calvin. The cataclysm at Münster boiled to a head in the spring of 1534 and overflowed in June 1535. During this frightful interlude, its oddities and atrocities provided a constant stream of international news concerning the “New Jerusalem.” Moses was thus implicated again. We know that Calvin fled persecution in France and settled in Basel during this same period. In Basel, he would compose his first edition of Christianae Religionis Institutio (Institutes of the Christian Religion) which he would publish the following year, 1536. That edition was prefaced by Calvin’s letter to King Francis I, who had recently begun persecuting and executing French evangelicals as seditious agents threatening the social order. Calvin’s 1536 edition also contained an anonymously directed but vehement denunciation of Mosaic civil polity, and thus the whole work reads as an apologetic pleading with King Francis I not to treat French evangelicals like the “seditious” and “foolish” Anabaptists that had elsewhere caused all of the civil unrest. Calvin’s translator, Ford Lewis Battles, notes that as “the tragic events of Münster” climaxed, Calvin and his French evangelical colleagues felt “the need to dissociate themselves, theologically and politically, from more radical forces of reform,” especially “to their own monarch and his advisors.” Calvin’s rejection of the need for Moses in his Institutes offered a more-than-adequate dissociation of that very kind:
I would have passed over this matter in utter silence if I were not aware that here many dangerously go astray. For there are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which, neglecting the political system of Moses, is ruled by the common laws of nations. Let other men consider how perilous and seditious this notion is; it will be enough for me to have proved it false and foolish.
Could this particular stance of Calvin’s have had some relation to the fear aroused in regard to Mosaic Law by the social and political climate, which was most recently exacerbated by the events in the “New Jerusalem” of Münster? If not, what else led young Calvin to implicate “the political system of Moses” particularly with “peril” and “sedition”? Could he have had in mind the decade-old events associated with Karlstadt or Thomas Müntzer or the Peasant Rebellion? While some modern scholars admit to something of a social pressure upon the French evangelicals due to Münster, few attempt any detailed study of the association between Moses and Münster, Moses and the Anabaptists, or Calvin’s nameless opponents (“there are some. . .”) in regard to Mosaic civil polity. Yet Luther, Calvin, and others saw the need to warn against applying Moses in the civil realm and to link his laws with sedition and rebellion.
Review of relevant modern scholarship
Some scholars have claimed to have found Mosaic teachers such as described by Calvin. For example, Ford Lewis Battles declared that in Calvin’s rejection of Mosaic polity, the Genevan teacher opposed such contemporaries as “Jacob Strauss, Andreas Carlstadt, and others.” These alleged Mosaic teachers, Battles says, “had proposed substituting the entire Mosaic code of the Old Testament for the civil laws of the European nations.” A slight problem arises here, as we shall see: the evidence does not support this claim. As this study will demonstrate, the available and time-relevant primary sources for both Karlstadt and Strauss do not reveal anything close to substantiating the view of “substituting the entire Mosaic code for the civil laws of European nations.” While Battles superbly constructs the history behind Calvin’s writing of the Institutes, he errs on this point. Neither Strauss nor Karlstadt assume to institute such a Mosaic theocracy or anything near it.
Even a quick review of Battles’ references illustrates this fact. In his “Endnotes” to Calvin’s anti-Mosaic comments, Battles provides a series of citations in regard to Mosaic civil polity. He cites Melanchthon in three places: once in regard to his own views in his Loci Communes, then twice in accusation against Karlstadt for holding an exclusive Mosaic view (from Melanchthon’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics Part 3, 1530, and from his Defense of the Augsburg Confession, 1531). Battles gets the reference to Melanchthon on Aristotle from the Czech philosopher Josef Bohatec, who also provides him with a passing reference to Thomas Müntzer. Battles then finds two previous editors of Calvin’s works—Peter Barth and Wilhelm Niesel—who themselves cite Melanchthon (the same citations—it appears Battles may have gotten his other references to Melanchthon from here), and also provide references to Thomas Aquinas (a topical reference only) and an encyclopedia article about the radical Lutheran preacher Jacob Strauss. This study, however, will demonstrate that, despite the list of references and the impressive amount of labor required to find them, not one of these references supports either Battles’ “entire Mosaic code” claim or Calvin’s “political system of Moses” description.
Battles, with his few references, stands pretty much alone among scholars in actually trying to document exactly whom Calvin was refuting. Most other modern commentators on Calvin interact with this passage of Calvin with differing degrees of presumption. Some have chosen to present his claim “as is” without exploring the issue of the anonymous culprits or indeed whether any genuine culprit actually existed, though in some cases one must consider the limited scopes of their respective works. Another contents himself with a generality, writing in reference to Calvin’s rejection of Mosaic polity that Calvin’s “sharpest rebukes toward appeals to the Old Testament civil law for modern states were directed toward the radical Anabaptists.” We are left to wonder to whom this phrase “radical Anabaptists” refers exactly. After all, the magisterial reformers (Luther, Calvin, and others) as well as nearly all of the civil authorities of the period treated all Anabaptists as “radical,” just as Catholic polemicists treated all reformers under the term “Lutheranism.” Today, the phrase “radical Anabaptist” tends to be reserved for those Anabaptists associated with violent revolution, such as those who turned Münster upside down, as opposed to the peaceful Anabaptists following Menno Simmons, etc. For example, Horton finds it enough to leverage Calvin’s rhetoric of “sedition” and “foolish” without defining exactly whom he addressed. . . .
Only one scholar, Avis, appears to have published anything like a detailed study of how different reformers treated Mosaic Law, so he provides an obvious starting point for inquiry. In his article, “Moses and the Magistrate,” he mentions Karlstadt, Müntzer, and Strauss as being interested in applying Mosaic Law in the civil realm, but this comes only in passing, and he recognizes qualifications in some cases. This study shall assess each in greater detail. After these figures, however, Avis arrives at a strong conclusion: “The most extreme and explicit manifestation of Old Testament spirit and forms was in the city of Münster” which culminated “the continental judaising [sic] movement.” With such a strong lead from the only thorough scholarly review of the issue, this thesis will also provide an analysis of the theological, legal, and social situation in that scene, and the subsequent scholarship pertaining to it.
Moses in the shadow of Münster
Sure enough, references relating Münster and Mosaic Law appear numerously. They abound especially among nineteenth-century historians. A typical example appears in the Baptist historian J. M. Cramp’s Baptist History (1868). Following the Enlightenment historian Leopold von Ranke (d. 1886), a Lutheran, Cramp concluded that the Münsterite leader Jan Beukels presented himself as a “new Moses”, and that his elders’ new legal code drew “chiefly from the books of Moses.” When dealing with the same issue within the tradition of their own Reformation, English churchmen have pointed directly to Münster. Bishop E. Harold Browne, writing in 1865, expounds,
As regards the belief that Christian commonwealths ought to be regulated after the model of the Jewish polity and according to the civil precepts of the old Testament, it seems likely that the Anabaptists of Munster, who seized on that city and set up a religious commonwealth among themselves, endeavored to conform their regulations in great measure to the laws of the Jewish economy.
About three decades later, Bishop E. C. S. Gibson presented the same conclusion. He asserts that the cataclysm in that Westphalian city resulted when the radicals “insisted that the whole civil and ceremonial law was still a matter of divine obligation for Christians.” The Anabaptists, Gibson insists, “set up what can only be called a parody of the Jewish commonwealth.”
But lest we mistake this for a nineteenth-century phenomenon, modern scholarship raises the same chorus. For example, B. S. Capp notes,
In 1534 the Anabaptists of Münster drew up a legal code which restored the capital offences of the Bible, such as blasphemy, adultery and disobedience to parents, as well as imposing death for theft, begging, and even greed. The radical German reformers Müntzer and Carlstadt were in favor of restoring the judicial laws.
This same conception echoes today as the host of a popular Reformation-themed broadcast (and professor at a Reformed seminary) asserts that appeals to the law of Moses approach “the radical Anabaptism of Thomas Müntzer, John of Leiden [leader of Münster], and others at the time of the Reformation.” Likewise, Godfrey believes that “Calvin’s strong words” rejecting the need for Mosaic Law “may have been inspired in part by the radical, violent Anabaptist theocracy at Münster (1534–1535).”
It is clear that much focus has fallen on Münster for this issue of Mosaic civil law. An examination of Münster must, therefore, take a prominent role in this study. The pursuit of the hypothesis will reach a turning point here, however, as we discover the same lack of substance behind the accusation of Moses and Münster as in other figures and places. Something of a climax will be reached when we realize that while the substance is not there, the popular association of Moses and violent sedition was widespread. Here we begin to inquire and discover the socio-political pressures that placed a political stigma upon Mosaic Law, including the justification of persecuting Reformed Christians for “sedition”. In this crucible of persecution, with Münster’s long shadow cast—falsely cast, but cast nonetheless—over Moses in 1535, we will find young Calvin, exiled, sitting down to write his denunciation of “some” who required Mosaic civil polity. . . .[Now through Sunday, January 15, 2017: Use discount code MOSES and get $5 Off the Hardback. — Offer applies to Hardback only.]
. Throughout this study, “magisterial Reformation” and “magisterial Reformers” refer to, as MacCulloch puts it, “the movement of the ‘masters’ like Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin or Cranmer, who worked for the reconstruction of Christendom in alliance with the secular magistrates of Europe” (2003:144). This group excludes those often termed “radical” reformers, who neglected or dismissed the ideal of Christendom in general, refused alliances with the secular magistrates, or both. The distinction is useful but cannot be applied universally with strictness: some of the persons we will cover, for example Karlstadt and Jacob Strauss, would likely have accepted alliances as well as the ideal of Christendom and yet bear some of the most serious indictments we shall see. Indeed, Thomas Müntzer would solicit an alliance with the secular magistrates for his social and legal revolution, yet, due to his revolutionary violence (perhaps among other things), he is not considered a magisterial Reformer, but rather is often classified among the “radical” Reformers.
. Also herein as “Carlstadt.”
. Also herein as “Peasants’ Rebellion” or “Peasant Revolt”, et al.
. Ozment 1980:284; Lindberg 1996:165.
. “Communism” throughout this study will refer generally to a state-enforced or more generally civil-government-enforced system of communal property in which individual private property ownership is abolished. This is as opposed to specific applications of communistic theory (e.g. Marxism), as well as purely voluntary associations involving communal ownership which may be called “communitarian.”
. 1986:lix, emphasis added.
. Calvin 1962.
. Battles 1986:333.
. VanDrunen 2010:110; Hall 2008:419; Avis 1975:164.
. Horton 2009a.
. Battles 1986:xxxix.
. Horton 2009a.
. Avis 1975.
. Quoted in Jordan 1978–9:25.
. Horton 2009b.
For immediate release: Blaming Moses: Rejections of Mosaic Civil Law during the Early Reformation. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2016. $30.00.
The published version of my doctoral thesis is finally here. Let me tell you why this is so important.
If you have any affinity for biblical law at all, you’ve probably tried to talk with other Reformed folk about it. But if you’ve ever had any discussions with other Reformed folk about it, you’ve probably had this quotation from Calvin thrown at you as a conversation-stopper:
For there are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses, and is ruled by the common laws of nations. Let other men consider how perilous and seditious this notion is; it will be enough for me to have proved it false and foolish.
This is Calvin’s famous rejection of the need for Mosaic civil law, and it is used routinely by mainstream Reformed pastors and theologians as a staple Theonomy-beater (as if it actually proved much). (I have dealt with the fallacious aspect of it here.)
The quotation always intrigued me because it has never been clear who exactly Calvin was speaking of when he said this, “there are some. . . .” When I was in seminary, I was going to do a paper on it, but I got sidetracked in a wonderful way. I instead wrote on the historical background of Article 7 of the 39 Articles—the Article on the Old Testament, which carries a similar dismissal of the need for Mosaic civil laws. That sidetrack led to me discovering some wonderful history—the tragic story of the city of Münster—and this eventually led to a tremendous understanding of the composing of Calvin’s Institutes when I later did the doctoral study (Calvin himself tells the story in the Preface to his commentary on the Psalms—it’s quoted in the book).
Between Calvin and Luther, there is enough seething at Moses during the early days of the Reformation to go around. But it turns out that it arises from everywhere. In an effort to find Calvin’s culprit, we turn over a lot of stones, examining the writings of all major figures of the era and some minor ones. It won’t spoil it for you to say that Calvin’s “some” never actually existed. No one at the time ever made the argument Calvin pretended to refute (grandstanding for King Francis I, clearly), but Calvin was not the only one to level the accusation. Finding out why in my new book will be just the kind of historical-theological journey that gives you some whole new perspective on the Reformation as its most famous sons.
The fact that Calvin’s man never existed has not stopped some of the best scholars in history from making claims of who he or they were. It is with no small amount of humility subdued that I can confidently say I disproved the scholarly claims of giants like George Huntston Williams and Calvin’s translator, Ford Lewis Battles himself on this point. Both had figured the radical Lutheran preacher Jacob Strauss as a culprit, and Andreas Karlstadt was also named. Battles went so far as to say Karlstadt proposed substituting the “entire Mosaic code” for European law. But after a thorough review of his works, and a first-ever translation of Strauss’ 51 thesis on Usury from 16th-Century German, I show these claims are all false and untenable. Nevertheless, we get men like Michael Horton repeating similar claims today. It’s pretty inexcusable.
So, it is with pleasure that I release this rip through history, revealing a side of the Reformation you’ve probably never considered: one critical of our own heroes, but in a necessary way—a mythbusting way designed to set the stage for major discussion and healing.
In the process, you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about some figures: Andreas Karlstadt, Thomas Müntzer, the city of Münster, Zwingli’s love of the classics (he even seems to have thought he would see the pagan classical writers in heaven), Melanchthon’s not-so-gentle side (rather bloodthirsty, actually), Luther’s ego and duplicity, the role of mysticism, the role of charismaticism, the hard-core last days madness of the era, and much more.
Perhaps most importantly, you’ll walk away with an understanding of how deeply intertwined the Reformation was with the geo-politics of the day, and the inescapably political nature of a full-orbed biblical worldview. During this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when so many men are repeating the same old things all over again, you owe it to yourself to delve deeper.
Here is one of the few places you can do it.
Blaming Moses: Rejections of Mosaic Civil Law during the Early Reformation. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2016. $30.00.
*Table of Contents below*
A live-streaming Facebook posting of four blacks torturing a special needs white man has gotten universal attention. The outcry of what happened was so visceral that liberals had to declare it a “hate crime,” a designation that heretofore mostly only applied to those from legislatively designated minority groups who had been assaulted in the commission of a crime that included racial and anti-“gay” motives:
“Chicago police earlier on Thursday said they don’t believe the attack was racially motivated despite the suspects yelling ‘F*** Donald Trump!’ and ‘F*** white people!’ Instead, they believe the 18-year-old victim was a target because of his special needs.”
To protect the special status of hate crime laws, minority advocates are reluctant to apply the specialized legislation to whites and heterosexuals. To me, a crime is a crime, whether a person did it out of hate, greed, or revenge. If the goal is equality before the law, then all hate crime legislation should be done away with since some victims are treated differently from other victims. The inner motivations for crimes should not be a determining factor. The punishment for someone who rapes and murders a white woman should be the same for someone who rapes and murders a black woman. The John Grisham novel and film A Time to Kill come to mind.
The following exchange took place between Don Lemon, who is black and homosexual, and Matt Lewis:
“You just try to wrap your head around evil,” Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller told Lemon on Wednesday night. “That’s what this is. It’s evil. It’s brutality. It’s man’s inhumanity to man.”
But Lemon took issue with that assessment.
“I don’t think it’s evil. I don’t think it’s evil,” Lemon responded. “I think these are young people, and I think they have bad home training.” (The Blaze)
I have a different take on what happened to this young man that exposes the weak moral underbelly of modern-day social theory built on the unchallengeable claim that nothing can be explained if you don’t believe in something-from-nothing evolution. In a previous article, I noted that Harvard Professor and former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers ridiculed “creationism” as being worse than voodoo. If we are not endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, as the Declaration of Independence states, then who or what has or will endow us with these rights? The State. The courts? A king? A right arbitrarily given can arbitrarily be taken away.
Once God is removed from the moral equation, there is no way to account for either good or evil. One group of evolved meat machines vying for superiority over other meat machines is the necessary outcome of forward evolutionary progress. There’s no outside moral judge to say either “yay” or “nay” to what might be morally right or wrong. “Nature, red in tooth and claw” is doing what it does best, advance the species without regard to feeling or outrage. Jack London, who imbibed the pure naturalism of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, filled his stories with the philosophy as Nancy Pearcey explains:
“The way [London] served his god was by writing stories expressing spender’s evolutionary worldview. In ‘The Law of Life,’ Koskoosh is an old Eskimo, abandoned by the tribe and left to die in the falling snow. Weak, blind, and waiting for the wolves that will inevitably devour him, he reconciles himself to his fate by musing that, in the evolutionary scheme of things, the individual does not really matter anyway. Nature assigns the organism only one task: to reproduce so the species will survive. After that, if it dies, ‘what did it matter after all? Was it not the law of life?’ The story pounds home the naturalistic theme that humans have no higher purpose beyond sheer biological existence.”1
Try teaching anything in a government school today that questions the operating assumptions of evolutionary theory. Try getting a job in a major or even a minor university if you believe that God created the world and everything in it.
If you don’t believe in God and contend that we’ve evolved from the primordial soup and got where we are today because of the inevitable evolutionary doctrine of the survival of the fittest, then Don Lemon is right, but not for the reason he stated. There can’t be any “bad home training” since there can’t be any objective definition of bad. These four meat machines didn’t do anything evil. They went about living out the unassailable ramifications of evolution. Like a lion trains her cubs to survive to perpetuate the species, maybe what Lemon describes as “bad home training” was important for the perpetuation of the human species.
When someone tells me that he’s an atheist, I ask him if he’s a consistent atheist. Most aren’t. A consistent atheist would shake off all sentimentality that is mostly borrowed from a Christian worldview. The beating of a human being is no different from a pack of wolves weeding out the runt to keep the gene pool strong.
Here’s an atheist and evolutionist who understands his worldview:
“According to the science of biology, people were not ‘created.’ They have evolved. And they certainly did not evolve to be ‘equal.’ The idea of equality is inextricably intertwined with the idea of creation. The Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity, which argues that every person has a directly created soul, and that all people are equal before God. However if we do not believe in the Christian myths about God, creation, souls, what does it mean that all people are created ‘equal’? Evolution is based on difference, not on equality. Every person carries a somewhat different genetic code, and is exposed from birth to different environmental influences. This leads to the development of different qualities that carry with them different chances of survival. ‘Created equal’ should therefore be translated ‘evolved differently.’
“Just as people were never created, neither, according to the science of biology, is there a ‘Creator’ who ‘endows’ them with anything. There is only a blind evolutionary process, devoid of any purpose, leading to the birth of individuals. ‘Endowed by their creator’ should be translated simply into ‘born’.”2
So, what if these four malcontents “evolved differently”? Can we judge their actions as either moral or immoral since they were “born” in terms of “a blind evolutionary process, devoid of any purpose” because “there are no such things as rights in biology” because “[t]here are only organs, abilities and characteristics”?
At trial, the four physically superior bullies should call on Dr. Harari as an expert witness to argue that their “organs” made them do it. They were only doing what came naturally as evolving beings. It’s “science,” and how can anyone argue against science?
While I can’t prove that the teaching of evolution led to the four tormentors to justify what they did to the mentally challenged man, I can argue that there is no foundational basis within the operating assumptions of matter-only evolutionary science that can be used to claim that what they did was fundamentally immoral.
Barbara Reynolds, a former columnist for USA Today, made some excellent points in an article she wrote in 1993. I’m surprised that USA Today published it, and Barbara Reynolds most likely was too:
“Prohibiting the teaching of creationism in favor of evolution creates an atheistic, belligerent tone that might explain why our kids sometimes perform like Godzilla instead of children made in the image of God.
“While evolution teaches that we are accidents or freaks of nature, creationism shows humankind as the offspring of a divine Creator. There are rules to follow which govern not only our time on Earth, but also our afterlife.
“One philosophy preaches happenstance with mayhem as a conclusion; the other, divine order. One suggests the survival of the fittest; the other, a commitment to serve the weakest and sickest among us. To me, there is no contest. Teaching evolution makes about as much sense as teaching our kids that humankind was grown in a cabbage patch or raised by wolves. Even in the dullest mind, a light bulb should go off: Who created the cabbage, and who made the wolves?
“Under the rules of evolution, teachers are forced to answer to King Kong rather than to the King of Kings.
“We are not human animals. We have written speech and higher intellect, but more important, we have souls fueled by a spirit of right or wrong.
“Human action is determined by core beliefs. Creationism teaches that humans are wonderfully made with the promise of high expectations.
“If evolution is forced on our kids, we shouldn’t be perplexed when they beat on their chests or, worse yet, beat on each other and their teachers.3
Reynolds’ comments are reminiscent of what C.S. Lewis wrote: “We make men without chests and we expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and we are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”4 We strip men and women of the certainty that they are created in the image of God, and we are surprised when they act like the beasts of the field.
The beasts of the field have been roaming the streets of America for some time. “In Chicago, two boys C one 12, one 13 C are sentenced to prison after dropping a 5-year-old out of a 14th-story window because he wouldn’t steal candy for them. In New York, two teenage boys and a young woman lock up a 13-year-old girl, repeatedly rape and torture her, then hang her up in a closet by her heels before she manages to escape.”5
- Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 144.
- Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (New York: Harper Collins,  2014), 108-110.
- Barbara Reynolds, “If your kids go ape in school, you’ll know why,” USA Today (August 27, 1993), 11A.
- C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan,  1972), 35.
- David Gergen, “Taming Teenage Wolf Packs,” U.S. News & World Report (March 25, 1996), 68.
A properly theonomic society in terms of civil government would be closer to classic libertarianism than any other common political position. There would be differences, of course, but in general, theonomic standards would simply require a radical reduction in the size and scope of civil government. It would require a stronger sense of law being a restraint upon government rather than a burden imposed by it. It would include a radical reorientation from a powerful centralized government exemplary of a police state back to a free, largely volunteer-based focus on local community.
We noted earlier where Hebrews says the Mosaic Law “proved to be reliable,” and that by it “every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution” (Heb. 2:1–2). This means that the system of justice laid out in that law was perfectly just. The author of Hebrews then immediately adds that we should “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we should drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1–2). This was certainly excellent advice for the author’s audience, which was about to experience God’s wrath poured out upon Jerusalem (A.D. 70) for its apostasy. But it is excellent advice for us today as well. We need to pay much closer attention to the abiding system of justice laid out in Old Testament law. We have certainly drifted far away from it, and the consequences for us have been stark.
. . . in which righteousness dwells
Two passages from Isaiah give us the imagery for a starting point perhaps better than any others. Both describe an ideal theonomic society, although in different degrees and perspectives:
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore (Isa. 2:2–4).
This is a vision of world justice and peace. It is founded upon God’s law. That law reaches all nations. The spread of that law will involve many court cases and settlements, perhaps even internationally, but will lead to peace. Not only will peace reign, but all military-industrial complexes will be abolished. They will be transformed into agricultural science and productive technology of all forms. Botany, husbandry, and food production will advance in all ways. Nations will no longer devote such tremendous resources to “learn war.” All the time, energy, and money sunk into militarism will be transferred to more productive areas.
Isaiah elaborates more later:
For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth, . . .
No more shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain
or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD,
and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD (Isa. 65:17–25).
This expands upon the earlier vision of world peace and prosperity. Now we have a great vision not only of peace, but of longevity. We also have promises of successful business and labor, and great respect for property. There will be no taxation or socialism: “they shall not plant and another eat.” The state will not steal and give to others.
These two visions alone help get us started answering the question of what a theonomic state would look like. It would not only be about changes in law and politics. It would include longer-term social and cultural improvement. This means that in trying to develop a vision of Theonomy, we are simultaneously developing a grand vision of liberty and peace. Let’s not be naïve, however. Such liberty and peace are built upon the most fundamental aspect of government: self-government. Without the self-government of the Christian person, there can ultimately be no liberty or prosperity. Thus, the civil applications of God’s law are secondary, or at least only complimentary, to the vital need for the individual conversion of the soul to Christ, and the self-government under God’s law that follows. These are the fundamental elements of Christian culture.
With such Christian self-government and self-consciousness more widespread, we could begin to start expecting changes in civil law and government as well.
For starters, the religious foundations of social order would be protected. Christians of all denominations could flourish. Religious liberty would be protected. Those who do not wish to worship Christ may hold private opinions and even practice other religions. Freedoms of assembly and speech would continue, and public debate and dissent would certainly be tolerated. Only purposeful, open disgrace and defiance would be prohibited. Traitors and revolutionaries would be banished or even executed in extreme cases.
The civil government would be greatly decentralized and in all cases itself subject to the rule of law. It would be greatly limited in its scope and focus, its budget and treasury, and the nature of its army (Deut. 17:14–20). It would dare not undertake any measure of war without prayer and assurance of a just cause, and would always exhaust every effort for peace first. This would forbid entanglements through international alliances, especially with anti-Christian nations (Ex. 23:32; 34:15–16).
No one could be forced to work on Sunday or fired for refusing to do so in most cases (Ex. 20:8–11; 23:13; Lev. 23:3).
Parental authority would be upheld by the civil government and its discipline honored. Those who attack parents have committed more than simple assault and battery, they have attacked the foundation of social authority itself. They could be subject to punishment, though the death penalty is now commuted to exile (Ex. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18–21). This law is not applied to children. Jesus upheld this law (Matt. 15:1–9; Mark 7:1–13) and applied it to adults who curse their parents (see Mark 7:11—“a man”). On this principle, incorrigible criminals can earn the death penalty as well, and others lose the right to vote.
Government agencies such as Child Protective Services or Departments of Family Services would be abolished or stripped of power to remove children, divide families, or otherwise impose penal actions through civil or administrative courts. All government Departments of Education would be abolished, all government schools privatized, and the primary responsibility for education would return to the family. Home and private education would reflect the worldview of the parents, and thus would normally be explicitly Christian and express God’s foundations of social order (Deut. 6:7–9; 11:19–21). Property taxes would be eliminated, freeing citizens and families from the socialistic burden of financing the educations of other people’s children, and destroying the government’s stranglehold over both property and education—a powerful tool of liberal activists and statists. Christians would be freed politically, religiously, and financially to educate their own children at their own expense and to the glory of God. Business, technical, and trade education would flourish. Ridiculous degrees in feminist studies and other fringe liberal arts propped up today only by enormous government subsidies would largely disappear.
The principle of honoring parents extends in certain ways to other positions of honor or authority. Cursing (not merely criticizing or challenging) government officials or other authorities is prohibited (Ex. 22:28). The most common relic of this principle used today is the crime of contempt of court, though it may often be abused. Still formally on the books are censures for things like contempt of Congress also. This legacy would continue, be more formalized, and taught. It will be expected for people to honor the aged and elders in general as well (Lev. 19:32). Judges and government officials, however, will themselves be held to strict standards of law and righteousness (Deut. 16:18): grievances will certainly be petitioned for redress, and all government agents (the few there would be) held accountable.
Thus parents and authority in general are protected from abuse. This is not because they are perfect, but because they are not. Even imperfect authority, however, is preferable to revolution and anarchy. These laws protect the social order itself.
Next section: What it would look like: a second table vision
Conservatives have heretofore evaded the force of the “fake news” label while pinning it back on their liberal accusers with fair success. At this point, prominent libs have been caught in so many transparent lies and frauds that their whole “fake news” crusade could do nothing but backfire on them. There are only so many Benghazis and Brian Williamses a reputation can endure. You end up having to trust the memory-hole of the American public—a force never to be underestimated. But what happens when you are forced to realize your favorite conservative journalists are exaggerators and liars, too? Do we have the courage to call them out with the same consistency?
We’ve heard a lot of bandying back and forth recently about “fake news.” The left volleyed the label at right-leaning news outlets, and the right spiked it right back down their throats, showing a nearly unending supply of stories doctored by the left for the left. At this point, it seems both sides are entrenched, and each will always ignore its own lies while magnifying those of the other. It would take a clear-cut case of a clear lie to overcome the partisan-spirit’s benefit-of-the-doubt for itself, and given the power of pure prejudice, even a whopping, overt case may not be enough.
But we do have one (in fact, we have many). This morning, a news story popped up in my feed stating “Obama Awards Himself Distinguished Public Service Medal.” The story was run by Breitbart, one of the sites most trusted by alt-right and hard-right conservatives.
To say this story is a lie is not to support Obama in any way, nor to deny his tremendous ego or devious lies, self-serving ambition, etc., etc.; but, this story is a bald-faced lie. The medal was not awarded to Obama by himself. According to the government website about this particular medal, the authority who approves this award is the Secretary of Defense, not the President.
But, you say, that’s a minor technicality! Obama appointed the SoD, so he obviously pressured or influenced this decision, right? At this point, you have left the realm of proven fact and waded into partisan conjecture—the very sin for which you decry the fake news of the left. The only difference is, this particular fake news sates your appetite for anti-Obama information. It reinforces your already-stoked hatred of all things Obama.
In short, it’s red meat. You believed it, commented on it, shared it, and promoted it because you took the bait. You didn’t employ even one second of critical thought; you just pounced on the meat.
And it will backfire on you, conservative. Even if you are to maintain, without evidence, the belief that Obama somehow influenced the decision to award him this medal, you would then have to answer why George W. Bush’s SoD did the exactly the same thing for him, and at around exactly the same time—the end of his second term. Likewise, Bill Clinton’s SoD did the same thing at the same time.
Snopes, although not always trustworthy, is right here with just basic facts and sources.
Obviously, this is nothing more than a meaningless, token ritual award in recent times. It’s so mundane and bipartisan it’s not even newsworthy.
So why spin a complete lie to create a red meat treat? I can only surmise it’s either because they know they can get away with it with their alt-right base (it currently has over 10k comments), or because it drives website traffic and generates revenue; or, perhaps, both.
It’s saddening to me that conservatives lower themselves to the level of lying leftists. Gary DeMar wrote a while back on his experience with leftists spinning his interviews into red meat lies. He rightly says that one can always expect this. But it is within conservatism where most of the Bible-believing Christians are; it is here where judgment begins, the house of God. We can cry all day about the lies of the left, but if we do not police the lies among out own ranks by the same standard, we are as bad as the left, if not worse because we profess Christ.
One article lists several prominent media personalities who have been caught lying in the recent past. You’ll be right to assume you’ll find the likes of Brian Williams in the list, as well as certain reporters who lied about Benghazi. Conservatives are well familiar with all the lies of the left—they are broadcast ad nauseam across conservative and alt-right sites. But would you believe the there are several Fox News personalities in the list, too—caught in not just mistakes but objective, proven lies.
You are probably well familiar with Hillary’s lie about landing in a war zone with bullets flying. Brian Williams, too. But did you know Bill O’Reilly made almost identical claims about being in the Falkland Islands during the 1982 war, bullets and all? The statements were objective, and proven false. Yet, did O’Reilly apologize? Was he sanctioned? Were conservatives outraged?
O’Reilly not only never apologized (as far as I can see), he doubled down and called his accusers liars instead, and defended himself (often changing the subject and nature of his claims) in subsequent interviews.
Likewise, Sean Hannity was caught fraudulently editing a view feed to make a conservative rally appear far larger than it really was. When caught and outed by Jon Stewart, Hannity did not apologize, but did say the channel made an “inadvertent mistake.” Hardly.
What conservatives don’t realize is that when they give liars a pass, they also justify the same type of behavior by the left. You make the toleration of lies the norm, and you will without a doubt get more lies all around. Using media to deceive and advance political agendas will become the order of the day, as it pretty much is now. You may not like it when the left does it; you may scream and cry; but when your guys do it too and you don’t scream and cry, you don’t demand resignations and boycott their shows and books, you don’t cover them with shame in social media, they you have no moral leg the stand on.
The real fearful fact is that the left is far better and more well-trained at unconscionable lies then we are. As long as lies are the status quo, they will eventually win. So, honestly, we have nothing to lose by not, you know, doing what we profess we do: following the Ten Commandments. That means also sanctioning those purported pundits among us who overtly defy them. It means recognizing all liars across the board and kicking them out of positions of leadership and influence. Frankly, until Christians and conservatives hold such people accountable, they’re a laughingstock of hypocrisy and sitting ducks for the left.
(Photo from SEIU on Flickr, CCA License 2.0)
I wish I would have saved the Facebook post I saw the other day, something to the effect of, “There ought to be an award for people who criticize the most without actually reading the article.”
Social media, with its barrage of headlines, blurbs, and limited characters, seems to temp people’s reflexes more than their critical thinking. I’ve seen even the normally-pensive turn into piranha once certain words of phrases step into the waters. Or is this just normal human nature?
I think it’s more the latter. Think about it: think how many times you’ve tried to have a political or religious conversation with someone of opposing views, only to be shot down, shut down, name-called, slandered, misrepresented, talked over, gang-tackled, or worse. From this phenomenon comes the great variety of memes and labels that each make 50 percent of the population laugh at the other in superiority, while oblivious to the fact that the other 50 percent is doing the same thing to them.
From this circus of media, we are blessed with derogations such as “Paulbots,” “nevertrumpers,” “neocons,” “libtards,” “homophobes,” “cuckservative,” and countless more—all of which, once established, can effectively shut down any conversation or argument no matter its merits. Granted, there may always be some cases in which some of these terms do actually apply to folk, but once meme status is achieved, the appellative becomes the stamp of unreason in virtually every application.
The worse aspect of this problem, however, is that it soon becomes the immediate go-to weapon before the whole article gets read, before all the nuances get considered, or even before the article gets read, period. Words become tools for bludgeoning a perceived enemy instead of tools of reason, discourse, education, and understanding. Christians, and Christian thinkers especially, ought to provide examples of the latter—and this often takes the exercise of the spiritual fruit of suspension of judgment and reaction for a good bit.
Along with political labels, there are also many words, phrases, ideas, or topics which historically can have the same effect of provoking mindless reaction and conversation-stopping. One of these I dared to put in print the other day, and from some quarters the reaction was predictable. From others, however, well, I wish I would have thought of that “didn’t read the article” award at the time. Some attributions of what I said, or was getting at, compared to what I actually wrote were fairly stark; and in most cases, I had already clearly addressed the misgiving in the article. I won’t take the time to write a “refutation” of everything that was said—pointless for many reasons, which, if not clear already, will be later—but I will offer a couple comments that hopefully will help all involved, except the rabid, overt racists—although I hope to convert as many of those as possible, too.
When I posted an article the other day to provide some intellectual background for my work on American slavery and racism, I dared utter a word that is on the “forbidden reading” shelf for conservatives: “reparations.”
That single word was all it took to unleash the guard dogs of the traditional canned arguments against the traditional “call” for reparations:
Not all blacks were slaves. How do we know who gets what?
How much do they get? It’s impossible to figure out. It’ll turn into a never-ending welfare money pit.
Who has to pay all this? I never owned slaves. Why should I have to pay?
You’re punishing the children for the sins of the fathers.
Why only blacks? What about all the whites who were also enslaved? Don’t they get reparations too? Why not?
So now all whites have to pay money to all blacks!? That’s crazy. You’re a leftist libtard.
Wouldn’t this be socialism? I thought you argue against socialism!
Where would we get the extra money? We’re already in debt.
There are so many problems with the reparations idea that we could never figure them all out! Why open this can of worms?
With these types of mostly self-justifying arguments—most of which can be answered easily, by the way—the traditional knee-jerking conservative shuts down the conversation for himself and his 50 percent. “You said ‘reparations.’ I’ve read Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams (they’re black by the way; ha ha on you!). So, you’re dumb. Next.”
Of course, had these Fox crusaders actually read the article, they would have crossed, just for starters, this:
The greatest problem for reparations now is, in fact, practical. It is that, after such great passage in time, how in the world we would account for who all gets paid, how much, for how long, and who has to pay it. At this point, I am less averse to having it paid from the general fund (assuming it would be cut from other areas of the budget, many of which are waste and idiocy anyway), even though this would seem to be the very type of socialism I myself decry. I think, however, that is not socialism per se, but a matter of justice delayed and yet due, and should have been exacted from the public wealth of the South to begin with. I would be happy to see other parts of actual socialistic bureaucracies denuded of budget to make restitution where it is due, could it actually be calculated and all the logistical and individual issues sorted out. This thinking of mine is purely conceptual and heuristic at this point.
There are many other problems, of course, as well as other issues.
Any critic who had any of the standard reservations against the traditional “reparations” argument should have seen from just this much that mine is hardly a traditional reparations argument, and, in fact, has little in common with it. Further, I went out of my way to acknowledge that this is only a starting point for discussion (not a “call for reparations” by Joel McDurmon), that conservatives (instead of liberals and far left leftists)—especially the churches—should have been out in front of the conversation, and that there are many problems and issues to overcome.
But the most that any critic seemed to have gotten from this paragraph was one guy who argued, “Why does only the South have to pay?” Talk about tunnel vision.
Read the text! I did not say only the South should have to pay. I said it should have paid originally, to begin with. As the loses of a war, obviously, it should have paid the spoils, and the spoils should have gone at least in part to the victims of their crime. To make matters worse, the victims were promised some of the spoils; they never got it.
Today, however, if there were to be payments, it would obviously have to be a national issue with many more nuances and angles addressed. Again, this needs to be addressed more in the way I just mentioned above.
Then, to make matters even clearer, I concluded like this:
I say we should instead start planning a comprehensive, conservative biblical program of healing race relations, not even shying from considering reparations on the table. It will involve many issues, like criminal justice reform, what repentance in this area looks like, how, in fact, the issue actually gets resolved so that it is resolved, etc. [emphasis now added].
One of the complaints I heard was that “reparations” would be a never-ending punishment for whites and a perpetual welfare scheme. But see how I just addressed that already? Someone didn’t read the article.
The opposite knee-jerk also appeared: what an insult it is to think you can just pay money and everything will suddenly be ok!
No, I didn’t say that; but if there is a material reparation to be considered as part of healing race relations, then we need some objective criteria to avoid the political equivalent of eternal punishment. This is a legitimate concern for taxpayers. Settling it will have to be part of a larger discussion about what else full healing involves. Nobody here is trying to dole out hush money to get it over with; but we need to have an adult conversation where at least some objective criteria are able to have the upper hand over the emotional conversation-stopping by all sides.
All of this is not to say that there were not some able, level-headed, and helpful criticisms and comments to the previous article. There certainly were, and I welcome them. There were, in fact, some very helpful ideas looking forward, and I thank the people, like Creation Ministries’ Rob Carter, who helped make them.
It is my hope and prayer that by braving these early stone-throws from the reactionaries—who, as I said in the previous piece, are more fearful of the overall “leftism” with which they’ve associated the issue wholesale than they would be of the truth, were they to consider it more dispassionately—I can help start a broader discussion among Christians and conservatives, and inspire a passion for this issue which not only sees it through to some meaningful reform, but also itself inspires the drive needed to see the connections to other issues like criminal justice, the war on drugs, drug addiction treatment, and so much more, so that further needed reforms will develop there too.
In the meantime, I don’t mind the few volleys of unreason. I can exhibit them as examples of what to avoid, and I can provide an example for Christian leaders of how first to endure them, and then avoid engaging in them ourselves. Our Lord knows that many of our black brethren have endured them long enough. Who is brave enough to stand beside them for the law of God and truth?
I can hardly believe we’re at the end of another year already, but I give thanks that 2016 has been as productive as ever, if not more so. I want to thank you all especially for helping us accomplish all that we’ve done and for helping us grow into new areas of influence. And I’d like to tell to you why I am so excited for your support going into the future.
We got off to a great start this year with the release of my introduction to biblical law, The Bounds of Love. This book was so anticipated and well-received that we found ourselves having to reprint it within a week! When we caught up to the demand, we began to receive great reviews from both our younger followers, who had been seeking a simple and clear introduction to biblical law, as well as seasoned readers who had been seeking clarification on some tough passages.
The response to our new resource greatly encouraged me. Readers wrote:
- “I cannot recommend this book and author any more highly….”
- “This book is one of the greatest breaths of fresh air I have read in a long time and I would not hesitate to share it with anyone…. I think Joel has a forward looking vision and an understanding that is far superior to those who often appear to be stuck in the past.”
- “Hopefully this book will begin to spark much needed discussions on what Theonomy should look like. Thanks Joel McDurmon for having the courage to tackle this much needed subject.”
- “I just finished your new book today The Bounds of Love. I loved it. Thank you so much for writing this book. You addressed things that have bothered me about the theonomy teachings I have heard…. I found it easy to read and a great book to give to folks to introduce them to theonomy. Thank you. Thank you.”
- “I am in the middle of chapter 3 of your book, and I have to say that so far it’s been eye-opening for me….”
- “I am thoroughly enjoying Joel McDurmon’s intro to theonomy, titled, The Bounds of Love. Joel’s explanation on Decalogue First table administration via Christ and not civil gov’t. is thoroughly explored and documented with scripture. Read this book, if you get the chance.”
First, let me thank you because it was your support that made this work and this influence possible. And this is always the case with all that we do.
Your support helps us reach not only hundreds of new readers, but also to provide the intellectual and moral foundations for other ministries around the world. This summer, I spent 11 days ministering in Australia and Tasmania. I spoke multiple times at three separate conferences, and met with other ministry leaders, young and old. I can tell you that there is a group of Christians there serious about applying biblical worldview to every area of life, and your support is helping to reach them, provide materials, and disciple them.
Likewise, The American Vision influences and develops the worldviews of many of our own nation’s ministry leaders as well. One popular ministry wrote me the other day,
“There is just no way for me to express my gratitude and the debt that I owe to AV. The Lord has used the ministry He has given to me to change thousands upon thousands of lives—from a weekly program that has been downloaded millions of times, to a media ministry viewed millions of times. American Vision’s work has helped to cultivate my own understanding of God’s Gospel, His Law, and our inheritance in this world. Because of that transformation the Gospel is sweeter, God is bigger, and our future more beautiful in the minds of untold numbers of people.”
“That’s worth something to my mind. I hope in your mind too. There are ministries that God uses to reshape the world. American Vision is one of those ministries.”
Likewise, a 30-year veteran and director of a national-level, no-compromise pro-life ministry relates the following:
“In God’s good Providence, the Lord brought American Vision into my life many years ago. As I studied the Scriptures and cried out to God for truth, American Vision filled the void. God used AV to answer many of my questions and prayers. Their teachings on Biblical Worldview, History, God and Government, and debunking the “End Time” myths were God-sent. These teachings helped change my life. They equipped me to effectively serve the Lord in a greater capacity. I’m grateful and want to extend a big thank you to American Vision for their faithfulness to the Lord and His Word!”
It is important for you to know that when you support American Vision, you are not supporting the mere publishing of books, but you are expanding our biblical worldview to the influence of other leaders and other ministries.
Your prayers and dollars support us, but also flow through us into countless lives and works of other individuals and institutions. That means your support is multiplied exponentially through the reach of other ministries, legal firms, law students, activists, political leaders, and judicial officials.
This is the reason we stay so excited about our work here at American Vision. We continue to receive thanks from individuals, but also consistently work to build new relationships with other organizations of all sorts who rely upon our work, and we work hard to strengthen and develop our existing relationships.
This is why we look forward to publishing more and more materials toward the goal of the next Reformation. We got Gary North’s book Christian Economics in One Lesson coming out just this month, and next month, we’ll have American Vision’s edition of my doctoral work, Rejections of Mosaic Civil Law During the Early Reformation—a challenging but enlightening look at the broader context of civil law and eschatology in which Calvin and Luther lived and wrote.
Likewise, we are beginning interviews with potential app developers for our Worldview Study Bible. We are making progress on this huge project, and while it seems slow (to no one more than myself!), we actually have quite a chunk of the basic content in place and ready to go for the coding process. This will take a lot of time and money, not to mention a ton of work on our part, but it will all be well worth it in the end.
And we have even more than this on the horizon. I have at least two major writing projects on American history, race, and criminal justice that I hope to release in next year.
People who visit our facility are often impressed with the amount the amount we are able to produce, and the level of reach we have, with such a small staff and streamlined operation. This is because we love our work and believe in what we do, and we also believe in accountability and thrift. We make every dollar go as far as it can, and we don’t stop: we make sure it does go far.
We still have a long way to go and much work to do. We need your help to continue. In these last few days of the year, please consider a generous end-of-year, tax-deductible donation to American Vision. You may also consider becoming a recurring donor to sustain us throughout the year. As always, we remain thankful for your prayers and support.
Thank you, and God bless!
The American Vision, Inc.
Chapter 5: Taxation
5.3 How to Cut Taxes
We have now seen how taxes used to be very low in this nation. We have seen—enough anyway—how that has changed over time. In an earlier section we talked about the “ratchet effect” in the size and power of government. The people cede gradual increments here and there until one day the chains of government are tightened to the point we can’t breathe. This is nowhere more evident in American history than in the issue of taxation. The question is, can we loosen the screws? Better yet, who’s got the bolt cutters?
First let’s discuss what needs to be done. Then we will discuss what practical things we can do to help advance the cause of liberty in taxation.
What needs to be done? Let me explain the real problem first. If you can grasp this problem, you can get very close to the heart of the loss of freedom in America.
Taxation is the wicked step-sister of spending. They are quite a tandem, let me tell you. Politicians love to promise low taxes, but they rarely talk seriously about cutting spending. Without cutting spending, there has to be either further taxation or increased debt. There is no other way to get around this. What needs to be done is a drastic cut in unnecessary public spending (most of it), and simultaneously a drastic cut in taxation to match.
While most attention is focused on the national debt, deficits, “debt ceilings,” and the specter of spending cuts—and all for good reason, as these should all are important issues—local spending and waste gets much less emphasis, even by those people who follow politics closely. But billions of dollars are wasted unnecessarily all over other nation in local governments, and most of this could be cut and taxes lowered. Local spending must be attacked and subdued. And if we can’t organize to stop the waste locally, if we can’t impose some fiscal discipline and even sacrifice locally, you can forget it at the State or national levels where the booty is greater by a factor of a thousand and the entrenched forces greater as well. Indeed, the local graft often provides the training ground for those who rise to positions of State and Federal power later.
Here’s an example: I just checked my local county commission’s minutes from the latest bi-weekly meeting. This was a random check. There was nothing special about this meeting, it was rather low-key. And yet, in this one meeting, the commission stamped $219,000 in new contracts and $59,000 extra for two existing contracts. Now, in terms of county budgets, a few hundred thousand is not much. But consider that 1) the board meets some twenty-five times or more per year, 2) that these are arguably not necessary public expenses, 3) that there are other projects going on (also arguably unnecessary) which have a price tag of tens of millions, 4) that we are still living with the effects of a great recession and on the precipice of a new one, 5) that the money has to come from taxation in some way, 6) that much of the tax money goes to contractors from outside the county, and 7) that the decisions to blow away millions of dollars on behalf of thousands of people are generally made by just a few people (this is inadequate representation). In other words, while average people are feeling a great financial squeeze and many have lost jobs and homes, local government officials are spending almost whimsically, without blinking, and with little to no input from the public in regard to the budget. And this is just one example. This is going on in every county and municipality in the nation.
In many cases, money is borrowed upon the collateral of future taxation. In other words, a government wants to spend more than it currently has. It goes to the bank and says, “Loan us money.” The bank looks at the government’s budget and sees income already maxed out with no surpluses on hand. It replies, “How will you pay back the loan?” This is hypothetical, of course; the bank already knows how the government will pay back. “We will raise a new tax,” is the reply. The bank looks at the legal situation: it sees that the government has the authority to tax, and it has the force (guns) to collect the taxes. Looks like a pretty safe investment for the bank (which stands to draw interest in the bond, by the way). (We will cover this relationship more in our topic of banking.)
Thus, the government borrows money it does not have on the promise of future taxation. In other words, on the decision of just a few people, an entire municipality or county is indebted by millions, with the politician’s promise to the bank that the government will extract more money from the people in the future to pay the loan with interest. In other words, I repeat myself, the commissioners say, “These people will pick up my tab.” This is implicitly saying that the people work for the government (and the banks), not the government for the people. The people are essentially slaves of their government.
The only thing standing in the way of such a maneuver is—in some cases—a vote from the people. Normally, people are opposed to increased debts and higher taxes, and such a deal would never fly. But the government and other interested parties (school boards, teachers unions, etc.) have tricks up their sleeves to get their funds. First, they try secrecy and quietness to keep voter turnout very low. They only publish the proposal to the minimum extent required by law, and hold the vote in a special election. With most average people busy with their lives and disinterested or complacent, very few people even hear about the vote, fewer understand the issue, and even fewer actually vote.
And voter turnout can lead to terribly deceptive conclusions. To illustrate, in my little semi-rural county, the school board has indebted the public to the tune of $146 million over the space of the past decade or so (this tyrannical debt is mild compared to many other places). Tax revenues have not covered what was projected (surprise!), so a vote was required to extend a tax increase for a few more years. This would cover, allegedly, $55 million in outstanding debts. The vote came in: 55% for and 45% against the tax extension. That sounds pretty standard until you look at the numbers involved:
Out of about 71,000 registered voters, only about 33,000 showed up—well less than half. This number in higher than normal because the bond issue was tacked onto the ballot for the 2010 national mid-term elections. Thus it was a general ballot which drew far more people than a special election. Of these, only about 31,500 voted on the school-bond tax. Of these 31,500, only about 17,500 voted for it, making up the 55%, with 14,000 against.
In other words, it was not 55% of “the people,” but rather 55% of those few people who decided to vote specifically on the issue. In the end, the 17,500 pro-tax votes represented only about 25% of the registered voter base; and the margin of victory, 3,500 votes, made up less than 5% of registered voters. Thus, 5% of the voter base determined the imposition of a special tax on everyone else.
These are absolutely pitiful numbers, and yet they are nowhere near as pitiful as what happens when there are no national and/or state personalities on the ballot. This particular school bond tax vote was the fourth of its kind in fourteen years (1997, 2001, 2006, and 2010). It was the previous three that actually acquired all the bond debt, and thus these three were responsible for the outstanding millions at the heart of this latest round. Well, the previous three were all conducted via special elections, and as a result, not one saw a total voter turnout higher than 4,000 (the numbers were 3,905, 1,385, and 2,299 respectively). In other words, only a couple thousand people in favor of more debt and higher taxes—and in truth, only the few hundred who provided the margin of victory—were required for indebting and taxing the whole population. This means that only a tiny, tiny percentage determined the issue for everyone. And now there is no escape from it. If that’s not tyranny, if that’s not ridiculous, I don’t know what is.
I have labored these facts to make the point that low voter turnout favors higher taxes and greater government debt. This is exacerbated when turnout is so low that only a few hundred votes can swing the outcome. In this case, it is mostly those who stand to benefit from the money—teachers, administrators, officials, contractors, etc.—who will be “in the know” and will like to keep competition (taxpayers) from opposing them in the vote. Thus the very people who call for the issuance of the bond, and who also control the public relations in regard to it, are the very ones who wish to keep voter turnout to a minimum.
And this is only their first trick. Another is more commonly known, but also more commonly fallen for. It’s the emotional appeal. If public relations become an issue, then you can pick your emotional appeal: if it’s a tax for education, it’s “for the kids” and “for a better tomorrow,” and if you oppose it then you despise children and want us all to be uneducated, knuckle-dragging hillbillies with no hope for tomorrow. And since most people cannot imagine a world in which the government is not the single central benefactor in education, they actually believe this nonsense. If it’s a tax for police or fire, then you can be sure you will hear lots of appeal about “safety” and how brave and selfless every single policeman is, always there to protect and serve; and if you oppose more of this then you are promoting higher crime, kids hooked on drugs, women being raped on the streets, houses being left to burn to the ground with children and kittens inside, and illegal immigrants fleeing the scenes of accidents leaving little old ladies paralyzed for life. This is not to say there are not some great policemen and firemen, but the romance novels written by propagandists here are endless—and people in love with them.
Of course, it’s funny, all those people who want bonds issued to pay for their children’s education for a better tomorrow—they totally ignore the fact that their children will be the ones paying off those debts, along with the fat pensions of the public officials and teachers who called for them to begin with, in the future. Some “better tomorrow.”
Then there is the theft of hope trick. It says, “We’re going to have to pay for this somehow anyway, so you might as well vote for it.” This is a false choice. In my local example, the deal was this: if the increased sales tax did not pass, then the county was going to use its authority to increase the school bond portion of property taxes anyway. Since, to most people, a 1% sales tax sounds less ominous than 3.6% higher property taxes, they jump at the deal. What remains unspoken is that there wouldn’t have been any tax increased needed at all if the money had not been borrowed and spent to begin with.
Another trick deals with PR and public ignorance. Perhaps voters will turn out, so the big spenders will have to make their expenditure look like a good thing on the ballot. Thus, the very way in which the bond issue is represented on the ballot becomes of interest. When the voter reads the issue (probably for the first time), he or she must be made to believe voting for it is a net good. By presenting the issue as the promotion of education in general, for example, the vote stands a greater chance of passing an apparently small tax than if the emphasis were placed on the millions of dollars in debt, the few it will actually help, the graft and waste involved, etc. Indeed, the amount of debt may not necessarily be legally required to appear on the ballot. Only some very brief and general description, like: “Provision 001: A vote to temporarily extend an existing 1% sales tax for bonds issued for Public Schools.” Nothing is mentioned of even the alternative increase in property taxes, or anything else. Thus, many voters are essentially uninformed, and functionally misinformed at the ballot box.
What needs to be done is an immediate spending freeze and drastic cuts in unnecessary local budgets in every local government in the nation. (The same is true for State and Federal government as well, but good luck on that. We must start local.) This also means that all local public borrowing—all bond issues—should stop immediately as well, for it is the most insidious form of spending.
What can average individuals do to advance such a cause? The first is what I have already said, set up a monitoring website. As part of such a site, there needs to be a clear section regarding all public finance. Use requests for public information to your public officials for all the documents, facts, and figures you can get. Keep up with commission meetings and or other public officials’ meetings. Most today are posted online. Learn and post any agenda item that will cost public money or imply increased taxes or debts. Make all of this information as simple and clear to the public as possible—extract it from the obscurity of meeting minutes, detailed reports, etc. Just publish the clear and pertinent info.
Second, all public bonds on all occasions are anathema, period. No more public debt, no more taxation on the backs of our futures and our children. It would be good to oppose such systematically at the polls, and inform your local representatives to do so as well. If people think some things are so important to fund, then let them organize and raise funds to do it privately. If it’s worth doing, the money will not be hard to come by. Forcing everyone to pay for services only some use is a tyranny.
Third, if you profit from public contracts, especially based on bond issuances, then you should stop. If you have greatly enriched your business and/or yourself on such, then you should consider yourself like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10)—and you should pay restitution. Except, since it would be difficult to pay back every single taxpaying individual, I would recommend giving the money to a reputable public charity.
Fourth, start a local group—if one does not already exist—dedicated to spreading this information locally and increasing voter turnout. Give flyers and cards to local businesses, the chamber of commerce, radio stations, etc. If you have a small non-profit foundation, you can take advantage of public service announcements on radio. This will help spread awareness and hopefully increase turnout. You can even use all of these outlets to inform the public of important details they will not get from the bond issuing authorities themselves, or the ballot, or anywhere else. If you have some wealth and are looking for a way to serve the public, setting up such a foundation would be a great idea (after donating to American Vision, of course!).
Fifth, there are other avenues to pursue. Investigate into your local public salaries and pension plans. These may very well be high, or even luxurious or exorbitant. Check it out. If you find something objectionable to the public, then let the presses roll. Post it all clearly online. For the really adventurous, you could rent a public billboard or portable sign (check for legal places to put one first!) that largely and clearly exposes the waste. There are many ways to expose these things to the public; be creative.
There is no doubt that the single most important measure for lowering taxes is to cut spending and oppose public bonds. The appeal to cut taxes must come simultaneously. It will do no good to leave revenues the same while cutting spending for a time. It would be no time at all before the government finds other ways to spend the revenue. We need simultaneous spending cut and tax cuts.
A loftier goal would be bond and tax referendum reform. It is absolutely ludicrous that a bare majority of even a tiny voter turnout is sufficient to indebt a whole population. There should be very high requirements: such as at least a two-thirds majority of all registered voters. Even this is not biblical for bonds, and is dubious for taxation, but it would at least make the default answer in the case of voter complacency, ignorance, propaganda, or deception (all very likely) to be “No” rather than to favor government spending. It would at least greatly hinder government spending and taxation. It would require great energy, organization, and personal expenditure on the part of anyone wishing to advance a new debt or tax. And even then, those who do not use the system should get tax exemptions.
This can, of course, only come through political change. It must include a movement to abolish all unbiblical forms of taxation, and minimize what taxation may remain. Of course, before such a movement can begin, we need to see the rise of private alternatives—particularly in that main artery of local public expenditure, public education. That’s why this project starts off with private education (and a call for tax exemptions for those who don’t use the system). Then it goes to privatizing social insurances. There is no reason society could not also privatize police, fire, and EMT, or at least privatize and contractualize the way they are funded. These few things would negate enormous chunks of public expenditures, and taxes should be slashed to match. In the meantime, there will be no viable and sustainable political pressure toward cutting spending and taxes if we do not first pull our kids from public schools, establish our own future funds and insurances, and take care of our own families, parents, etc. in these regards. These are the things we can do as average individuals; and we must do them in order to establish the moral high ground for future change. We can also immediately work, learn, and expose corruption, graft, and excess at the local level. There is nothing stopping us here, and it can have significant effects on slashing spending and taxes in the future. We must create both public will and public self-discipline. While we prepare for these things, we need to focus our efforts and our children’s attentions on the details of local business, local politics, local issues, local culture, and local finance more than national.
Beat the bonds, break the taxes.
Next section: Freedom in money and banking
The following contribution is from Frederick Nymeyer, founder the journal Progressive Calvinism, which quickly was absorbed by Libertarian Press in the late 1950s. This article in particular is from Progressive Calvinism, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1956, pp. 91–95).
This was back when contemporary Reformed men, including the Dutch Reformed world, had something of substance to say to the world.
We have previously in this issue contrasted Moses and Socrates-Plato on the question of sex morality. On that question we unqualifiedly follow Moses, as being a more realistic and benign lawgiver.
But can we also follow Moses on the general principle for the organization of society, that is, in regard to his ideas of justice or righteousness, as distinguished from the ideas of Socrates and Plato [i.e., humanism]? We shall answer that question briefly and emphatically.
We believe that there is no significant difference between the ideas of Moses and the ideas of Socrates and Plato in regard to the goal of society—namely, justice (or as Moses would say, righteousness). Both, we believe, would accept the definition given by Socrates—the idea that justice is that everybody should find his proper place and get his proper due. Moses may not have been so explicit about stating the goal as Socrates and Plato, but the methods Moses prescribed are exactly suited to that end, and so the idea of justice as a result is dearly the same for both the Hebrew and the two Greeks.
But then they part company. The difference between them on the means to accomplish the objective is an unbridgeable, irreconcilable difference.
Socrates and Plato propose coercion. Moses proposes complete freedom, noncoercion, “meekness.”
We are here face to face with the wholly unique character of the Mosaic law. It is not a law “to do good”; it is instead a law “to restrain evil.” Socrates proposed a state which would accomplish the good; Moses proposed a state which would restrain the bad.
In order to restrain the bad, Moses said: honor father and mother; avoid coercion; do not commit adultery; do not lie; do not steal; do not covet. But aside from that you may pursue your legitimate self-regarding interests.1 You do not need to live for the state; nor for your neighbor; live for yourself BUT do not pursue your liberty at the expense of your neighbor (by coercion, immorality, lies, theft and covetousness against him).2
The contrast between Moses and Plato should be clearly understood. Begin with that which is not arguable, namely, everybody should find the best place in society in which he can satisfactorily perform; on this basis everybody attains his maximum potential and everybody obtains for himself maximum justice.
But how decide what each man can best perform?
(1) Are you to decide that yourself at the expense of others? If so, you are authorized to become a coercer.
(2) Is a government bureaucrat (a philosopher-king) to decide for you? Then he becomes a coercer.
(3) Is your neighbor to decide for you? Then he becomes a coercer.
Moses authorized none of these. Plato authorized the second.
Moses arranged for this system: the only acts that should be performed are when you and your neighbors can come to a voluntary agreement, that is, that you have a contract society3 and not a coercive society, a voluntary society and not a tyranny, a meek society and not a violent society.
Justice cannot be expected to be the result of coercion (1) by A for himself against his neighbors; nor (2) by a neighbor against A, nor (3) by neighbors collectively (government) against A. If coercion is inconsistent with justice, how can noncoercive justice be implemented? The following explains the way Moses’s noncoercive justice would work.
Following Socrates, we say that A should have his proper work (whatever that is), say, cobbling shoes. Suppose A, however, tries carpentry for which he is unsuited. Nobody will buy A’s unsatisfactory houses. He is obliged to change because his neighbors are not well served by his houses. A does not have his proper work and quits it. But A was not coerced in a real sense of the word. It is his choice to have gone into carpentry and to go out of it.
Say that A next turns to cobbling shoes, and assume that he does that well—so that his neighbors can profit from buying his shoes. A is now genuinely performing a service; otherwise they would not buy his shoes. His production is a brotherly deed; it does his neighbors some good.
There may, however, appear to be a possibility that justice (A’s opportunity to do his own work) may miscarry. Suppose A is a foreigner or has a certain religion or belongs to a certain race and therefore B and C and D are prejudiced and will not buy A’s shoes. But the shoes are really good. B and C and D then hurt themselves when they refuse to buy A’s excellent shoes. Injustice by a man never lasts long when it is at his own expense. In a very short time B or C or D will change his mind and buy. But the “injustice” toward A will also be frustrated by “competition.” If B and C and D are so hostile to A that they are willing to hurt themselves, then E and F and G will begin to buy A’s shoes. In fact, the more “unjust” B and C and D have been, the lower the price of the shoes and the greater the opportunity of E and F and G to profit from the malignancy and folly of the others. Eventually, the price of shoes will be the full market price. Justice will prevail.
Moses’s great noncoercive law has therefore three great devices to protect justice: (1) A’s free choice of his own work; (2) the self-interest of the neighbor; and (3) the freedom (competition) of all buyers (neighbors).
Society then finds its maximum potential on the basis of meekness, noncoercion, agreement, fraternity, or, if you will, brotherly love.
Any other kind of brotherly love must be based on coercion by somebody. How indeed can that be brotherly love?
And so Moses is the strangest lawgiver of all time. All other lawgivers legislated to restrict liberty. Moses alone, solitarily and grandly, legislated liberty.
All other lawgivers set some men up as rulers over other men in a positive sense. The rulers could tell those who were ruled what to do as well as what not to do. One man (or men) was authorized to lord it over other men. Some mystical public benefit was supposed to come from the coercion by the alleged wise and the alleged good men over other men—as if there were any who were really wise and really good.
Calvinists say that they believe in total depravity. Nobody, they say, is really good, or really trustworthy; we all fall into sin and unrighteousness (injustice would be the word Socrates would use). But this is purely a fictional principle for Calvinists unless they make the practical application Moses did, namely, all that you can trust to the men in government is to restrain evil. You cannot trust a government to do what is good in a positive sense—a welfare state.
As a legislator Moses is the most unique in all human history. Nobody else set out to do so little—namely, restrain evil. Nobody actually accomplished so much, namely, unleashed all the latent abilities of all men fired by legitimate self-interest but without exploitation of the neighbor.
You can think of Moses as a refugee Egyptian prince, or you can think of him as a desert herdsman loafing away his time while taking care of sheep and goats, or you can think of him as a powerful sagacious thinker in the Sinai desert, or you can think of him as a mere passive phonograph record for God at Mt. Sinai when he came down with the two stone tablets of the law, or you can think of him as a combination of any of the foregoing four—but of one thing anybody and everybody can be certain, namely, those two stone tablets represented the greatest legislation in all the history of mankind—a marvelous revelation.
Compared with that legislation, the legislation of the greatest of the Greeks is a gross error and an evil product.
We are reminded of what the English essayist wrote about Francois Villon, the blackguard French poet who “founded” French literature. Villon was a sorry specimen of mankind, living (as much as possible) off the earnings by prostitution of his girlfriend. And he was a wassailler and a thief and the rest. Of course, such a rogue would spend much time in prison, and occasionally at the end of each term would come blinking into the bright sunlight. But Villon was not much for light and beauty and goodness. He ignored all that and spent his time in all kinds of vileness; Stevenson uses the figurative expression of “munching crusts and picking vermin.” We assume Stevenson was referring to monkeys in the zoo, munching their crusts and picking vermin off each other and eating.
That is the way we look at the grand effort of Socrates and Plato. To follow them in regard to justice instead of following Moses is like “munching crusts and picking vermin” and like ignoring the great expanse of the firmament, and sunlight, and liberty, and the free winds that blow.
Three thousand two hundred years after the great legislator Moses, modem social thinkers in England and elsewhere came up with a modem version of the identical idea. This modem version took the name of laissez-faire.
The curious thing is that many conservative and liberal Calvinists are opposed to laissez-faire, a term which consists of two French words that mean the same as that Moses legislated, namely, freedom except no freedom to do wrong. In Progressive Calvinism we follow Moses and we accept laissez-faire because it is consistent with Moses.
Shall we believe Scripture? Or is it an unreliable Book? Is the wonderful soundness of the Mosaic Law proof of anything? In our thinking it is; it is proof that the law of Moses is the Law of God. Any contrary law, whether of Socrates, or Lycurgus, or Solon, or Draco, or Calvinists who believe in interventionism or in any law to do positive good is for us a law not from God but from an evil source.
What then is justice? Justice is that every man does that for which he is best fitted; further, that that for which he is best fitted is to be determined freely without coercion, according to his own inclination and not according to the command of men in government or the claims of neighbors; and finally, that the rewards for doing that for which each man is best fitted be likewise determined freely without coercion. In short, justice can exist only in a free market society, in a laissez-faire society, in a Mosaic society, in a Law-of-God society.
And when a society becomes that, it becomes prosperous—as Scripture promises. And when a society deviates from that, it becomes nonprosperous as Scripture threatens.
The teaching of Scripture and the findings of sound economics agree.
- For important phases of this problem, see the March, 1955, and later issues of PROGRESSIVE CALVINISM.
- This looks at life only from the viewpoint of neighbors, not in the relation of man to God. That is a larger and broader problem.
- See use of this term in Mises’s Human Action (Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 1949), Chapter VIII.
Patrick Fairbairn is most well-known for his work on Typology, but he wrote a tremendous amount besides that. In one of what is perhaps his least known works, his commentary on the pastoral epistles, there is a good discussion of the New Testament’s view of slavery (tucked away in an appendix, pp. 432–451). But despite its lack of prominence, it is very well balanced historically and exegetically, as well as in terms of the larger context of biblical theology and eschatological development (though he doesn’t put it in these terms). In particular, his comments on the development of the meaning of the Incarnation and basic Christian principles as social relations is not only sound but robust.
Fairbairn begins by suggesting that the common origin, common blood, and common rational nature of mankind ought to be enough. But there’s much more to Christianity, he says:
Yet this is but the preliminary ground or implied basis of Christianity, not its proper substance; and its influence in this direction becomes much greater when its grand central doctrine of the incarnation and death of the Son of God for the salvation of mankind is brought distinctly into view. This, when rightly known and considered by men, could not but be felt to be like the letting in of a new light upon the world, tending by a moral necessity to raise the common platform of humanity to a higher than its former level. It is from hence, most of all, that has sprung the idea of the brotherhood of mankind—of their original equality in God’s sight, and of the honour and blessedness of ministering to their wellbeing, apart from all the outward and artificial distinctions which in the heathen world entered so largely into men’s estimation of their fellow-men, and threw something like an impassable gulf between race and race, and one condition of life and another.
The Incarnation, among other things, places a priceless valuation on the imago dei. The salvation of man was worth the humiliation spoken of in Philippians 2:5–8, as far as the decision of Jesus was concerned. (Granted there is more to say to flesh out this type of “valuation” language for this doctrine, but the basic point is there.) Thus, Fairbairn continues:
The infinite condescension and glorious example of Christ virtually established for all a claim to the highest offices of kindness, and, wherever practically known, gave such an impulse to the more generous feelings of the heart, and the more active charities of life, that everything like cruel neglect or lordly oppression toward even the humblest grades of society could not fail to be regarded otherwise than as an outrage on humanity.
It is no surprise then that Philippians 2 makes the teaching of the condescension and humiliation of Christ the foundation of an ethic of behavior for Christians and specifically one that focuses on social relations:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Without even considering this particular passage, Fairbairn immediately moves from his previous comments to consider their implications for the ethics of Christian social relations:
Then, regard to the interests of salvation must have wrought in the same direction. From the moment that any one became a genuine believer, it was part of his obligations to see that everything of a proper and fitting kind was done to bring all under his influence or control to partake with him in the blessings of salvation. But how could the slave-owner commend to others about him the offers of a love, of which it was but too clear he had not yet received the full impression in his own bosom? How could he desire in earnest to see them rising to the possession and enjoyment of the liberties of God’s dear children? The attainment of such a standing in spiritual things, with its high privileges and endowments, he could not but see, would only render them the more deeply conscious of the ignoble chains which rested on their bodily condition; for how could they possess the rank of sons in God’s house, and realize their title to the glorious inheritance of the saints in light, without feeling the incongruity and the dishonor of being denied the place of citizens of earth, or of being allowed to take an independent part in the ordinary concerns of a present life? It was obviously impossible that the intelligent Christian slave should have felt otherwise than is now represented; and if not absolutely impossible, at least not very natural or easy, for his master to become a sincere convert to the gospel, and still keep the yoke of bondage riveted on the neck of a Christian brother.
Now, none of this is to say that there is not a very limited form of servitude still allowable in regard to certain debt conditions, or a form still acceptable in regards to punishments for crime; but what was dealt with in Roman times, as well as that in Fairbairn’s lifetime and in American history was a far different thing which in a score of ways falls under the condemnations Fairbairn is leveling here.
He was well aware of the contemporary application, and he continued:
Of the force of these considerations the history of the subject has yielded two very instructive and convincing illustrations. The first is the reluctance commonly exhibited by slave-owners to let those under their sway enjoy the full benefit of Christian instruction and privilege. How far this was the case in ancient times we can only infer from what has happened among the modern representatives of the class; but in the particular point under consideration, it is likely to have been worse rather than better in the earlier as compared with the later ages. Yet, as regards these later ages, no one in the least acquainted with the history of slavery can be ignorant how commonly slave-owners have been jealous of the diffusion of Christian knowledge and instruction among their slaves—what restraints they have generally laid upon it—how often even they have expressly and by severe penalties interdicted it. Viewed as a whole, it is not too much to say of their conduct, that it has betrayed an unmistakeable conviction that the light and liberties of the gospel carry along with them a certain danger to their proprietary interests, and involve views of truth and duty materially different from their own.
And boy that is the truth. When American theologians, including Southern ones, pressed for the need of Christian evangelism among the slaves, the greatest resistance came from the slave owners. They feared that hearing too much of the Bible would develop a thirst for liberty and a sense of self-worth that would lead slaves to desire freedom. They had other fears as well, for example, that too detailed an understanding of the obligations the Bible put upon masters would lead to unrest in many ways.
The compromise then came on the side of religion. Instead of preaching the whole counsel of God, including the logical entailments Fairbairn has here exemplified for us, and moving not only to evangelize but train slaves for liberty and encourage it, most of the slave catechisms that were developed specifically avoided verses that would relate any thought of liberty or proper equality. The slaves were largely kept in ignorance of certain parts of God’s message to them so that many slave owners could continue to capitalize on, as Fairbairn put it, “their proprietary interests.”
But where the logic of the faith was followed, we do in fact see proper developments:
The other confirmatory fact consists in the grounds and reasons which have most commonly induced believing slave-owners to grant liberation to their bondmen. It appears that in the actual progress of events the spirit of the gospel, imperfectly as it was too often understood and imbibed, played an important part.
Fairbairn goes then on to elucidate this latter point as well, which you can follow by checking out the rest of the appendix for yourself.
Now, this is of course no comprehensive treatise. As with everything on any issue, particularly this one, there is much more to address and several exceptions here and there. But the general thrust is, I believe, well demonstrated in just these few comments from Patrick Fairbairn. The Incarnation, as I have stated more generally elsewhere, is the bedrock doctrine for all human liberty. Faith, and faithfulness to the principles of our faith, are absolute necessities for the development of this liberty; and that faithfulness entails certain obligations in regard to social relations as well.
Further, as with all my work on race and slavery, we must always be mindful that the tyrannies that were never addressed, or never fully or properly addressed, in a biblical fashion will only continue to create more general tyrannies that enslave us all—statism, police states, Socialism, etc. Along with this, we will also see a parallel failure in the response from religion: a selectivity in the message it gives those in the pews, fearful that the sheep will get a yearning or even a bit of knowledge about liberty and Christian social relations, and thereby upset the “proprietary interests” of our master, the state. No, no: don’t read that verse. Don’t interpret that like that. These things only pertain to the narrow meanings of the heavenly realm, wherein lies your true liberty.
When we begin to understand these aspects of Christian experience as related to the Incarnation of Christ, we’ll begin to understand more what he meant when he says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” and, “As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matt. 25:40, 45).
I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells” (Rev. 2:13).
I was checking out at our CVS Pharmacy when the young lady behind the counter noticed that my total came to $6.66. I assured her that the number was insignificant since it applied to someone who lived nearly 2000 years ago and that her Bible most likely had a page numbered 666. She laughed.
When I got home, I found an article I had written on the subject (“Calculating the Number of the Beast“) in which I explain that the number 666 in Revelation 13:18 may be a reference to King Solomon (1 Kings 10:14). You can read the article here.
I was going to print it out and take it to her the next time I saw her. As I was reading through it, I noticed that someone named Daniel Scott had written a couple of objections. As is often the case, the disagreement came down to how certain passages are misinterpreted and used as the basis of a critique. Once the starting point is going in the wrong direction, the destination is seriously in doubt. It’s a form of “Wrong-Way Corrigan” exegesis. Before any further analysis can be made, the flawed exegetical starting point must be examined and corrected in order to get to the proper destination – sound exegesis.
There are numerous examples of flawed starting points when it comes to the topic of eschatology. “This generation” becomes “this race” or “the generation that sees these signs.” In the first case, the Greek word for “race” (genos) is not used in Matthew 24:34. Jesus uses the Greek word genea. Even so, “race” is often cited as a possible translation by dispensationalists. This translation effort was popularized with the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible:
Gr. genea, the primary definition of which is, ‘race, kind, family, stock, breed.’ (So all lexicons.)1 That the word is used in this sense because none of ‘these things,’ i.e. the world-wide preaching of the kingdom, the great tribulation, the return of the Lord in visible glory, and the regathering of the elect, occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, A.D. 70. The promise is, therefore, that the generation — nation, or family of Israel — will be preserved unto ‘these things’; a promise wonderfully fulfilled to this day.2
Scofield’s claim that the use of genea in Matthew 24:34 refers to the Jewish race has been soundly refuted.
Even so, there are remnants of the “race” translation of genea.3 For example, the New American Stadard Bible (NASB) translation of “generation” (genea) includes a marginal note that reads “Or race.” Genea always means “generation” (Matt. 1:17), and “this generation” always refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking and never “race” (Matt. 1:17; 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12, 38; 9:19; 13:30; Luke 1:48, 50; 7:31; 9:41; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 18:8; 17:25; 21:32).
In the second case, the near demonstrative “this” must be removed and words added to Matthew 24:34 in order to make “this generation” mean any generation except the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. Matthew 24:33 states without equivocation that “this generation” – the generation that was alive when Jesus addressed a particular audience from the Mount of Olives — was the generation that Jesus had in view: “so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (also Mark 13:29; James 5:9; Rev. 3:20). Jesus is not referencing a future audience. He was referring to the “you” of those who first heard Him. If an interpreter refuses to acknowledge the primary audience, he’ll never interpret any piece of literature correctly, and that most certainly includes the Bible.
John Bray comments:
We have to understand the Bible by seeing the meaning of the words as understood by those to whom they were written, and the way they were written. Sometimes translations into English do not give that same meaning. Sometimes translations even give meanings that fit more in with the understanding of the translators rather than the acdtual and literal meaning.
Another way to obfuscate the obvious is to add gaps to fiddle with the timeline of a given prophecy. The most popular one is found in Daniel 9:24-27. Seventy weeks of years (490 years) becomes 69 weeks of years (483 years) plus a gap in time of nearly 2000 years then the final 7 years that commences with the “rapture” of the church. There isn’t a single verse that describes such a future prophetic scenario.
It’s this popular methodology that Daniel Scott assumes and uses in his critique of the points I made in my article “Calculating the Number of the Beast.” His approach is typical of much of today’s prophetic speculative hermeneutic.
Mr. Scott’s three numbered objections (bold face) begin with this:
- It ignores Daniel’s 70 “weeks” prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27, particularly the last “week,” or shabua which is a period of 7, usually weeks or years. So the prophecy covers 490 years, the first 483 was the time from the time of the decree (by Cyrus) to rebuild Jerusalem to the time of the Messiah. Some say the last shabua, or 7-year period, was fulfilled with the destruction of the Temple. Problem is, the Temple wasn’t destroyed until 40 years later. You can’t say that met the standard for the 70th week without changing the hermeneutic about the meaning of a shabua/week. That means it hasn’t been fulfilled yet.”
The book of Revelation never mentions “seven years,” therefore it’s a stretch to relate the 70th week (seven years) of Daniel’s 70-week (490 years) prophecy — a prophecy supposedly about a yet future seven-year tribulation period that begins with the “rapture” of the church in Revelation 4:1 — to the events outlined in the book of Revelation. There is no evidence in Scripture that the 70th week in Daniel’s “70 weeks of years” is separated from the other 69 weeks by an interminably long time period that supposedly stopped the prophecy clock at the end of Daniel’s 69th week (the 483rd year of the prophecy). The “70 weeks of years” is based on the 70 years of captivity (Dan. 9:2; 2 Chr. 36:21; Ezra 1:1; Jer. 25:11, 12; 29:10; Zech. 7:5). There was no gap in the 70 years of captivity that served as a basis for Daniel’s inquiry, and there is no indication of a gap in the 70 weeks of years (490 years). There is no place in Scripture where a set number of days, weeks, or years is given that includes a gap in time and/or a postponement.
“Desolations are determined” (Dan. 9:26) in the 70th week, not carried out. Jesus says as much in Matthew 23:38: “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” The actual desolation would take place before that generation passed away (Matt. 24:34). The judgment had been given by Jesus in the 70th week. Daniel does not say “after sixty-nine (7+62) weeks, but not in the seventieth.” Since we’re told that “70 weeks is [the verb is singular] decreed” — and the number 70 follows the number 69 — after the 69th week naturally means in the 70th week. Milton Terry (1840-1914), author of Biblical Hermeneutics and Biblical Apocalyptics, notes that while “weeks” is a plural noun, it is connected “with a verb in the singular (is decreed). The seventy heptades are conceived as a unit, a round number, and are most naturally understood as so many sevens of years.”4
Old Testament scholar E. W. Hengstenberg (1802-1869) describes the period of seventy weeks of years “as one that will continue uninterruptedly from its commencement to its close, or completion, both with regard to the entire period of seventy [weeks of years], and also as to the several parts (7, 62, and 1) into which the seventy are divided. What can be more evident than this? Exactly seventy weeks in all are to elapse; and how can anyone imagine that there is an interval between the sixty-nine and the one, when these together make up the seventy?” 5
Scott then makes his second argument:
- Revelation clearly states that it is prophecy; a telling of future events. Verse 2:13 talks about the martyrdom of Antipas, who died in 92 AD. So it was written after, most think around 95 AD. Nero died in 68 AD.
Of course, Revelation is a prophecy about future events. Who argues otherwise? There’s a great deal of internal evidence that shows that Revelation was revealed to John prior to the destruction of the temple that took place in AD 70. There are the time texts (Rev. 1:1, 3, 22:10; 3:10) and the fact that the temple seems to be still standing with a distinction between Israel and the nations (11:1-2) that was very evident in the first century prior to the temple’s destruction. By AD 95, Israel was scattered and the temple was in ruins (Matt. 24:1-3).
Kenneth L. Gentry’s book Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation presents an exegetical and historical defense of a pre-AD 70 date for Revelation. Also, see Francis X. Gumerlock’s Revelation and the First Century: Preterist Interpretations of the Apocalypse in Early Christianity.
There is no reliable historical information on how Antipas was martyred (Rev. 2:13), who Mr. Scott claims died during the reign of Domitian around AD 92. He bases his argument on some fanciful history about an Antipas6 of Pergamum who is claimed to have been martyred when he was placed in a heated brazen bull-shaped altar in the temple of Artemis.
I’ve checked quite a few sources and in almost every case commentators do not accept the story as fact.
Simeon Metaphrastes, a tenth-century Christian who collected stories of martyrs, wrote that Antipas was executed by being sealed inside a hollow statue of a bull – made of brass – which had been heated until it was red hot and that Antipas called out prayers and thanksgiving from inside the bull. According to Metaphrastes, Antipas was martyred during Domitian’s reign (r. AD 81-96).
On the other hand, some historians – such as Philip Schaff7 – and Bible commentators – such as Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown8 – doubt Metaphrastes’ identification of Antipas. They note that Metaphrastes seems to accept fantastical and dubious accounts uncritically. Furthermore, no written record of Antipas exists from the time between Revelation and Metaphrastes; therefore, no one can check the sources of his account. For these reasons, those who argue for an earlier date of Revelation (during Nero’s reign, AD 54-68) do not accept Metaphrastes’ account as reliable evidence against their position.9
Tertullian (c. 155-c. 240 AD) mentions Antipas in his Scorpiace: Antidote for the Scorpion’s Sting (Chap. 12) but curiously does not mention how he died. Henry B. Swete offers the following in his commentary on the history of the martyrdom of Antipas:
There is little to be gleaned about this primitive martyr from post-canonical writings. Tertullian’s allusion to him (scorp. 12) . . . shows no independent knowledge. 10
I asked Francis X. Gumerlock, author of numerous Latin translations of ancient commentaries, if he had any source material related to the martyrdom of Antipas. Here are his conclusions based on the commentaries he surveyed:
So in all of the Revelation commentaries that are extant from [AD] 200-700, not one of them states that Antipas was martyred during the reign of Domitian. That would have to be inferred if the author of the commentary held to a Domitianic date, but even if the author did hold to the date of Revelation during Domitian’s reign, who knows what he thought about the date of Antipas’ martyrdom, which could have been some years earlier. But in the comments on Rev 2:13 in the Apocalypse commentaries from 200-700 there are no explicit references to Antipas being martyred during the reign of Domitian . . . . From the eighth through fourteenth centuries, I have not found in the Revelation commentaries any explicit reference that Antipas was martyred in the times of Domitian.
The only early commentary he could find that claimed that Antipas was martyred “by being roasted in a bronze bull in the tenth year of Domitian” was written by Cornelius a Lapide, Jesuit of Flanders (1627). This doesn’t mean, of course, that there are no commentaries. In fact, John Wesley (1703-1791) includes the following in his commentary on Revelation 2:13, “Antipas — Martyred under Domitian,” 11 but he does not cite a source.
Moses Stuart offers a summary of the scant historical source for the claim that the Antipas in Revelation 2:13 was martyred during the reign of Domitian:
Of the Antipas here named we know nothing further; excepting of Andreas (Commentary12 written near the close of the fifth century) mentions that he had read a martyrology of him. . . . In the Acta Sanctorum (II, pp. 3, 4) is a martyrology of Antipas from a Greek MS.; but it is full of fable and fiction, which a later age had added to the original story.”13
In addition to discounting the fabled martyrdom of Antipas during the reign of Domitian, Stuart has a great deal to say about the dating of Revelation.
It seems indisputably clear that the book of Revelation must be dated in the reign of Nero Caesar, and consequently before his death in June, A.D. 68. He is the sixth king; the short-lived rule of the seventh king (Galba) “has not yet come” [17:10].14
The manner of the declaration here seems to decide, beyond all reasonable appeal, against a later period than about A.D. 67 or 68, for the composition of the Apocalypse. 15
R.C.H. Lenski also questions the veracity of the martyrdom story by noting that it is based on “a legend that appeared in the tenth century.”16
The most recent defense of the Domitian composition date for Revelation was written by Mark L. Hitchcock, a popular prophecy writer. “A Defense of the Domitianic Defense of the Date of the Book of Revelation” (2005) was written “In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy” at Dallas Theological Seminary. While Hitchcock refers to Antipas on page 197 of his dissertation, he does not use his martyrdom as a defense for the late date. If there was an impeachable historical source for the claim that Antipas was martyred during the reign of Domitian, Hitchcock would have used it.
Curiously, however, he does use the martyrdom of Antipas in defense of the Domitian date in his co-authored book Breaking the Apocalypse Code: Setting the Record State About the End Times. Breaking the Apocalypse Code is a popularly written book designed as a critique of Hank Hanegraaff’s book The Apocalypse Code. Unlike Antipas’ absence as a defense for the late date for Revelation in “A Defense of the Domitianic Defense,” Hitchcock and his co-author Thomas Ice do use unsubstantiated history as a source for the late debate in Breaking the Apocalypse Code. Here’s what they write in the body text under the heading “The Martyrdom of Antipas”:
Revelation 2:13 mentions the martyrdom of a man named Antipas in the city of Pergamun. According to church history, Antipas was martyred during the reign of Domitian in either AD 83 or 92. Since the martyrdom of Antipas is in the past when Revelation was written, Revelation could not have been written before the reign of Domitian in AD 81. 17
And what do the authors reference as a source for their claim that Antipas’ martyrdom took place during the reign of Domitian “according to church history”? You’ll have to look at the end note which states, “The tradition of Antipas’ martyrdom in AD 92 by being roasted alive in [a] bronze bull comes from a Byzantine hagiographer named Simeon Metaphastes [sic] (AD 900-984).”18 Note the word “tradition.” They cite a work that is nearly a thousand years removed from the time when Antipas was martyred.
If Hitchcock had used the Antipas martyrdom “tradition” in defense of the late date of Revelation in his dissertation, I suspect that his examining committee would have pointed out that his historical source for his claim was exceedingly weak. Most people reading a popularly written work would not question the historical source, maybe not even look at the end note.
The thing of it is, there is no written documentation prior to the 10th-century writings of Symeon Metaphrastes that can substantiate that the “tradition” of Antipas’ martyrdom is true. It is more legend than fact, a “legend . . . half fraudulent, half imaginative.”19
Richard Baxter’s Paraphrase of the New Testament, first published in 1685, states the following about the Antipas legend:
We have no other certain History of Antipas, and his Case but only his uncertain Stories of Metaphrastes, and the Menology. No doubt there are many Martyrs, whose histories have not come down to us: But Christ has Honoured Antipas by this Sacred Record [in Rev. 2:13]: The time of his suffering is unknown. 20
In conclusion, long before the rise of dispensationalism and the dating issue became an issue, there were questions about the authenticity of the Antipas legend that found its way into books like The Lives of the Saints.21
In all that I’ve read, there is no reliable historical source to substantiate the claim that the Antipas of Revelation 2:13 was martyred during the reign of Domitian, therefore, the most likely fictional account should not be used to support the late-date position.
Finally, Mr. Scott provides this third argument:
- The Bible interprets itself. The points about Solomon’s idolatry is a poignant one and does indeed point to the character of the future Antichrist and of the Beast. However, we tend to think of the Bible in terms of linear western thinking, that there is a prophecy and a fulfillment and straight line in between. Jewish thought, however, is not linear, and Jewish prophecy is about a pattern, or what we might term a “convergence of events”. We see glimpses of future events in the Bible and in history, and Nero was a glimpse of that picture, but not the picture itself. All those little glimpses in the Bible and in history will all come together to form the final pattern. We have seen the beginnings of this in recent months; the pattern seems to begin to come into focus.
Indeed, the Bible does interpret itself. If the book of Revelation was written prior to the destruction of the temple that took place in AD 70 and the events “must soon take place” (1:1) because “for the time is near” (1:3), the passing of nearly 2000 years does not fit with what the Bible states regarding time. John is directed not to “seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Rev 22:10). Compare this command with what Daniel was told: “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the time of the end; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase” (Dan. 12:4). What end? What knowledge?
The New Testament is the fulfillment of the command that was given to Daniel. What Daniel was told to conceal and seal, the book of Revelation revealed. The “end of the age” (Matt. 24:3; see 24:34), “in these last days” (Heb. 1:2), “now once at the consummation of the ages” (9:26), “in these last times” (1 Pet. 1:20), “the end of all things” (4:7) were “near.” James wrote, “for the coming of the Lord is near” for that generation. “Near” is defined as “standing right at the door” (James 5:7-9; see Matt. 24:33). The words “near” and “shortly” are never used for passages of time that extend nearly two millennia.
Since “the Bible interprets itself” (on this we agree), how does the Bible define an antichrist and when does he or they appear? The Bible tells us.
First, there were “many antichrists” in John’s day (1 John 2:18). Second, John’s definition of an antichrist is very specific: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7). Third, John writes that these “many antichrists” had manifested themselves in his day. That’s why he writes “even now many antichrists have appeared.” “Now” is an important time word. Fourth, because of their “now” appearance “from this we know that it is the last hour.” These time references line up with the nearness of the “end of the age” that was to be accomplished when “this generation,” the generation to whom Jesus was speaking, “passed away” (Matt. 24:34).
These antichrists were most likely (a) Jews who denied that Jesus was the incarnate son of God (John 8:31-59), (b) opposed the gospel (Acts 20:3, 19; 21:20-40; 23:12-35), and (c) Jews who had been a part of the Christian fellowship but who then abandoned the faith because it was not Jewish enough (Acts 15:1, 24; Gal. 2:4; 2:12; 6:12; cf. Phil. 3:2): “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). Antichrists are religious figures, not political.
In this sense, “Judaizers” refers to Jewish Christians who sought to induce Gentiles to observe Jewish religious customs: to “judaize.” It appears that these individuals agreed with much of the apostolic kerygma but sought to regulate the admission of Gentiles into the covenant people of God through circumcision and the keeping of the ceremonial law. Insisting that “Unless you are circumcised … you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1), these “believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” (Acts 15:5 ) posed a serious threat to the gospel of grace and the universality of the Christian mission.”22
As to the beast; there are two beasts. A sea beast (Rev. 13:1), most likely Rome, and a land beast that “had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon” (13:11). If the events in Revelation were to take place “soon” (1:1) because the time was “near” (1:3; 22:10), and the temple was still standing (11:1-2), and the sixth king was alive at the time of the writing (17:10), then there is no need to project such a prophecy into a time that is nearly two millennia distant from the time of writing.
Does it mean that because these events in Revelation (and the Olivet Discourse) have been fulfilled that they have no relevance for us today? Not in the least. Are the many prophecies that predicted the coming of the promised Messiah and their fulfillment irrelevant for us today? May it never be. Prophecies of the city where the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:1-2 and Matt. 2:5-6; Luke 2:4) and the manner of His death (Psalm 22:16, 18; 34:20 and Matt. 27:35; John 19:24, 36) and so many other fulfilled prophecies too numerous to list here23 have great meaning and application for us today even though they are fulfilled prophecies never to be duplicated or serve as a so-called “dual fulfillment.”
- Not so all lexicons: “[Genea] the whole multitude of men living at the same time: Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 1:48 (πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί).” (Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979], 112.) “[O]f all the people of a given period: Mt 24:34, Mk 13:30, Lk 21:22, Phl 2:15.” (G. Abbott-Smith, Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 2nd ed. [Edinburgh: T.&T. Clarke, 1923], 89.) Arndt and Gingrich state that genea means “literally, those descended from a common ancestor,” but “basically, the sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time, generation, contemporaries.” (W.F. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957], 153). Robinson’s Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament (London: William Tegg and Co., 1852) defines “ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη [this generation], etc. the present generation, Matt. xi. 16. xii. 39, 41, 42, 45. xvi. 4. xvii. 17. xxiii. 36. xxiv. 34. Mark viii . . . xiii. 30 . . . Luke xi. 29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51. xvii. 25. xxi. 32. Acts ii. 40. Phil. ii. 15” (151).
- For a refutation of Scofield’s claim that the various sign passages in Matthew 24 have not been fulfilled, see Gary DeMar, Is Jesus Coming Soon? and Last Days Madness.
- See Gary DeMar, “Norman Geisler: ‘This Generation’ or ‘This Race’ Will Not Pass Away?“
- Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1898], 201.
- E.W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament and a Commentary on the Messianic Predictions, 4 vols., 3:143.
- “Antipas” is a shortened form of Antipater, which means “in the place of his father” or “like the father.” An Antipater is his father’s successor, his representative who carries on his legacy. For example, Herod Antipas was the youngest son of Herod the Great [4 BC-39 AD]. There are many Antipaters in world history.
- William Milligan, “Revelation,” A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Phillip Schaff, 4 vols. [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1883], 4:385.
- “Simon Metaphrastes has a palpably legendary story, unknown to the early Fathers, that Antipas, in Domitian’s reign, was shut up in a red-hot brazen bull, and ended his life in thanksgivings and prayers.”
- Andrew Lindsey,Who is ‘Antipas’ in Revelation 2:13? )October 8, 2013).
- Henry B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction Notes and Indices, 3rd ed. [London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1911], 35.
- The following is Wesley’s comment on Matthew 24:34: “This generation of men now living shall not pass till all these things be done — The expression implies, that great part of that generation would be passed away, but not the whole. Just so it was. For the city and temple were destroyed thirty-nine or forty years after.
- “Antipas, whose name had become known, as the bravest martyr in Pergamum, whose martyrdom I have read, the Evangelist now mentioned to point to both their patience and the cruelty of those who had been led astray.” Andrew of Caesarea, Commentary on the Apocalypse [Fathers of the Church Patristic Series], trans. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou [Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011], 67-68.
- Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, 2 vols. [Andover, MD: Allen, Morrill, and Wardwell, 1845], 2:73.
- Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, 2:324.
- Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, 2:326.
- R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John’s Revelation [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943], 105.
- Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice, Breaking the Apocalypse Code: Setting the Record State About the End Times. Breaking the Apocalypse Code [Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 2007], 207-208.
- Hitchcock and Thomas Ice, Breaking the Apocalypse Code, 240, note 381.
- William Henry Simcox, The Revelation of S. John the Divine with Notes and Introduction [Cambridge Greek Testament for School and Colleges], vol. 27 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893], 58.
- Richard Baxter, A Paraphrase on the New Testament with Notes, Doctrinal and Practical, by Plainess and brevity Fitted to the use of Religious Families, in their Daily Reading of the Scriptures: and of the Younger and Poorer Sort of Scholars and Ministers, who want Fuller Helps: With an Advertisement of Difficulties in the Revelations, 2nd ed. [London: T. Parkhurst,  1695]. Also in 1685, Matthew Poole commented: “It is much [that] no ecclesiastical history makes mention of this martyr Antipas, which argues him to have been a person but of obscure note in the world; but Christ seeth and taketh notice of those little ones who belong to him, though the world overlooks them.” Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, 3 vols. [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, , 1975], 3:954. There’s also this from a commentary published in 1658: “What this Antipas was, there is no more mentioned in Scripture concerning him: It is recorded in Story that he was a Minister in Pergamos, and it is not improbable, seeing these are most ordinarily the object of persecutors’ malice and violence…. It may be, he was stoned in some tumult as a seditious person, or one not worthy to live, because of some of the reproaches or other put upon him.” James Durham, A Commentarie on the Book of the Revelation [Glasgow, Scotland: Printed by Robert Sanders,  1680], 131].
- S. Baring-Gould, The Lives of the Saints [London: John Hodges, 1873], 136.
- R. David Rightmire, “Judaizers,” Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
- Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Christian Faith: A Modern Defense of the Christian Religion, rev. ed. [New York: Harper & Row, 1964], 160 and Peter W. Stoner, Science Speaks: Scientific Proof of the Accuracy of Prophecy and the Bible, 3rd rev. ed. [Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1969], 109.
Some objections answered
Understanding this principle [lex talionis] and how it permeates the whole judicial code will help us dissolve several points of opposition to Theonomy. Let us look at a few.
First, someone versed in Scripture may notice that Jesus referred specifically to the lex talionis in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:38, and some will be quick to note that Jesus appears to contradict it and replace it with a “turn the other cheek” principle. He says,
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you (Matt. 5:38–42).
From this many Christians conclude that Jesus was replacing the Old Testament teachings with his own kinder, gentler doctrines. But this is a common misunderstanding of the Sermon on the Mount. Far from replacing the Old Testament law, Jesus said He came specifically not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. He said that anyone who does annul these laws would be called least in His Kingdom, and whoever taught them would be called great (Matt. 5:17–18). Jesus was therefore fulfilling the lex talionis.
What Jesus said next helps us understand what He was communicating in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20 NASB). While this verse contains quite a bit for discussion, one thing it suggests is that Christ’s teaching of the law in the Sermon on the Mount is to be seen in direct contrast to that of the Pharisees. Indeed, this is exactly what we find. Every time Christ says, “You have heard that it was said,” He is not contrasting the Old Testament with the New. Rather, He was taking the false interpretations the Pharisees and others had put upon Old Testament teaching and contrasting it with the true meaning of the Old Testament law as the perfect law of righteousness it was meant to be. The unbelieving Jewish leaders had corrupted and twisted its meaning in various ways through their oral traditions. Jesus was setting the record straight.
Thus, when we come to Matthew 5:38, Jesus is not replacing the lex talionis, He is simply correcting an error of the unbelieving teachers—namely, that the lex talionis could be applied to personal vengeance. Jesus corrected this mistaken notion. Biblical law actually forbids private revenge. Instead, we should be willing to turn the other cheek, and even submit to certain aspects of government tyranny for the sake of love and peace. As a matter of fact, some of Jesus’ points here (v. 42) were already taught in the Old Testament anyway (Deut. 15:8; Psa. 37:21; 112:5; Prov. 21:26).
Instead of supporting private revenge, the lex talionis is actually a principle of justice to be applied through due process and a proper jury trial. Far from condemning or replacing this foundational standard of justice, Jesus was actually vindicating it from a perverse use of it.
Second, critics of Theonomy sometimes respond that “of course” even the Old Testament death penalties were “just” because, after all, all sins deserve death. Putting aside other aspects of fallacy, this argument unwittingly calls into question the justice of all other penalties in the Mosaic law in which God did not prescribe death. For example, if all sins deserve the death penalty, then why not prescribe death for all infractions across the board—false witness, theft, covetousness, etc.? The fact that God instead prescribes restitution for theft should itself alert us to the fact that in civil/judicial law, we are dealing with a different sphere of jurisdiction and sanctions than God’s eternal judgment and our justification before Him.
When we address judicial law, we are dealing instead with God’s standards of material justice between men in history—and that is distinct from the cosmic, theological nature of sin in God’s eyes. When God prescribes something less than death for a certain crime, we must call that penalty just and not argue, or imply, that in the civil realm it deserves death. To do so is to equivocate on the meaning of the word “just,” to confuse theological categories and, as a result, indulge in cruelty in the civil state. Indeed, to follow the critics’ standard here would be to turn the state into the most invasive, rabid, and bloodthirsty tyranny in history, prepared to kill everyone for even the smallest covetousness, white lie, slight, etc. No, when we talk about God’s standards of civil justice, we are talking about something different—and as you can see, it matters tremendously. When God does not prescribe death, but something less, then we are not allowed to say that “death” in such a case would be just. We must acknowledge that the lesser penalty is indeed just because God has said so, and that nothing less or nothing more can be said to fit the crime and thus to be just in the civil realm.
On the other hand, when God does call for death—rapists, murderers, kidnappers—and our society, times, or sentiments desire something less, we must recognize that to apply something less is also to deny civil justice according to God’s standard. Again, we are not allowed in this sphere to call such penalties just only because all sins deserve death, but only because God has prescribed death as a civil penalty in such a case. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that He does so and seek to obey his standards in society.
On this point, we must always remember that all of these applications are nothing more than deductions from that simple principle of lex talionis: the punishment must fit the crime—no more, no less.
Third, perhaps the most common objection is that while these penalties may be considered God-breathed and “just,” this was only within the time and context of Old Testament Israel. Once the New Testament has come, they are no longer necessary. God could thus call for certain crimes to receive certain punishments while His chosen nation was a geo-political reality. In this context, certain penalties might have made sense. But now that the New Testament has changed the nature of God’s people—they are no longer a civil state unto themselves—God has also taken away these laws as standards of civil justice. Thus, nations today are free to use whatever standards they see fit for civil laws in general, and penal sanctions in particular.
What this approach says is, in short, that God has changed His standard of justice over time, or at the very least has decreed that we live in a dispensation of time in which His standards of justice need not be applied. That is to say, some level of injustice is inevitable in this time, God’s OK with that, and we should accept the inevitability, too.
While this line of reasoning is quite popular, I find it incoherent and unacceptable. What we have seen with the lex talionis so far is that it is an immutable moral principle of justice. What could make justice change over time? What could make God Himself change over time? It is true that God may change certain aspects of the ceremonies or rites. He can also move jurisdiction for some sins as we see with the cherem principle. But He could never change moral principles that are grounded in His own nature: righteousness, justness. Shall not the judge of all the earth, then, do right (Gen. 18:25)? This is perfectly consistent with what we learned earlier regarding categories of law: there are some aspects of judicial laws that were expressions of the Old system. These we understand as pertaining only to Old Testament Israel through its temple, land, priesthood, etc. But there are also aspects of the judicial laws and punishments which are basic and fundamental to crime and civil society in general. These laws were always to be a standard upheld for all nations to praise and from which to learn (Deut. 4:5–8). They were not time-bound or nation-bound for Israel only; they are eternal moral principles which abide everywhere. While the coming of Christ and the New Covenant certainly get rid of the need for the rites and ceremonies, it does nothing at all to diminish God’s standards of justice and punishments that perfectly fit the crime according to God. If anything, the coming of Christ and the universal scope of the Great Commission strengthen the need for such standards, as wickedness abounds in nations and governments around the world.
But what about when society grows more wicked? Could there not be a need to impose stricter punishments in certain societies due to a prevalence of particular sins [this was Calvin’s argument]?
Again, this does not make good sense. Just because a greater number of people commit particular crimes does not entail that we should increase the penalties for each individual instance. Biblical lex talionis justice demands that we consistently punish the crime in each case, but do so in a biblically-measured way. To exceed a fit punishment would be to increase the level of wickedness and violence in society, but worse, to do so through the agency of the civil state. What good does it do to meet injustice with state-sanctioned injustice? Proverbs 28:2 says, “When a land transgresses, it has many rulers.” This is a tragedy indeed. A tyranny can be spotted by a burgeoning police state and a prevalence of bureaucrats, and usually wickedness lies at the root of that society. But even this proverb does not necessitate an increase in the severity of penal sanctions. It may be the case that such laws increase as well, but this would be a description of the growth of wickedness, not a prescription by God for how to deal with it. Severity should only increase with individuals who become repeat offenders, but this principle is built into the law already to begin with.
In the end, the lex talionis prevails again. There is nothing in changing times, histories, nations, people groups, social classes, or circumstances that could ever necessitate a change in the principle of the punishment fitting the crime. The moment we desire more, we make the state a tyrant. The moment we desire less, we make the state an accomplice to the criminals. This principle does not change.
In this chapter, we have learned that God’s judicial law is altogether just and righteous. We have learned that every one of his penalties was just. Both Old and New Testaments teach this, and even the book designated for demonstrating the superiority of the New over the Old nevertheless maintains that the penal sanctions remain just throughout.
We have learned, moreover, that there is an enduring, eternal moral principle upon which the judicial code and its punishments are based. This is the lex talionis. It requires that justice always be served such that the punishments fit the nature and magnitude of the crime. This principle, being moral and eternal, abides into the New Testament era, for God cannot change His moral nature. This means that the judicial laws and penal sanctions based upon this principle must endure today as well.
In short, because of the principle of the lex talionis, the judicial penal sanctions of Moses have abiding validity today as well. Christians should promote them, pulpits should preach them as standards for civil justice, and civil governments everywhere should acknowledge the God of the Bible and submit to these standards. Christians should desire a civil state that is limited and bound by them.
Next section: What it would look like: a first table vision
Consider this my Christmas contribution. It is about the Incarnation, after all. So before the fun begins, let me wish you a very merry Christmas, and for those who think Christmas is a papal abomination, this is also about bashing heresy, so there’s a gift for you, too.
My studies of the Constitutional framers and the nature of the U.S. Constitution do not always make many friends. Whether I’m critiquing the excesses of David Barton on Jefferson, pointing out the broad undefined power of the executive, recalling the anti-federalists, showing the deficiency of citing the Lutz study, or many more, some “Christian America” friends get upset and start hurling insults at me, questioning my motives, questioning my heart, and then piling up quotations from the Framers that prove how Christian they really were. (What is usually missing is detailed quotation and refutation of my actual arguments.) By the reactions of a few, you would think I was killing babies or something.
I am not killing babies. I am killing idols.
I am bashing heresy in the public square—and that brings me to my topic.
As we approach this Santa Clausey time of year, a few well-shared memes remind us how jolly ol’ St. Nick also might not have been so jolly. According to legend, he attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. This was, of course, the monumental council which upheld the divinity of Christ and the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. It was here that the unitarian Arius expounded his view that Christ was not the eternal Son of God, was not divine, was not God, but was in fact merely a creation of God.
Arius eventually lost that debate, and the divinity of Christ, of the same substance as God the Father, was upheld. But Arius did succeed in getting under the skin of a good many people, and a rise outof at least one. At some point of that Council, during Arius’ prolonged and vehement protests, one of the bishops could no longer stand it. Aggravated at the strident defense of blasphemy, he bolted across the floor and belted Arius in the face!
That bishop, according to the legend, was jolly old Saint Nicholas. Yes, that right: Santa Claus punched Arius in the face.
The legend is almost certainly apocryphal, and if true, the interpersonal violence is inexcusable. But it does attest to the heightened, indeed vital, concern for the doctrine of the incarnation.
We should hold it so high today as well. What was decided at Nicea (and later more fully at Chalcedon, AD 451), was the doctrine which allowed for the rise of liberty in western civilization. It is the belief that the man Christ Jesus is God, and he is the only absolute King and Priest over all men and all institutions of men. The doctrine flies in the face of the entire history of paganism and the pagan State. It is the end of all statism. Despite being presided over by Constantine himself, the Council of Nicea was an implicit critique of his empire, and imperialism in general.
By understanding Christ alone as truly divine and yet fully man, entered into history, we deny that either divinity or true humanity can be found in mere human institutions. No individual and no institution—State, school, or church—can claim ultimate authority in the earth. Christ rules all of heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18), and His Incarnation makes this possible. Where mysticism leaves open the question of God to each individual—of who shall be God incarnate, or who represents God—Christianity claims that Christ is God Incarnate and He represents God. If man answers the question for himself, then some collective agent of man will eventually triumph. It will be either the power of the mob, or the power of a tyrannical state. There will be a higher man, but he will likely be in a black suit with a tax invoice, or in a blue suit with handcuffs and a gun. The State becomes the ultimate representative of man, the highest appeal in the earth, and therefore an incarnate deity. It takes on a messianic role, claiming to provide for the welfare and safety of its people. Men become subjects to the care of the State, rather than free men under God. God provided a way out of human tyranny in the Incarnation of Christ: no State has a legitimate claim to ultimate authority, because Christ is the true King of kings in the earth.
True freedom can only be found in the shadow of God’s wings. Likewise, true safety, welfare and salvation. All of the things that modern man desires, but denies in principle through his self-centered humanism and mysticism, God has provided through Jesus and His teachings. Only when the State bows beneath the rule of the King of kings will men begin again to experience a free society; for only when the power of both individual and collective man is checked by the ethical rule of law will man be free from the haunt of his tyrannous fellows. The Incarnation lays the foundation of this liberty, for only there is man seen as a new creature, able to follow God’s ethics, and only there is God manifest in history so that no other ruler has ultimate authority in the earth.1
To neglect this in any way is to invite tyranny. The doctrine of the incarnation is vital to true social liberty.
This is what irks me so much when the old “Christian America” mentality appeals to the vacuous statements about “providence,” “morality,” and “religion” found sprinkled throughout the writings of the Constitutional framers—as if this proved proper Christian worldview. It does not. It proves Arianism at best, and Arianism proves tyranny. The substance is more important that the rhetoric, and we have reaped the benefits.
Some of the statesmen of that era were fine Christian men, and in some cases that reality comes through in their writings. Many of the most important men, however, are at best questionable in their orthodoxy, and this is well known and admitted by nearly all scholars involved, Christian or not. Some are downright unorthodox, and this is unquestioned as well.
John Adams, for example, was a unitarian. He did not believe Jesus is God and he ridiculed the idea of the Trinity. Oh well, many people say, he was still a fine man who believed in Christian morals. Perhaps he was a little “unorthodox,” but we can tolerate a little difference in doctrine, right? Perhaps, but this is exactly where the trouble starts.
I know what John Adams said about our Constitution requiring a “moral and religious people,” and about the country being founded upon “the general principles of Christianity.” But without the foundational truths of Christianity, it’s “general principles” are not safely secured. Other religions and secularists as well have very similar morals and general principles in many ways, after all. It especially irks me when people give the unitarianism of men like Adams a pass as if it were some little doctrinal quibble. This is the doctrine of the incarnation itself. There is hardly any doctrine more foundational than this, or which has more far-reaching consequences than this.
Adams was not just a little confused or disinterested in “abstract” theology on the point—he was actively hostile to it. In a letter congratulating Thomas Jefferson on his university, Adams assayed to advise him not to seek any professors for it from Europe. Why not? Because Europe was still tainted with too many prejudices—prejudices, that is, of orthodox Christian faith. Of those “prejudices,” for Adams, the Incarnation tops his list and ignites his ire. He wrote,
I do believe there are sufficient scholars in America, to fill your professorships and tutorships with more active ingenuity and independent minds than you can bring from Europe. The Europeans are all deeply tainted with prejudices, both ecclesiastical and temporal, which they can never get rid of. They are all infected with episcopal and presbyterian creeds, and confessions of faith. They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton’s universe and Herschell’s universe, came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world. (to Thomas Jefferson, January 22, 1825.)
Folks, this is utter blasphemy. In regard to Adams’ thought, it exposes him as an enlightenment rationalist and humanist. He is not only hostile to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, he wants it eradicated from society. He believes there can be no true progress of knowledge in the world unless it is Christ-free.
Sure, he can appeal to the morals of Jesus in other places, but look what a Jesus he has made for himself! He has made him a mere enlightened man. Arius would be proud. And just as described above, this opens to door to statism and tyranny. Sure enough, we will later see Adams being very selective in which morals of Jesus he thinks should apply, and turning to open statist tyrannies and completely avoiding the Laws of God in various ways.
All of this is why I believe that if they were both here today, Santa Claus would punch John Adams in the face. He would give such a statesman the same treatment he gave Arius. You can talk all you want about God, religion, and morality—just like Arius did—but everything hinges upon how you define the terms and the substance with which you fill them. No one who dissents with the Incarnation should be trusted with law and government, let alone Constitutions. They don’t know what freedom is; and surely no one who wants to eradicate that doctrine from society should be anywhere near the halls of power. They not only are ignorant of those foundations, they are unwittingly trying to blow them up. They may sing Christmas carols while they do it, but the fuse has been lit.
A gentleman asked me a question recently that somewhat stumped me, and the fact that it stumped me startled me a bit. After several of my articles on race issues, and knowing I was to be speaking at the Providential History Festival last August, the black pastor asked if he could be the one to drive me back to airport after the conference. He was to use the twenty minutes together to talk with me, including asking the question, “What made you want to get into the race issue?”
I immediately opened my mouth to respond, and just as quickly as the first words were about to leave my mouth, I found myself at a loss for what felt to me to be any compelling reasons. I knew they existed—I know them and I feel them—but I had not yet considered how to simplify them into a few key points and communicate them with clarity. Why, really, is this important for me, for now, for here, for my audience?
I must admit I am still not quite settled on it all with this overall project, but I am getting there. One reason for the deficiency is that there is a particular complexity to the problem which has several layers, all of which need to be accounted for and understood thoroughly in regard to each facet itself and how those facets fit together, both in a larger context and with each other.
But there are a few things I can say up front. First, it eventually dawned on me what first sparked my interest with the race issue in America beyond something so simple as saying, “Racism is wrong, let’s move on.” It is so much more than that, and it pertains to a biblical law issue.
Then I remembered where it started. When I was in seminary, there were several black ministers from the inner city of Philadelphia who attended as well. Most of them, if not all, were Baptists. Most were theologically conservative—thus attending a conservative Seminary. But most seemed to me to be politically liberal—some had voiced admiration for Bill Clinton during one particular discussion. None liked George W. Bush. Typical stuff. It was a very interesting mix at the seminary, to say the least. Reformed Episcopal Seminary is very small, so having in the student body people from both high and low church Anglican backgrounds, Presbyterians, a couple of us theonomists, and then all these politically liberal African American Baptists was remarkable and made for many interesting discussions.
It was from one of these Baptist preachers that I first ever heard a minister of the Gospel make the reparations argument. His version went something like this (not directed at me, but to another guy with me overhearing; and this is greatly paraphrased): you may not have been the one who owned slaves, but if you have profited from the capital that was stored up by the guys who did, while so many blacks never did and still live in poverty, then don’t you have some degree of complicity? The blacks never got their forty acres and a mule; they got segregated while whites continued living off the profits that had come from slave labor. These conditions were passed down through generations. Blacks deserve something.
I am not sure if he was making it tongue-in-cheek or not; while he seemed to be acting out a bit, it also seemed serious to him. Whichever was the case, hearing that argument come from a guy who was supposed to believe the Bible was almost more than my strict, free market, anti-welfare self could handle. The problem was, while some of his facts and phrasings may need to be adjusted, there is a core element in this argument that I could not refute in my mind, and still cannot. And the reason for this is that it is a basic issue of restitution and simple justice according to biblical law.
That argument stuck with me for a long time. I did not bother with it due to other priorities and projects, and because I always associated “reparations” with the Jeremiah Wright-type radical leftists. Likewise, I was for the longest time of the typical mind that goes something like this: You were not a slave. I did not own slaves. My ancestors did not own slaves. We’re all free know, so get over it.
To make matters worse, I imbibed the spirit of those libertarians who cannot get past the fact that Lincoln was a tyrant, and then write the history as if that was the only fact that mattered about the Civil War era. So much ends up getting left out that was crucial. The Southern apologists are even worse, and can be convincing to someone without broad exposure to other literature. But pointing out how bad the North was, how bad Lincoln was, how terrible Sherman was—as correct as all of it may be—will always only be half the truth, and will never excuse the real evils at the root of all of it: racism and slavery.
And the passing acquaintance many have with the history—“Lincoln freed the slaves”-type stuff—only breeds more complacency among the general public. Many important details get left out, and we forget how bad it really was, how pervasive it really was. Worse, one gets the impression that all that was in the distant past and we live in a new reality where slavery is long gone and racism almost is. We have concept of the long legacy of these issues, how they can be assumed and subconscious, and how they can indeed become institutionalized in many ways.
Anyone who doubts these things need only to do what I have done: go start reading the original sources and defenses of slavery at the time.
Then, start reading the history of the laws at the time. When you see how race was used to rewrite laws to justify and then to keep blacks in slavery, and you read the overt degradation of blacks throughout the literature, you will have the right starting point for understanding the war, the outcome, and a whole lifetime of historical reading of all that has happened afterward.
It was not simply enough that “the slaves were freed” after the Civil War. They were victims of a horrendous crime. They were entitled to restitution, and they were promised restitution. Instead, they got continued racism and segregation. This was not just a Southern problem by the way. Throughout the United States at the time, the prevailing desire by far among white emancipationists was to free the slaves and ship them back to Africa; many Northern “emancipationists” did not support ending slavery unless doing so also entailed deportation. Living together in social equality was considered impossible by most, shockingly horrible to many. The view of social inequality of most whites, North and South, entailed a tremendous amount of oppression in regard to available work for blacks, living conditions, working conditions, terrible rackets of exploitation, loan sharking, and much more. During Reconstruction, several prominent Southern cities created police departments for the first time specifically to use vague and flexibly-interpreted statutes to target blacks, incarcerate them (get them “off the streets”), and then use the prison force for state labor projects. In these cases, it was enslavement all over again.
From Reconstruction all the way up until the Civil Rights era, “freed” blacks were subjected to a variety of segregation laws, not to mention extralegal action and violence, that all had the effect of the routinization of exploitation, oppression, degradation, and the perpetual denial of a particular, clear justice that was both due and promised.
There is no biblical argument against that. You could make all kinds of arguments that amount to an appeal to some kind of statute of limitations; but this is not a statute of limitations issue. God has no statute of limitations for social sin and injustice. This is precisely the type of injustice for which God stores up his wrath over four generations (Canaanites) or four hundred years (Israel). This is the kind of issue for which candlesticks get removed and nations stricken down Deuteronomy 28-style.
The true history, fully accounted for, is, consequently, the reason I have some sympathy for #BlackLivesMatter. I, of course, have zero sympathy with the rampant leftism and radicalism that currently seems to own the movement. But I fully understand that blacks have suffered a unique history of oppression and exploitation in this nation. It is a history that still has lasting effects in many ways, and which most whites don’t even know much if anything about and rarely consider. As a result, most conservatives end up judging it like any modern “left-vs.-right” issue, and when the leftist roots behind the rioters are exposed, they feel vindicated. They think they have transcended the issue when they say #AllLivesMatter, but to millions of blacks, this only signals that the whites don’t know, don’t understand, don’t care to know, and it intensifies the frustrations blacks rightly feel. But merely understanding and acknowledging the fact that blacks have had a unique history of oppression that is still ripples through society in many ways, economic, social, and judicial, is in no way 1) to condone the leftism that controls the movement, 2) to justify the rioting and looting, 3) be a “social justice warrior” (itself a phrase that conservatives would be wise to redeem), or 4) accept any of the proposals suggested by leftists. Nor is it to ignore that all lives do matter, or that black lives matter because all lives matter; yet in addition to these things, there is a unique place for special consideration of black lives and their unique situations.
The greatest problem for reparations now is, in fact, practical. It is that, after such great passage in time, how in the world we would account for who all gets paid, how much, for how long, and who has to pay it. At this point, I am less averse to having it paid from the general fund (assuming it would be cut from other areas of the budget, many of which are waste and idiocy anyway), even though this would seem to be the very type of socialism I myself decry. I think, however, that is not socialism per se, but a matter of justice delayed and yet due, and should have been exacted from the public wealth of the South to begin with. I would be happy to see other parts of actual socialistic bureaucracies denuded of budget to make restitution where it is due, could it actually be calculated and all the logistical and individual issues sorted out. This thinking of mine is purely conceptual and heuristic at this point.
There are many other problems, of course, as well as other issues. Why am I doing this? I keep coming back to two main reasons:
First, restitution is a biblical law issue, and justice denied is God’s wrath stored up. This will not go away, ever. It will be resolved, eventually, through godly social reform, or God’s judgment.
So, I look at this as we should any judicial issue: consider the law and the facts. We need an accurate account of the biblical law and the facts of history. I think we are very close on the law aspect already. We need an uncompromising account of the history that makes clear to people that the tyrannies we live under now are direct extensions of several aspects imposed on the nation because of the racism inherent in the civil war, Reconstruction, and segregation, etc. These policies are both North and South, Federalist and Confederate, liberal and conservative—such that both sides of the war and its consequences have done what the title of one very decent book sums up admirably: Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. If I can successfully show this history, and how racism lies at its root, I believe Christians may be able to wake up to the types of criminal justice reform, and other reforms, that are needed badly today. For, it is needed for all of us, not just blacks, but the tragedies of black history and healing the unique history of their suffering lie at the heart of it. So much to say in this regard. If people will in fact not wake up, I will have at least done my part; and it is good and right to do.
This leads to my second reason. This, by far, is the saddest lament of my heart in all of this. The people who should have been at the forefront of this healing—long before it ever even began—were in fact the most disappointing failures. This was the ministers and the pulpits. When they should have stopped the racism at the outset, they exacerbated it. When they should have reformed slavery drastically—when their pulpits should have thundered with the truth and with threats of excommunication for abuses—they instead most often thundered with defenses of the peculiar institution. Leading and prominent theologians, even for the longest time in the North, continued to support the system even if by only justifying the racism at the heart of it. It was as if the Imago Dei didn’t even exist, even when it was acknowledged. Of course, the Southern churches are more blameworthy as they continued in upholding slavery and racism much longer that the Northern, but they are both blameworthy for not opposing it when they had the chance, and not standing up to the landed and moneyed interests in their churches and societies—at a time when the pulpit actually had much sway in society.
The ones that didn’t openly publish defenses of the system, nevertheless exonerated themselves through two-kingdoms type theology so they could turn a blind eye the “civil” aspects. As I am always intensely interested in addressing this pernicious and deadly doctrine, I most keenly wish to hold up this example of it as a mirror for modern proponents, and for modern Christians to see the awful results to which it can lead, and lead easily. On the reverse side of this, for those critics in all backgrounds—evangelical, secular, etc.—who say it was the South’s adherence to Old Testament forms that allowed slavery to continue, I aim to show that not only was this in no way the case, it is just the opposite. Had the applicable Old Testament laws been followed properly, American slavery would never have become what it did—it could not have.
But for want of that biblical view of race, social relations, and slavery, etc., and for want of the pulpit doing its job, the slack was picked up by radicals, atheists, Marxists, and leftists of all sorts. The left stepped in and pretended to care about race; and they really do care about race because they can exploit the issue for their own agenda of radical equality and totalitarianism. So, the church’s abject failure has become a mighty victory for the left on an issue that has enduring relevance for generations to come. We spend our time now fighting the leftists and neglecting a thorough, biblical answer to the race problems—because “that’s what leftists talk about.”
Dabney spent virtually the remainder of his life railing against the radical egalitarians and liberals of all sorts. You can read much of what he wrote and agree with him still today. But he failed to address the core issues of race and slavery in a biblical way—and that was what mattered most. Conservatives today still follow the legacy of Dabney: they see that the leftists took the side of the blacks. They see the leftism, and they rail against the leftism. Any time race comes up, they dismiss its arguments because they’re dismissing the leftism. But there’s more to it. What you say about the leftists may be right, but you’re missing what matters most.
And as long as you do, you will not do anything but perpetuate the judgment that which is to come, and is upon us already.
The other sad aspect of this failure today is that when conservative ministers or groups do want to engage in healing race relations, they don’t develop a biblical case for it. They can find no conservative legacy of fighting for race, no body of biblical thought, and no development of conservative biblical social theory, because that would mean jettisoning the radical two kingdoms stuff, and looking to biblical law. So, such groups and Ethics Commissions have nothing to say except to default to talking points already developed by the secularists and leftists. This is not healing race relations; this is capitulation to leftist rhetoric.
I say we should instead start planning a comprehensive, conservative biblical program of healing race relations, not even shying from considering reparations on the table. It will involve many issues, like criminal justice reform, what repentance in this area looks like, how, in fact, the issue actually gets resolved so that it is resolved, etc. These are huge and divisive questions. But I am almost convinced that if conservative organizations did this, they would not be “becoming leftists” or like the left at all. They would, in fact, find that their fiercest opponents would be leftists—because if it were ever actually resolved and the races healed, it would denude corrupt politicians and activists, and all leftists, of a pet issue they perennially exploit and never intend fully to resolve, and for which conservatives keep falling.
So, these are the reasons I am doing this. It is a biblical law issue; God will judge us; addressing it will further Reform and perfect God’s church; many, many, people will be restored, and many will see a great light; and this is intimately connected to many other areas of needed social reforms. It is a huge issue. And that is just the type of issue God calls His people to address.