- About CIR
- Start / Help
- Hear Hope
- Where do I Start?
- Why Christian Recovery?
- 1st Things
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Feeling far from God?
- Local Help for You
- Member's Help Center
- Info & Help
- Bible Studies
- Sex Addiction
- Training for Recovery Pros
- Anon-Those Who Love Dysfunctional People
- Eating Disorders
- Emotions & Mental Health
- Info & Help
- BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder)
- Bipolar Disorder
- OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
- Shopping Addiction
- General Recovery
- Pastors & Pros
- Physical Health
- Prison / Jail
- The Past
- 12 Steps
- What are they?
- Studies & Software
- Books on the 12 Steps
- Prayers for
- Worksheets & Workbooks
- 12 Signs
- 12 Steps Bible Studies
- Step 1
- Step 2
- Step 3
- Step 4
- Step 5
- Step 6
- Step 7
- Step 8
- Step 9
- Step 10
- Step 11
- Step 12
- Bible Studies
- 12 Step Studies
- ANON Studies
- Abuse Studies
- Addiction Studies
- Adult Children Studies
- Christian Classics
- Death Studies
- Faith Studies
- Family Studies
- Intervention Studies
- Money & Debt Studies
- Pain & Suffering Studies
- Pastors & Pros Studies
- AA & Big Book Related
- Beyond Recovery
- Bible Related
- Book Studies
- Chat & Meetings
- Group Handouts
- Pastors & Pros Tools
- Podcasts / Videos
- Signs & Symptoms
- Sponsors & Buddies
- Worksheets & Workbooks
- 12 Steps
- Compass Points
- Fellowship & Networking
- God's Will For Us
- One Day at a Time
- Peace / Serenity
- CIR Goodies
- How to Help
- Contact Us
- Log Out
American Vision's Blog Feed
Updated: 31 min 15 sec ago
Theonomy’s most distinct aspect is its insistence that punishments for crime revealed in Old Testament law are eternal standards of justice and remain binding today. Most other views of Old Testament law either dismiss them entirely or relegate them to a category of the law they say no longer applies in the New Testament. In the last chapter, we discussed aspects of the law that no longer apply, and others that do. In this chapter we will show the moral principle behind the judicial penal sanctions that do abide and why that principle demands that they must continue today as well.
Most Christians do not even consider the fact that Old Testament law provides a comprehensive system of justice including criminal justice. This is perhaps owing to the fact that so many dismiss the Old Testament as being fully replaced by the New. But the New Testament addresses the Old Testament criminal justice system, and it does so in glowing terms of commendation. We have already seen how Paul explains its role in 1 Timothy 1:8–11. We also noted 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).
We need to pay close attention to this teaching. The book of Hebrews is dedicated to proving that the New Covenant is superior to the Old in every way. It has a superior mediator, superior sacrifice, superior temple—it is superior in every way because of Christ. Yet even though the book is filled with comparisons that show the Old Testament system to be “obsolete,” “old,” and “ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13), there is one aspect of the Old Testament it does not criticize but rather upholds, and that is the penal sanctions. These it simply calls “just” and warns its readers not to drift away from it (Heb. 2:1). It should be clear from this that these laws were not part of those intended to be replaced by the coming of Christ. If there were any place in the Bible we would expect an argument for the end of the Old Testament standards of justice, it would be here in Hebrews. But instead we find just the opposite: a statement supporting their abiding validity. If Hebrews says we ought to pay close attention to these laws, I consider that an exceedingly strong reason to pay close attention to them.
Indeed, we should pay close attention to the simple but powerful description Hebrews gives to these penalties: “just.” When God provides standards of justice, we ought to be at pains to obey them in our societies and governments. We should do so for one simple reason: what God says is just is just, and any other standard can only be unjust. Without obedience to God’s laws, our systems of justice are not so much systems of justice as they are systems of injustice.
This word “just” demands our attention. The Greek word is derived from the same word as “righteous.” It is not referring to a particular instance or application of the law, but is describing a quality of the judicial law. “Just” refers to a principle that runs throughout the administration of God. His system of justice is “just” or “righteous” throughout.
The judicial laws are just altogether
For this reason, Psalm 19:9 says, “The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether” (NASB). The word “judgments” here refers to a particular aspect of God’s law. The law as a whole is usually called torah in Hebrew, and the same word is often used to refer any given “law.” Mitsvah is also a general term, usually translated as “commandments.” The same is generally true for the word mishmereth, usually translated “charge.” But there are other words that usually refer to more specific aspects or perspectives of the law. Chuqqah, for example, is often translated “statutes” and usually refers to priestly ceremonies or rites. Another of this type is what we find here in Psalm 19:9—mishpatim. This word refers almost always to God’s law as applied in particular cases and in concrete situations. In other words, it refers to judicial law. It is best translated as “judgments,” but is often found as “ordinances” or “rules” in modern translations.
This view is confirmed when we simply study God’s law. The Ten Commandments are given in Exodus 20. These are the foundational principles of God’s law. They are summary principles of law for all of life. As summary principles, they must be applied to particular cases in real life. In the very next chapter of Exodus, God begins giving us just such a series of concrete applications. These laws span Exodus chapters 21–23, and we call them “case laws,” “judicial laws,” and sometimes “civil laws.” And what word does God use for these laws? Exodus 21:1 reads, “Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them” (KJV). The word for “judgments” here is mishpatim.
This is what makes Psalm 19:9 so interesting for our study. Psalm 19 in general is a praise to God for His revelation to man in both nature and Scripture. Verse 7 begins the section dedicated to praising God’s written law. You will recognize some of the words we have learned in it. Psalm 19:7–11 reads,
The law [torah] of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment [mitzvah] of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules [or “judgments,” mishpatim] of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
The Psalmist uses several different words to highlight aspects of God’s law. Certainly some of this can be attributed to the nature of poetry. But certainly, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this poet was not merely wielding poetic license or variety. When it comes to God’s mishpatim, there is certainly a shade of meaning intended to call to mind the heading of God’s case laws, Exodus 21:1, and certainly the description fits. God’s judicial law is true and “righteous” (or “just”) altogether—in its entirety.
The description is even more intense yet. The word “righteous” in Psalm 19:9 is actually a verb: it means that God’s judicial law is righteousness in action and that the justness of those laws is vindicated whenever they are applied. It means that justice can prevail in the land only when God’s judgments are obeyed and applied.
The Scriptural teaching, then, is that God’s judicial laws are righteous and just altogether, and that every infraction was assigned a “just” penalty (Heb. 2:2). As far as our need to understand God’s revealed system of justice, we could really stop here: Scripture has spoken. There need be no other inquiry beyond this. But God is gracious. He has not only given us bare fiat and commanded us to obey without understanding. He has given us a system of justice composed of general laws (laws of love and the Ten Commandments) as well as case examples of how to apply those laws (judicial laws) so that they are applied justly. In other words, He has given us a principle by which justice can be done in any case, and this principle is directly revealed in the law and reflected in every single law He revealed.
So what is this principle?
The moral principle for penal sanctions
Once we see the eternal moral principle running throughout the law including the judicial laws and their penal sanctions, we will better understand why those laws and sanctions are indeed “just” and why no other standard could be. So what is this principle? Simple: it is traditionally called the lex talionis. It is stated in the judicial law like this: “you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Ex. 21:23–25). The principle is repeated in Leviticus 24:24 and Deuteronomy 19:21.
The lex talionis is often misunderstood in a couple ways. First, its name. It is often mistranslated as “the law of the talon.” Such an unfortunate mistake perpetuates the popular misconception that “an eye for an eye” is about personal revenge or physical violence, which is the second way it is misunderstood.
Let’s set the record straight. Lex talionis is not properly translated as “law of the talon,” but as “law of the talion.” “Talion” is a legal term taken from the Latin word talis. It means “such” in the sense of “same as.” A related English word derived from this is not “talon” (which comes from a completely different derivation) but “retaliate.” Even here, however, we must be careful, for we usually use the word “retaliate” in terms of individuals retaliating. Instead, we need to consider it in the sense of state-sanctioned restitution or punishment that is precisely measured to match the severity of the infraction or crime.
The lex talionis says essentially one thing: the punishment must fit the crime—no more, no less. It is a rule that says justice must be done in two ways: first, the crime should be punished, and second, the state must administer punishment only to a requisite extent and in a particular way proportionate to the crime.
This is not just one more law among others, but rather is a principle of law that runs through all the others, much the same as the principle of love summarizes the whole of the law. Lex talionis is in itself the principle of justness, fairness, equity in redress of injury or punishment of crime. But this means it is more than any old judicial law allowed to be set aside in “more civilized” or modern societies, or abrogated in New Testament times. It is, in and of itself, the principle of justice. It is thus a moral and eternal principle for all times and in all places.
Since this law is the revealed standard for restitution and punishment, we can only understand God’s own penal sanctions, as revealed in the case laws, as perfect expressions of this principle. God who is Himself just, and is the Author of both the principle and the case applications of it, can do nothing other than provide just punishments.
Anyone who wishes to deny these facts will find himself in the unenviable position of arguing that at least some, if not all, of God’s laws and prescribed sanctions are unjust and that man’s laws are more just than God’s. If this were not absurd enough on the face of it, such a proponent would then have to list for us which of God’s punishments are unjust and why.
The lex talionis, then, is the moral element that exists in and throughout the civil penal sanctions. It is the principle of justice. But this means that the principle is eternal and thus abiding for today. It also means that God’s penal sanctions, begin perfectly just, must also abide today.
The Lex Talionis and the Ten Commandments
It is easy to see how directly this principle is related to what is normally considered the core, if not the whole, of the moral law: that is, the Ten Commandments. While perhaps not immediately apparent, you only need to consider the role and behavior of the state in punishing crime and it will become so. If the state punishes more than necessary, then it will by default be engaging in theft, murder, false witness, or violence of its own—clear violations of moral law in the act of civil punishment.
For example, biblical law prescribes restitution for cases of theft. The restitution must fit the crime. According to God, an unrepentant thief who is caught with the stolen property in possession is required to pay back double the value of the stolen property (Ex. 22:4). If he repents, confesses, and returns the property before he is caught, he is required to pay only the property plus twenty percent (Lev. 6:4–5). In either case, the type of penalty is restitution, and the amounts are set by God. Both the penalty and the amounts are just by God’s determination. The principle is clear: the issue is property and wealth, and the punish deals proportionately with property and wealth. The restitution is in kind because the property (or equal value thereof) must be restored. The penal aspect is also in kind because it is equal also: the loss that the thief intended to impose on the victim falls back upon himself. Not only has he restored the property, he is required to pay double, and thus ultimately loses the exact amount he inflicted upon the victim. Further, the victim not only recovers his stolen wealth, the double payment compensates for the lost time and use of the original.
Compare this just system to non-biblical systems of justice. For theft, the Quran prescribes the following: “As to the thief, Male or female, cut off his or her hands: a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime” (5:38). Is this in any way equitable to the crime? Perhaps only in an abstract symbolic way. But in short, no. It is a barbarous punishment which does nothing to recompense the victim of the theft, and imposes not only a gruesome, violent punishment upon the thief, but also imposes a lifetime disability. With this comes a lifetime economic reality: the one-handed man will not only not be able to steal with that hand again, he will also not be able to work or produce with it for the rest of his life. It is not a stretch to say this punishment is unjust by virtually every measure.
But compare also our own modern form of punishment. American courts require restitution to be paid. That much is good, although sometimes a judge may require only partial restitution based on the convict’s ability to pay, and that is not biblical. But then they add on top of this, too. Even for misdemeanor petty theft and a first-time offense, in most states, a convict can expect fines up to $500 or $1,000, and up to one year in jail. For felony theft (usually over $1,000 of value) fines and jail time increase. In serious cases of repeat offenders, fines can exceed $100,000 and jail sentences up to 20 years. These fines are not paid to the victim but to the state.
Is this a system in which the punishment fits the crime? While it certainly is a lot better than chopping off people’s hands, it is still not equitable. Imprisonment alone serves no good purpose in such a case, and in fact often works against its purported goal of “rehabilitation.” Often, petty criminals join gangs in prison or associate with more hardened criminals. They leave prison a greater threat to society than they entered. There is much more we could say about this. In short, our modern penal system in regard to theft does not measure up to God’s standards of justice. It punishes more than is required and in ways that have little to no bearing on the nature of the crime.
So what must we say about the state when it exacts more than is fitting for the crime? If the exaction is in terms of money, we must judge the state to be a thief also. In short, by violating the lex talionis principle, the state ends up violating the moral law of God—the law against stealing. If such an exaction is in terms of prison time, however, the state is guilty of kidnapping. If it is in terms of excessive force, the state is guilty of violence. Applying this principle across the board, you can see how the state can be guilty of virtually any of the moral laws of God, and the most common reason for which it is guilty is by violating the lex talionis.
The state, however, also must not punish less than the crime. If it punishes less than is requisite, then it can be said to be complicit to a certain degree, by its negligence, in the crime itself. If, for example, it refused to impose full restitution in a case of theft, the victim would not be made whole and his condition as a victim would now be sealed by court order. Thus the court has become complicit in the theft.
Likewise, in various ways, the state can be complicit in any crime: sexual immorality, blasphemy, and much more. It can be a tool to miscarry justice, and it can be a tool of envy and inequity. It can be all these unjust things in the name of justice.
All of these things are either prevented or prohibited by the judicial law of Moses in addition to the Ten Commandments of the moral law, and yet they are nothing more than applications of that moral law to the civil realm and the punishment of crime. All of them can be summed up in the famous maxim, “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”—meaning, the punishment must always and only be equitable to the crime.
When critics of Theonomy argue, therefore, that all or most of the judicial penal sanctions in Moses law no longer apply, we must appeal to the perfect justice of these laws, and particularly to the fact that they all are based upon the justice principle of the lex talionis. From the perspective of the perfect justice of Old Testament law, we have to ask the critics of Theonomy: in which of the judicial laws of Moses did the punishment not fit the crime? We can go further: in which did the penalty not fit the crime perfectly? If you answer any positively, you call God unjust. But if you agree they are just, and yet still say they no longer apply, then you are saying justice is no longer obligatory for modern states. You have unleashed a tyranny, or justified anarchy and lawlessness, as the case may turn out to be.
Next section: Some Objections Answered
In this third presentation at the 2016 Providential History Festival, I expand upon the previous two discussions to discuss how many in America attempted to maintain a racist hegemony through a series of laws designed to enforce segregation and disenfranchisement. These “Jim Crow” laws are rarely given a biblical analysis, and we rarely discuss the input from the clergy in support of them. But out of these moves and the reactions against them has grown a powerful police state, Left and Right, slowly eroding the biblical protections built into our Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Today Christians face increasing tyranny through a variety of administrative laws and courts, including Child Protective Services, as well as the erosion of religious liberty, due largely to our own failures to protect the vital foundations of these throughout church history.
Drawing from the lessons given about the police state that arose under Saul (1 Sam. 14:52), I analyze the rise of such powers, pro and con, in our own history. This involves the rise of the shift from the defense of segregation after the Civil Rights era to a more politically-acceptable push for “law and order,” which nevertheless sought to enforce some of the same goals as segregation. Then we watched the lowering of standards and creation of double standards in law largely through the augmentation of the war on drugs. Because Christians chose to support the moves of secular conservatism rather than confront the problems biblically, we are today suffering from the increase in police powers and loss of liberty we helped create and defend. Understanding this history will be vital to restoring Christendom in the future in such a way as to learn from the lessons of the past.
Check out our 2016 holiday deals on books, audio, and video resources for Christian worldview, theology, history, and apologetics . . . and more.
Whether you are looking to pick up the latest releases like the The Bounds of Love, bestsellers like The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution, or perennial classics like God and Government, Last Days Madness, or Paradise Restored, or Restoring America One County at a Time, you don’t want to miss this yearly opportunity to stock your shelves and make sure your friends, family, and pastors have copies, too!
American Vision’s resources make excellent gifts as well. Browse our authors’ collections
. . . and many more. Plus. . . .
Get FREE shipping on all orders over $50. So don’t wait,SHOP NOW
Yet, as we have seen, the New Testament also clearly states that God’s law continues in the New Testament era. We have also seen the relationship between love and law, as well as the place Jesus gives to the teaching and upholding the law in the kingdom. Jesus said He came to “fulfill” but not to “abolish” (Matt. 5:17) the law. Some, we have now seen, were fulfilled and brought to a terminus which was predetermined (see here and here). These were fulfilled in such a way that we no longer observe their earthly expressions. Others, however, He has fulfilled in such a way that their observance is expected and commanded. These He upholds as standards of righteousness, love, and justice. Christians, therefore, need to develop a view of the abiding validity of those standards of the law that still apply.
We can develop this view simply by studying the law and excluding those parts that the New Testament teaches no longer continue. When we do this, we arrive at a distinction outlined but earlier Reformed theologians. A second-generation Reformer, Johannes Piscator, related his argument for the abiding validity of the Mosaic judicial laws this way:
[T]he magistrate is obliged to those judicial laws which teach concerning matters which are immutable and universally applicable to all nations, but not to those which teach concerning matters which are mutable and peculiar to the Jewish or Israelite nations for the times when those governments remained in existence.
He then outlines briefly which is which:
Things common to all nations (that is, which befall all) and are immutable with respect to their own nature and merits are moral offenses, that is, against the Decalogue, such as murder, adultery, theft, seduction from the true God, blasphemy, and smiting of parents.
Those laws which are mutable and which were peculiar to the Jews for that time are things such as the emancipation of Hebrew slaves in the seventh year, Levirate marriage, releasing of debts in the appointed year, marriage with a woman from one’s own tribe, and if there were any other of the same sort. Likewise, these include ceremonial offenses such as touching a dead body, touching a woman suffering her menstrual cycle, and others of the same sort.
As you can see, his distinction is simple: that which is particular to the Jews, and that which is general for all nations and people. His applications of that distinction are in line with what we have studied regarding separation laws, Sabbath laws, land laws, etc.
Piscator’s distinction was picked up by some of the Puritan theologians (such as William Perkins) and some of the Westminster Divines (George Gillespie among them). They used the traditional legal term “equity” to describe the application of laws. They then discussed which parts of the law had “particular equity” (applied to Israel only) and those that had “general equity.” They did not all agree on which parts of the law fit into which category, and debate ensued. When the Divines finished debating, they settled on a compromise statement that left room for them all to interpret the abiding validity of individual laws however they chose. The Westminster Confession chapter 19 section 4 says,
To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
This statement leaves it an open question as to exactly what this “general equity” is and where and how it applies. Many theologians have assumed it to mean some kind of spiritualized, church-only application of these laws, but that any civil or state application of them has expired. But this misunderstanding is uninformed of the history behind the term “general equity.” It is unfortunate, in fact, that the companion term “particular equity” did not make it in to the Confession, but it does exist, and knowing its history changes the contextual meaning of the Confession’s statement.
The “general equity” is not a spiritualized ecclesiastical application of judicial law, but rather that part of the law that reveals standards of righteousness, love, and justice not particular to Israel only, but generally applicable to all of mankind—including the civil state and civil justice. The Confession was written, however, as a compromise on this point, and its vagueness is therefore unhelpful to understanding it. As history has moved on and the historical context of the language was lost, the prevailing view of our day has moved to impose its narrow and uninformed understanding upon language that was originally written to accommodate a spectrum of views.
The point here is not argue over the interpretation of the Confession, for Scripture is our ultimate standard. The point is to return to Piscator’s type of argumentation which was based squarely on Scripture. That is why I have rehearsed the biblical aspects of discontinuity of the law above (here and here). Once we get back to these, we will naturally arrive back at the same distinctions of particular and general applications of the law. We will then read our Confessions in that light, too.
We certainly do not have the space to review every law in detail in order to say whether it continues or not (this book is just an introduction, after all). Instead, you now have the categories by which to discern for yourself. Read the law. In each case, ask yourself: does this law, or part of it, pertain to the old temple rites, calendar, priesthood, sacrifices, etc? Does this law pertain to the old land boundaries? Does it pertain to the bloodline separations or “seed” laws? Does it pertain to any of those aspects of the Old covenant administration that the New Testament demonstrates changed with Jesus? Does it pertain to First Table offenses, special devotion to destruction, or stoning penalties? If so, that law, or part of a law, is vanished away.
If not, then you can safely assume that law expresses an abiding principle of righteousness, love, and justice. It will have applications to individuals, families, churches, and possibly even state (assuming it is a state-focused law to begin with). You need to start studying it in this light, asking questions, having discussions, and applying it where you can. In doing so, you will be using the law lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8).
I would, however, like to address a matter over which the Puritans and Divines were divided: the penal sanctions of the judicial laws. In the next chapter, I will give you my argument for why the penal sanctions (excepting, of course, the ones already discussed as discontinued in this chapter) are an aspect of the general equity and remain obligatory for civil governments today.
Next section: The Abiding Moral Principle for Penal Sanctions
Since the very night of the victory of Donald Trump, liberal progressives of many stripes have expressed bewilderment and all-but terror at the prospect of how to explain to their children how and why America could make such an astoundingly shocking decision. Most notable was Van Jones, who on CNN the night of the election cried, “How do I explain this to my children?”
Asking this single question, and providing an opportunity for wisdom and direction in dialogue, may go down as Van Jones’ single greatest contribution to American culture. But while I have read attempts to answer this question, none has yet arisen to a level commensurate with the magnitude of the opportunity.
Weak as I may be, I would like to try my hand at this. For what it’s worth, here’s my model for liberal progressives on what to say to their children about why America chose Trump:
Dear [choose the appropriate relational term: name/son/daughter/nonbinary-, genderqueer-, agender-, androgyne-, genderfluid-, or neutrois-child/youngling/etc.],
I have some good news and some bad news. I sat up all night trying to think of how to tell you this. I, and all my friends, have been dreading having to face this at breakfast this morning. But here goes.
The bad news, first, is that Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton.
I know, I know. It’s going to be OK.
I know this is upsetting to you. You have watched me spend the past year yelling and saying bad words at TV screens and my iPhone because of Trump. You probably fear now, too, because I will be yelling and screaming at TVs and smartphones for four more years.
I know I have taught you not to be a bully or a bigot, and yet it seems like America prefers a bully and a bigot. How do we deal with this? Well, there’s only one way to face uncomfortable truths, and that is to face up to them, and to admit what we have done wrong in the process that has helped bring this problem about. This will be difficult for me to do, but my therapist [you don’t have to mention that Joel McDurmon was your therapist on this one] said I can either keep living a lie, or do the adult thing and put the truth on the table and deal with it. I have chosen the adult path. This is the good news.
Now, since I’m your [appropriate non-patriarchal parental term], you probably trust me and believe the things you hear me say. This means you believe every bad thing I have said about Trump during the past year. I have to admit, that while he has said and done some very bad things, the news I have listened to has caused me to think of him only as a completely bad man in everything he says and does, a man incapable of any good thing, and who will use his power to hurt people like Hitler did.
I have to admit, dear, [here’s the hard part: try deep breathing or going for a walk first] this is not entirely fair of me. And since my liberal professor told me justice is all about fairness, I can’t think of any greater sin [be brave and call it what it is] than not being fair, even to those I disagree with. So, at all costs, I’ll try to be fair now.
My behavior was especially not fair because I virtually ignored a long list of bad things my own liberal progressive candidates did and said. I ignored every news report from the other side. I only believe evil about Trump and good things about Hillary. This behavior is typical, by the way, for virtually any conservative against any liberal progressive. This is why our friends call Trump “Hitler” but called Obama “Jesus.” See, that’s not entirely unbiased, is it? But then again, it’s also why some conservatives called Obama “Stalin” and Trump “Jesus.”
(This is not true, of course, when liberal progressives contend against each other; you remember how I said Hillary was the most evil thing in the world when I supported Bernie Sanders? And you remember how confused you were when I then came out and supported Hillary when she was nominated? Well, that was my fault, too. Wow, I can’t believe what I hear myself saying. My unfairness really is worse than I thought! [This is good. Let it flow, let it flow.])
I guess I was doing the very same thing I said conservatives were doing: spreading hate and yelling and screaming “that person ought to be in jail!”
Well, this has been the problem, and it’s a hard problem to break. They don’t listen to us and we don’t listen to them, and we don’t care to or want to. Both sides see the other side as the embodiment of evil, we call them that, and seek only to dominate and destroy them politically. So there is never any true self-examination, so the deepest sins of our nation never get addressed. We’re too busy trying to win elections for evil people against other evil people. When we win, we can’t address the deep problems because we must maintain the façade that our choice was the right one and can do no wrong. Thus, the deep problems not only don’t get addressed, they become business-as-usual, accepted, and sometimes even praised under new names.
If the other side does seem to make a strong point, we try everything we can to dismiss them: we call them crooks and liars, we magnify their evils and downplay our own, we wait a few days hoping news will change and people will forget. Sometimes, we make up our own lies to help this cycle along. (Even if they catch us lying, we just deny it until something else in the news distracts people again. If nothing comes along, we’ll create a disruptive rally or something and the news guys (sorry, news persons) will follow along.)
I confess, my own behavior has added to the division in our country, and happened mainly because I only listen to news sites I agree with, and the ones I agree with I treat as infallible. I only read tweets from my favorite celebrities. I defend everything they defend and hate everything they hate. I’ve been ignorant of much, and haven’t really done much of my own thinking or extended much of the compassion and tolerance I brag about to people I disagree with. And I made these mistakes while saying the other side is ignorant, doesn’t do their own thinking, and doesn’t extend any compassion or tolerance to people they disagree with. I guess I have to admit that I’m a big hypocrite. [Yes, this is progress.] Sometimes, I have found myself criticizing others for behaviors I turned right around and justified for myself.
By the way, because of the divisive intolerance of Trump supporters, we disinvited your sister from Thanksgiving dinner this year. She voted for Trump. It’s OK, though, because other people are doing it, too. But look on the bright side: many of my friends from work are joining us this year because they can’t stand the idea of joining their own families that voted for Trump. So, we’re not really being intolerant; it’s more like we’ll be like one big adoptive liberal progressive family, really. I think.
But here’s the biggest problem we have to understand about how divided we are and how dangerous that division is. You see, the issue of which party holds political power is crucial because of what the government is. The civil government is the institution of the legal right to use force against other people. I am talking ultimately about the threat of physical punishment enforced at gunpoint. Yes, we threaten with fines, confiscation, and jail time first, but anyone who ultimately defies any of our measures to the physical end of resisting arrest is liable to be beaten and even shot by arresting officers.
Now, some people called “libertarians” and some fewer called “Christian Reconstructionists” think the government ought to be way smaller and have less power, and that we should only use its force to bring justice for crimes like stealing, murdering, seizing other people’s privates without their consent, lying under oath, or mishandling classified information. We don’t listen to these people, and they never win elections anyway.
Because we don’t listen to these minorities, we have a huge, massive, powerful government that can do virtually anything it wants with impunity and with the cloak of legitimacy. People will submit to it, and they stand by idly as the government applies its force to anyone who does not submit to it.
Elections, child, are about who can gain the right to use this power for themselves.
Since we don’t listen to the small government people, we are locked in a crucial struggle for power that vast consequences for winner and loser. We only think in terms of imposing physical government power on other people to enforce our agenda. Since we believe they will do it to us if they are in power, our only hope is to do it to them before they can do it to us. Of course, we progressives have always wanted to impose our values on people through government coercion, and so conservatives and Christians react the same way we do. They know we will do it to them, so their only hope is to do it to us before we can do it to them.
Again, we don’t listen to the small government folk. That would be out of the question. Without taxes and the power to print money, who would build muh schools? (Oh my! Did I just say “muh”? I’m sounding like a. . . . ) Excuse me, dear. Who would build all the wonderful roads, schools, courts, military protection, food stamps, to fund special interests in some corporations (like alternative energy companies), sexual education courses, early child care for working mothers, and interdisciplinary degrees in transgender Buddhist psychology? Exactly. So, we need the large government.
The problem is, conservatives want it large, too. They just want it for some different reasons than we do, like the power to print money, for roads, schools, courts, military protection, early child care for working mothers, funding projects with their big corporate cronies, and starting wars to create an endless market for bombs and planes to drop them.
Well, now that I’ve said all that, I do have to admit that a lot of our reasons actually overlap. But the main thing we end up agreeing on is that government must be big and powerful. Maybe it’s big government that’s the problem. Maybe small government really would allow people who disagree with each other to live next door to each other and not want to impose force on them at threat of government gun point. Maybe there’s so little tolerance and peace in the world because there’s too much government. Wow. I’ll have to give that some thought, maybe.
But this is why elections are so tense, and why we get very emotional about them. Each election is a contest of who will grab the legal right and power to force people they disagree with to live according to their values, and to pay for it through money taken from them in some way at gunpoint.
That’s right, dear. In plain terms, elections these days are about which group will get to point guns at the other group and force them to do what they want and to pay for it.
I guess that leads to my biggest confession. I have to confess that, while I’m not a bully like Trump in person, I nevertheless am a bully like Trump through the means of the civil government. I do want the power to grab into people’s pockets, invade their privacy, force them to act according to my values and contrary to their own values and conscience, to sue them for hundreds of thousands of dollars if they defy me, and as a matter of routine practice, take money from them against their will and give it to people and causes with which I agree.
I also have to confess that I think the government should use its power to force people to accept my views of sexual values against their will and to teach those values to their children. If I truly had my way, religious people and conservatives would not even be able to homeschool or private school their children in order to escape this teaching of my sexual values. If they resisted, their children would be taken from them (again, maybe even at gun point), and the parents locked in prison.
So all this, and much more that I haven’t told you, means that, in reality, I am just like all the things I say I hate about Donald Trump.
So, here’s my apology to you, dear child: I am Donald J. Trump. Please forgive me.
Perhaps, as long as we all refuse the small government way of liberty and freedom, we’re all Donald J. Trump.
Until we improve, we’re all Donald J. Trump.
God help us, every one. Enjoy your breakfast, sweetheart.
The principle of cherem (KHE-rum) is perhaps the most significant aspect of discontinuity for our discussion. It is here, precisely, where general statements about continuity lead to many raised eyebrows: do you mean all those death penalties would be brought back? For blasphemy? For apostasy? For idolatry? For adultery? Ironically, even our best past authors have provided little direct discussion of modern application of these penalties, so this section of this book may in fact be its most important contribution.
Cherem means “devoted” in the sense of devoted wholly unto the Lord. In the instances most relevant to our discussion, it means specially devoted to destruction. To be devoted unto the Lord in this sense means to be separated from holiness of the Holy Land and immediately into God’s holy presence for judgment. This can refer to objects such as animals being devoted to the Lord for sacrifice and given to the priests as their food and inheritance, but even here the devoted animal was to be sacrificed. This means its purpose was primarily as a substitutionary recipient of God’s wrath. When in the context of a punishment for a crime against God’s holiness (idolatry, paganism, etc.), it meant to be put under the curse of immediate death. For this reason, cherem is often referred to as “the ban” or, in its verb form, as a command to “utterly destroy” or “devote to destruction” the person or objects.
Cherem is peculiar to the Old Testament administration because it functioned only in the context where God’s presence was in the physical temple/tabernacle, in the altar fire, the land itself was holy and was an agent of sanctions, and the inheritance of God’s covenant promises was through blood descent and external possession of the Holy Land. As we have seen, all of these realties have been drastically altered by the New Testament economy. The civil penalties based upon the cherem principle must be considered in this light as well.
First, where in the Old Testament do we see this cherem principle? It appears first in Exodus 22:20, although its meaning and importance are made clearer in later verses. This first instance says, “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction.” Here the penalty of devotion to destruction [cherem] is applied to false worship. Deuteronomy elaborates on this particular crime:
If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones (Deut. 17:2–5).
If applied in New Covenant times, this law would seem to require the death penalty for merely leaving the Christian faith. A simple apostate would, under strict application of this passage, be required to die at the hands of the State. There can be no doubt this is what it meant for Old Testament Israel. Does it still abide today? We will see in a moment.
Also subject to the direct judgment as cherem were the original Canaanite tribes who were to be purged from the land. God invokes the term cherem when describing both the people and their idols (Deut. 7:2, 26) that should be utterly destroyed. He reiterates this special devotion to destruction in the laws of warfare (Deut. 20:16–18). This inclusion is very helpful specifically because it was special and not normal even for Old Testament Israel. In ordinary warfare, rules for seeking peace, allowing tribute taxes, and protecting innocents apply. But in the Canaanite cities “devoted to complete destruction,” nothing and no one was to be spared. This distinction in the Mosaic law itself shows that there was a special case already operative, and temporary, for those special commands that God applied under the cherem principle: some laws were just based upon the eye-for-an-eye rule (as we shall see); others were just based upon God’s immediate judgment under cherem.
There are other instances of cherem that illustrate its distinctiveness even more clearly. Numbers 21:1–3 relates how God answered the Israelites’ prayer to place Arad, a Canaanite king, under cherem.
And the LORD heeded the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called Hormah.
Hormah is derived from the word cherem and thus means “devoted.” In other words, the Israelites named this conquered territory after the principle itself. It was a memorial to God’s curse upon the Canaanites and the victory wrought thereby.
Similar stories are related concerning Sihon King of Heshbon (Deut. 2:30–34) and Og King of Bashan (Deut. 3:1–6). Both instances were not normal warfare, but rather warfare against peoples who were devoted specially to destruction before the Lord. Another instance appears in the destruction of Jericho. The city and all its property were dedicated to the Lord for cherem destruction. Achan violated cherem property and Israel suffering defeat for this (Josh. 7). Achan was ritually executed for his offense. Also, Saul’s failure came in response to a special application of cherem by God upon the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15). In each case, there was a special (not normal) application of the death penalty to unbelievers or apostates.
Another important instance of cherem is found in Deuteronomy 13. This case describes the destruction of even a Hebrew city that is nevertheless led away by faithlessness or apostasy. Shall a whole city be destroyed in modern times if it follows ungodly leaders and departs from the faith?
This instance is helpful in that it further clarifies the nature of cherem “devotion.” In this case, in Old Testament Israel, a city had been led away by either false prophets or false worship (see Deut. 13:1–17). In such a case, the whole city was to be devoted and destroyed, including all the property within it. All the property was to be burned specifically “as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God” (13:16). This detail is crucial. The “whole burnt offering” is a reference to the ordinary substitutionary sacrifice for atonement (Lev. 1:9, 13, 17). When that society had rejected the true God, however, and started to worship false gods, there remained no substitutionary sacrifice for them. The penalty that would normally fall upon the substitutionary sacrifice would now fall upon them. They themselves were therefore devoted to destruction: destroyed and burned for their apostasy.
Cherem in the New Testament
This principle is obviously continued in the New Testament, but with the change in temple, priesthood, and land administration comes a transfer of the seat of judgment from the earthly land to the heavenly throne of Christ. God’s consuming fire is no longer on earth in an altar. It was removed. Thus, the same principle of apostasy can be declared in the New Testament, but the sanction is no longer by earthly civil government, it is from the throne of Christ. In light of the change from shadow to substance (Heb. 10:1), the book of Hebrews makes this change fairly clear:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26–29).
Keep in mind, the author was writing to Hebrews about the change from Old Covenant to New Covenant under Christ. The issue here would have been mass apostasy. The Hebrews who remained in unbelief after Christ would have been committing idolatry (false temple worship) and apostasy (denial that Christ had come in the flesh). Under the Mosaic administration, they would have been devoted to destruction (Ex. 22:20; Deut. 13; 17:2–5) by the civil government. The author of Hebrews acknowledges this. Yet he does not prescribe a cherem death penalty administered by the civil government. He prescribes an even worse judgment that will come from the throne of grace. This judgment fell, in history, in God’s providence, in A.D. 70, when Jerusalem was utterly destroyed in the greatest demonstration of cherem devotion to destruction ever. This was carried out by God Himself in history, not by human civil governments (although Rome was used as God’s providential agent).
With the New Covenant, therefore, the cherem principle is entirely changed. Its locus of authority has been removed from earth to heaven. God no longer calls upon the civil government to carry out cherem penalties. He still carries them out by punishing societies for idolatry and apostasy, but He does so through Christ and through the Holy Spirit.
Why this change? The discontinuity encountered in regards to the cherem principle is directly related to the difference in nature of the Old Covenant compared to the New. Just read God’s basic description of the change:
For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more”
(Heb. 8:8–12; cp. Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 10:15–18).
The New Covenant is said specifically to be “not like” the Old. We know there are many differences already, but what is the fundamental difference in view here? The law continues, as we have noted already, but it is now written on the minds and hearts of God’s people, not merely on stones and books. It is that the New Covenant is administered by the Spirit, from heaven, not from the letter on earth. It is also marked by permanence: whereas the Israelites broke the Old Covenant and God cast them away for it, this New Covenant is wrought by God Himself in our hearts and cannot be broken. It is also marked by general forgiveness as opposed to the call for immediate cherem death.
Paul discusses the difference in precisely these terms:
And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory (2 Cor. 3:3–10).
This is hardly to say that the law in its entirety is brought to an end, but to show the difference in the nature of the two covenants and their administrations. The first was a ministry of the letter and death, the latter a ministry of the Spirit and life.
Finally, we see this difference manifested in how the New Testament applies the principle of cherem. We have already seen it transferred from earth to heaven in Hebrews 10:26–29. We see the same elsewhere as well. The word to look for is anathema. This is the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word cherem in the Greek version of the Old Testament. Most of the passages we have covered use this word in the Greek version (Lev. 27:28; Num. 21:3; Deut. 7:28; 13:16; 20:17; Josh. 7). Where it appears in the New Testament, we should consider its equivalence. Sure enough, where it appears, it generally refers to religious sanction (Rom. 9:3; 1 Cor. 12:3; 16:22; Gal. 1:8–9). Consider these two examples that relate directly to the First Table of the law:
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed [anathema] (1 Cor. 16:22).
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed [anathema]. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed [anathema] (Gal. 1:8–9).
It is clear that Paul is still applying the cherem/anathema principle in relation to First Table offenses, but the only sanction here is ecclesiastical. This in itself does not prove that the civil penalties no longer apply, but when taken together with the lessons from Hebrews, the change in the nature of administration of the covenants, and the transfer of temple/priesthood/land to Christ in heaven, it is illustrative.
Which laws does cherem cover?
It is my conclusion that civil governments no longer have authority to apply cherem punishments in the New Covenant. So, which laws does this cover? In general, these are all First Table offenses: false worship, apostasy, idolatry (Ex. 22:20; Deut. 13; 17:2–5). Further, there can no longer be any concept of holy war (Deut. 20:16–18), but the general laws of warfare abide.
The cherem principle indicates that certain other death penalties related to the First Table would also no longer apply. It would include laws relating directly to inheritance in the land, even when it crosses into family matters. This is why, for example, the death penalty was required for incorrigible sons (Deut. 21:18–21). (While not traditionally considered so, the Fifth Commandment is part of the First Table. It is a general principle but was also directly tied to inheritance in the land.) Under Old Testament law, a son would inherit the land by mandate, not by choice of the parents. A rebellious, incorrigible son was therefore a threat. His wicked influence and legacy was to be permanently purged “from your midst” (21:21). (Note that this law is not said to apply to daughters, who could be just as wicked and rebellious, and just as incorrigible, yet could inherit the land only in rare circumstances). While the word cherem is not used here, the principle is the same. The evil son was devoted to destruction to prevent the Holy Land and Holy people from being defiled. In the New Testament, the land/seed/inheritance principles are all superseded. While a general principle against incorrigibility in regard to crime may still stand, the need to execute rebellious sons in this way has passed away. In the New Covenant, the parents can by decision simply disinherit him, shun him, and leave him to God’s judgment.
The same would apply to the death penalty for an engaged woman discovered not to have been a virgin before her wedding. Such is not simply an extension of the laws against adultery. Her crime is said to be that of “whoring in her father’s house” (Deut. 22:21). Whoredom in general received no civil government sanction at all in Old Testament law. Simple prostitution had no penalty other than its own: social disgrace, lack of inheritance for her children, lack of male protection, and bastardy of whatever sons may be born. In this case, however, the daughter had presented herself as a representative of her father, and of the heirs of her future husband. Her whoredom could mean that a bastard would inherit the land. This was an abomination in Old Testament Israel because it profaned the seed and the land. The penalty here was like a cherem penalty, even though the word cherem is not invoked.
Cherem and stoning
One way it becomes clear that these First Table offenses and similar offenses are akin to, if not a part of, cherem law is by the prescribed method of execution: stoning. Popular banter about Old Testament law may lead you to think that stoning was prescribed frequently as the default death penalty and for a wide variety of offenses. Whatever the source of this impression, however, it is wrong. Sometimes the method of execution is prescribed: it could be stoning, fire, hanging, or the sword. But the majority of death penalties prescribe no particular form, only death. We cannot take this for granted, as if God was random in giving such specifications. We need to look and try to understand why some are specified as opposed to others, and more importantly, what is meant by the specified forms in their particular cases.
The cases specifying stoning are actually quite few:
- Molech worship, including the sacrifice of infants (Lev. 20:2)
- False worship or apostasy (Deut. 13:6–11; 17:5)
- Spirit mediums (Lev. 20:27)
- Blasphemy (Lev. 24:10–16, 23)
- Sabbath-breaking (Num. 15:31–36)
- Incorrigible rebellious sons (Deut. 21:18–21)
- Engaged daughters committing whoredom in their father’s house (Deut. 22:20–21)
- Fornication with an engaged daughter (Deut. 22:22–23).
In two other specific instances, the relationship between God’s holy presence and the punishment of stoning is made clearer. First, at Mt. Sinai, God set a boundary at the foot of the mountain and forbid anyone to touch it upon pain of death. The penalty: to be stoned with stones (Ex. 19:12–13). Secondly, for Achan’s violation of cherem property, God prescribed death by stoning (Josh. 7:25).
This is the full list of laws for which death by stoning is prescribed. All of them have one thing in common: they are exclusively First Table offenses, or are prescribed death because of an overlap of a First Table principle.
While few may not seem like First Table offenses, remember that the honor of parents is a First Table offense. Likewise, the treatment of daughters was directly tied to inheritance in the land, not to mention a keen image of spiritual adultery often used by God Himself (Jer. 3; Hos. 1; Rev. 17–18). The reason these instances receive death by stoning is because they partake of First Table principles. Other laws pertaining to sexuality do not necessarily receive the death penalty, let alone stoning, and some are not even punished by the civil government at all.
Why this connection between First Table offenses and stoning? Because of the basic redemptive promise of God: to crush the head of the serpent. The punishment of offenses against God Himself, therefore, was specially marked by crushing with stones—the crushing of the head by stones cut out without hands. Stoning was, therefore, a ceremonial aspect to the law. While there are judicial aspects of it that continue—such as the need for involvement in executions by the accusers themselves and by the community—stoning itself was symbolic and is no longer binding.
Thus, even when the word cherem is not included in the Old Testament passage, the presence of stoning as a punishment makes clear that the principle is in effect. Cherem and stoning penalties were reserved only for First Table offenses. Civil government no longer has jurisdiction over First Table offenses. These punishments, as regular mandatory punishments, are no longer in effect. Only in extreme or aggravated cases in which blasphemy or false worship aims to lead to revolution, sedition, terrorism, or treason would civil government intervention be appropriate.
Sex and Land/Seed Laws
We cannot stress enough how intricately God’s cherem presence was tied to the priestly, temple, land, separation, and inheritance laws. We have already seen how they were tied together with certain stoning penalties. There are other death penalties involved in such overlap as well. These include the death penalty for certain types of adultery (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22) as well as bestiality and homosexual sodomy.
It is easy to conclude that all such sexual sins resulted in the confusion or defilement of the seed, or the defilement of inheritances, and were thus assigned the death penalty on such grounds—not merely on the grounds of their nature as sexual sins. We can tell in each of these cases that the death penalty was invoked not because of the nature of the sin or crime itself, but because it occurred in overlap with these particular sacred boundaries in the Old Covenant administration.
First, this is clear in the fact that while there are numerous detailed instances of such defilements specified (see Lev. 18; 20 for just some examples), there are yet others which are conspicuously absent. Consider, for example, the references to adultery just mentioned. One case involves a married man sleeping with a married woman (Lev. 20:10). The other involves any man sleeping with a married woman (Deut. 22:22). Each could receive the death penalty. But what of a case between a married man and an unmarried woman? There is no mention of it, although the law regularly specifies when any particular law applies to a man, a woman, or both. The silence here is therefore evidence of a non-law. In fact, the law allowed for more than one wife, and in the case of the Levirate marriages (Deut. 25:5–6), a married man could be expected to go in unto his deceased brother’s wife and cohabit. This was not only not punishable by death, it was not even considered adultery. Why not? Because in that Old Testament administration, the seed laws and inheritance laws superseded sex and marriage law in terms of the importance to the purpose of that system.
We know, again, that the Mosaic Covenant was added to the promises of Abraham in order to ensure the promised seed would come about as promised (Gal. 3:19). This temporary addition was also tempered “because of transgressions” (3:19). Jesus makes it clear that divorce and remarriage is one area where such was the case:
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark. 10:2–12; emphasis added).
Notice two things. Jesus says that the original creation mandate for marriage does not allow for divorce for [just] any [old] cause. Deuteronomy 24:1–5 allowed men to do this to wives because of hardness of heart. But this was obviously temporary. Divorce was only originally allowed due to fornication. Secondly, Jesus applies this principle to both wives and husbands. Both can now initiate a lawful divorce for lawful reasons.
Altogether this means that Jesus reinstated the original power of marriage. Divorce for any reason is now prohibited, but the right of divorce is now equal between men and women.
The ramifications of this are profound. It is clear now that marriage is no longer tied to the old seed laws and inheritance laws—those being abolished. The fact that only certain cases of adultery which violated those laws received the death penalty indicates that the reason was not because of the adultery itself, but because of the other violations. Further, the fact that the “adultery” of Polygamy or Levirate marriage was not punished by death shows the same principle. In the New Testament, however, the land/seed/inheritance rules are gone, and thus so are the death penalties in regard to sex and marriage that were bound to them. But the right of divorce for infidelity is expanded and equalized to include women—which is how it was originally designed. The changes were only for the Mosaic period which was added “because of transgressions.”
What about sodomy? First note that this was a male-only law as well (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). There was no civil law mentioning lesbian acts. Although surely a sin, it was no crime as was sodomy, and thus there was no penalty, let alone death. This alerts us again that something more than just the homosexual sin was in play. What is that issue? It pertained to the promised seed. There was no greater purpose for the Mosaic Covenant than to guard and protect the promise to Abraham until it came to pass. The most important part of this promise was, of course, the promised seed. In this light, the act of sodomy was not mere sexual perversion, not even merely the height of sexual perversion. It was open defiance of the natural use of sex through which the seed was promised. It was a defiance of the created order, but of God’s plan of redemption at that time. To engage in sodomy was therefore to deny Christ, and not only to deny him, but symbolically to attempt to prevent His coming. To engage in sodomy was, therefore, not just a sexual sin but an act of blasphemy. (The same argument can be made for Onan, who refused to perform the duty of Levirate marriage for Tamar—Gen. 38:8–10. The Lord punished Onan with death, and the reason for it was directly connected to refusing the seed.)
And what of bestiality? Unlike same-sex acts, this law specifically applied to both men and women (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 18:23; 20:15–16; Deut. 27:21), and both would receive the death penalty. Interestingly, however, the beast was also assigned the death penalty. This, again, suggests that there may be more being punished here than a mere sexual decision on the part of the person. What could this be? It seems to me that the same principle as with male sodomy is in play in either case. With a male zoophiliac, the parallel to a sodomite is clear enough. With a woman, the crime lies but in entertaining foreign, animal seed. This is as great a defiance of the promised Seed as the sodomite act, and thus was to commit blasphemy as well. (It is not surprising that bestaility was most commonly found in idolatrous rituals of Canaanite and other ancient religions.)
While all of these sexual sins—adultery, sodomy, and bestiality—remain abominable sins, with the coming of Christ and the abolition of the Old Covenant administration, they can no longer be said to be capital crimes. As revolting as any of them they may be, the reasons they were earlier given the death penalty was not merely sexual perversion, but for violating sacred boundaries that at the time were placed under the jurisdiction of the civil government. With these boundaries now removed, the civil government no longer has authority to impose death.
In light of this, I have revised my earlier published views that adultery and homosexual sodomy are punishable by the death penalty. There are still, however, sanctions that can be imposed. Divorce is obvious. This is covenantal death of family. It would also possibly have some economic ramifications that would be enforceable by the civil government. Covenantal death from the church would also apply: excommunication. I also do not see why local civil governments would not be warranted to punish flagrant cases with loss of citizenship or banishment.
Next section: Fulfilled and forever
This is my second lecture given at this year’s Providential History Festival in Omaha. Much of this information will also feature in a book on American slavery and racism coming out next year.http://d1s6yijfrvmtp9.cloudfront.net/static/2016/11/21121558/Joel-McDurmon-Friday-2.mp3
Several of you have said you “can’t wait” until my book on Southern slavery and racism comes out. I have tried to keep from letting my studies in that area spill much into my general daily-type posts; but this bit was too rich, and too powerful, theologically speaking, to wait. There is SO much more to come on this, but this one little vignette will be illustrative of what is to come.
I have previously written about American slavery and two kingdoms doctrine in regard to the Methodist church. The same points made there hold true, of course, for other denominations, although most did not use the term “two kingdoms” at the time. The Presbyterians followed Thornwell’s version emphasizing the “spirituality of the church,” and southern Baptists likely followed that line as well, or something like it. This short article is about a Baptist example of the level of abomination to which Christians will devolve once this cancerous dualism is allowed to insulate the civil and social order from the preaching and correction of the Law of God.
I have canvassed thousands of pages of books and professional journal articles on several facets of the subjects of American slavery and racism, and this seemingly small and insignificant one has yielded one of those choice excerpts (of which there are many) of original sources that illustrates so much. The article includes a note about the historical context which is both crucial and damning:
From 1696 through 1722 South Carolina masters were required by law to castrate a slave who ran away for the fourth time (for thirty days), under pain of forfeiting ownership of the slave to the first white informer.1
Men with “deep religious conviction” could obviously be torn by such a legal demand, and thus, a group of South Carolina Baptists seemed to be uncomfortable with it. In fact, a church in “Charelestown” S.C. was experienced some level of division because a member, or members, had followed through with this barbaric law while other members objected and felt the masters in question had sinned. Thus, the church leaders wrote to a Baptist group in Devon, England for higher counsel. The original sources involved here are two letters that the Devon Baptists wrote in reply.
The great problem the letter addresses, then, is, “Whether, a master may, and not sin against God, make an Eunuch of his Slave, for being absent (without his master’s leave) from his business for the Space of 30 [days]?”2
When the British Baptists wrote back, the theological dualism was on full display. They exonerated the barbaric civil law of castrating a runaway slave on such grounds as this: “Now ’tis presumed, this law was made by the Majestrate, and So the more binding; . . .”3
Right. The civil government spaketh, therefore the law bindeth. The church has no say in this matter.
This reasoning makes clear that such Baptists felt that as long as the civil rulers made a law not obviously contradicting the Biblical mandate to preach the Gospel (in a stripped-down, narrow sort of way), they could enact anything—indeed, any tyranny.
Once it sets out the question, and has conceded the assumption that the practice in question was duly enacted by the civil government, the Baptists had to answer whether a member would be committing a sin to go ahead and impose such a barbaric punishment. The Baptists’ answer was unambiguous:
We think he may not, as Circumstances may be; as, if he doth it without the law of the Majestrate, or in a Spirite of revenge, or obscenely like that forbiden, Deu. 25. 11, 12.
This is the radical two-kingdoms tyranny in action: when the church says that the church has little-to-nothing to say to the civil realm, and whatever the civil realm does, the church must therefore stand by and remain silent. The only hindrances to even members of the body of Christ engaging in the most heinous acts of cruelty is where the church may determine that the members may be engaging in some kind of personal sin—anger, revenge, etc.—in the process!
Do you see the dualism? By this reasoning, the church could allow a member to commit murder as long as the church determined the member did not have “revenge” in his heart when he did so!
Worse, the Devon Baptists even searched the Scriptures to find justification for the barbarity—in this case, stretching the imagination so far as to apply Deuteronomy 25:11–12 to the castration of a runaway slave! (Why they didn’t think to apply the much more clear, direct, and obvious Deuteronomy 23:15 bespeaks something like depravity.)
Yet, the story gets even worse. The reply letter went so far as to encourage the SC Baptists to find good in the barbaric act: “may we not Se Some mercy mixt with this Brother’s Cruelty”?4 And how should we see some mercy in this act? Because, the letter states, some other guy had castrated his slave somehow out of “filthy lucre,” whereas this member “had foreboren” to do so. Such a great guy! Such compassion!
Further, the Devon Baptists suggested that if their SC brethren “seriously ponder these things” they would find “by the blessing of God, a healing Spirite among you.”5 The breach of peace would thus be healed, and the letter immediately reminds the readers that the brother had, after all, carried out the punishment “by his compliance to the laws of the Country.”6
No healing for the castrated slave was mentioned.
If there was anything for which to admonish this brother, it was only to be careful not to use his liberty so freely as to offend his other brethren (offenses to the slave were not mentioned here either).
Thus, in the end, by allowing the civil government virtual free rein, by not allowing biblical law to challenge injustice in the land, the Devon respondents literally ended up concluding that this master’s barbarity “had more of good in it, than it had Evill.”7 In short, that is, the church ended up calling evil good and good evil.
And the capstone came several months later, when the group of Devon Baptists had double-checked their decision and wrote a second letter saying that not just them but “the greater part of the members of the Association” agreed with their decision. The Association submitted an official statement saying that it was lawful to buy slaves, to keep them, and to keep them under government and to punish them, and that this punishment was “according to the Law of your Province.”8
Folks, this is radical two kingdoms theology. This is how the traditions of men render the Word of God of none effect. This is how you absolutely set aside God’s Law and replace it with man’s law. This is why governments get away with murder, and why tyranny rules in every branch of government in virtually every government in the world. This is the doctrine lying behind every evil from Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia to American slavery to the modern behemoth police state.
This is what happens when the church does not preach the law and its applications. What follows is that tyranny reigns, and then the church starts getting creative in finding ways to avoid its responsibility to preach against it. It starts finding ways to turn a blind eye, and then even to justify and praise the tyranny. In the end, the church ends up calling evil good and good evil. The march of Satan runs through the governments, and the church is its greatest ally.
The only way to stop this slide into further tyranny is to rediscover the Law of God. Learn it. Learn its applications. And preach it.
- William G. McLoughlin and Winthrop D. Jordan, “Baptists Face the Barbarities of Slavery in 1710,” The Journal of Southern History 29/4 (Nov. 1963): 495.
- McLoughlin and Jordan, 497.
- McLoughlin and Jordan, 497.
- McLoughlin and Jordan, 499.
- McLoughlin and Jordan, 499.
- McLoughlin and Jordan, 499.
- McLoughlin and Jordan, 499.
- McLoughlin and Jordan, 501.
If we are going to assert that the Old Testament judicial code contains some laws which are still morally binding upon civil governments today, then we need to be able to say which ones still apply, which ones do not, and why. This chapter will discuss the basic principles by which these needs are answered, and outline the terms of continuity and discontinuity between the law in the Old and New Testaments.
Continuity and discontinuity
In general, Old Testament laws continue into the New Testament unless the New Testament explicitly repeals them. But we must be very careful here. The New Testament does not mention every Old Testament law that it repeals by explicit references to each individual one. Instead, in different ways, we learn that types or classes of laws are annulled or transformed in Christ, and thus many unspecified laws are repealed as well. On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that many laws must continue in New Testament times as well.
We can see the principles of continuity and discontinuity clearly in specific passages. Hebrews 7:12 says that “when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” From this it may appear that once Jesus came, the entire law was thrown out. But this misunderstanding would not only be absurd (as we have already rehearsed in regard to Galatians 3 in chapter 2 above), it is clearly contradicted in the very next chapter of the same book. Hebrews 8:10 (quoting Jeremiah) clearly declares that God will actually write His law on believers’ hearts in the New Covenant era: “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.” From these two passages alone we must deduce that some of the laws have changed (or have been abrogated altogether) and yet some of it continues.
Thus the New Testament expresses both continuity and discontinuity with Old Testament law in general. The question is, how do we learn which laws are which? Which ones are discontinued, which ones continue, and how do we know?
Biblical principles of interpretation
The basic question to be answered is this: what aspects of Old Testament law pertained only to Old Covenant Israel, and which ones are universal—for the whole world and all times? The answer to this question must be biblical, and the principle we use to answer it must also be biblical.
We already began to address this question in our discussion about non-binding commandments, the “shadows,” and the “weak and beggarly elements of the law” in chapter two. We saw that what the New Testament explicitly repeals are what are commonly called “ceremonial” laws. Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews make clear that Christ has replaced the Old Covenant temple, priesthood, Sabbaths, sacrifices. When Hebrews says that a change in the priesthood necessitates a change in the law, it is speaking specifically about the law of the priesthood—all of the laws that were tied to the old Aaronic priesthood system.
But there is another New Testament change that is equally important: the separation laws. These are rarely discussed under these terms, but they are crucial to understanding discontinuity in the New Testament. This set of laws was just like the Old Testament priesthood in some regards: it imposed temporary, outward, symbolic aspects upon God’s Old Testament people. Also like the priestly laws, there is a clear and obvious end for them with the coming of Jesus Christ, and on this, Scripture is explicit.
So what are these separation laws? They include laws pertaining to bloodlines and the land—both of which are intimately connected. They were all the laws imposed on Israel which were meant to show outwardly that God’s Old Covenant people were separate from the rest of the nations, and also that the tribes were to be separate from each other.
Both of these aspects are equally important, and both begin with the promises made to Abraham. God called Abraham out from among the nations and promised him that through his seed God would bless all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:1–3). God promised that this blessing would come through Abraham’s seed (Gen. 12:7). Paul makes it clear that this promise was not made to all the descedants (plural) or Abraham, but to one particular seed: Christ. He writes,
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ (Gal. 3:16).
Paul follows this by explaining that the Mosaic law was added to the promises specifically to guard this offspring or seed:
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made (Gal. 3:19).
Note a couple things: first, by “the law” here, again, Paul does not mean the whole of the law. He is speaking only of the part that was temporary for the Old Covenant people—for obvious reasons we have already covered. Secondly, therefore, we see that there was a clear terminus for this part of the law: it was to last only until the time that the promised seed, Christ, would come. After that point, the laws of bloodline separation were no longer needed, for they had performed their purpose: to illustrate to the tribes of Israel and to the world that God’s promise to Abraham was to come to pass through the physical bloodline of Abraham.
It also served a second purpose which demanded not only separation of Jews from Gentiles, but of the tribes of Israel from each other as well. This was the “seed” promise made to Judah:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Gen. 49:10).
This famous prophecy indicated that the promised seed would come not only through Abraham in general, but through Judah specifically. It had to be kept separate, therefore.
There were yet other reasons to keep the tribes separate. The tribe of Levi were separated for priestly and temple work. They were separated by God Himself for special service in Israel.
There were a tremendous array of laws tied to these principles of separation: Jews were not allowed to marry Gentiles. The tribes were generally not supposed to intermarry with each other. All the laws of ritual separation fall under this category: the prohibitions against mixed breeding of animals, mixed seeds planted in the same field, and of wearing clothing made of a mixture of linen and wool (Lev. 19:19); the laws pertaining to a male ejaculation and those requiring a woman to separate herself during menstruation (Lev. 15); the laws of levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5–10).
Perhaps the ultimate law in this category was that of circumcision: it was a literal bloodline law which symbolized that the seed was to pass through the blood, but also was a mark against the flesh of human generation. This symbolized that the salvation of God’s people would not come by man’s works or through man’s product. It would come only by faith in God’s promise. Once that salvation came in Christ, there was no longer need for this mark, as Galatians argues so clearly.
Also part of the separation laws were all the laws tied to the land of Israel. This was yet one more set of boundaries to keep Israel separate from the nations and to keep the tribes separate from each other until Christ would come. The allotment of the land was by tribe and family, and it was to stay in the particular tribe and family to which it was assigned (Num. 33:54; 36:5–9). This allotment was performed faithfully by Joshua (Josh. 15–21). The laws of inheritance kept the land within the family. The laws for levirate marriage were designed to ensure that the family name would continue in the land. The laws of redemption and especially of Jubilee (Lev. 25) ensured that allotments would always eventually return to the original families.
In some cases, these laws were also intimately connected with the priestly laws. For example, the laws of separation for quarantine (Lev. 14) and of ritual impurity (Lev. 15) required ritual cleansings or sacrifices attended or performed by a priest. Likewise we can see composites of land law, bloodguilt, and priesthood tied together in the law of the corpse in open country (Deut. 21:1–9) and the laws for the cities of refuge (Num. 35:6–34). Likewise, the laws of indentured servitude and lifetime slavery of Gentiles were tied to the separation laws, Sabbath laws, and laws of inheritance.
Repealed and replaced in Christ
All of these and many more like them were to last only until the coming of Christ. They served their purpose of illustrating principles of holiness in outward, earthly forms. These forms were the schoolmaster, or guardian, imposed for a time until the promised seed should come.
Christ replaced the Old Testament priesthood. The entire temple, sacrificial, and sabbatical system is superseded by Christ. This is the message of the book of Hebrews, as we have already seen. Christ has fulfilled these in such a way as to bring about their terminus, which God had always planned. Therefore, all of those laws, and all of the laws and aspects of laws tied to them, are fulfilled and their use discontinued. These shadows have vanished and passed away (Heb. 8:13). The body of Christ is now the temple (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:19–22; 1 Pet. 2:4–10). Christ is now our Sabbath rest (Heb. 3–4).
Christ likewise so fulfilled the separation laws tied to seeds and bloodlines. These have reached their terminus in Christ also. Inheritance of the promise is now no longer symbolized by circumcision and by the various laws pertaining to it in Moses, but by baptism. This is what Paul teaches:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:27–29).
Thus you can see also that all the “seed laws” of bloodlines and physical separations are gone, as well as the types of inheritances and slavery tied to them. Christ broke down the wall of partition between Jews and gentiles and made the two into one new man (Eph. 2:11–22). The separation now is between Christians and non-Christians, and thus they are forbidden to intermarry or otherwise be unequally yoked (2 Cor. 6:14–18).
We no longer enter covenant with God through bloodline but by adoption. The sons of God are not physical sons, but adopted sons, and Christ has been given the authority to make them sons:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12–13).
Likewise, Christ is the terminus of the land laws. He is the fulfillment of Jubilee (Luke 4:16–21). God’s indwelling presence is now in the hearts and bodies of Christians (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19–20; Eph. 2:19–22; 1 Pet. 2:5), not the building or the land. The old boundaries of the land of Israel are no longer special boundaries of God’s judging presence. In the Old Covenant, the land acted as an agent of God’s wrath. The people’s sins were counted also to have made the land sin (Deut. 24:4). It would vomit out the inhabitants for their disobedience (Lev. 18:25, 28; 20:22). The function of judging in history and of “vomiting out” is now transferred to the enthroned Christ Himself (Rev. 3:16).
The focus of the people of God is no longer physical Jerusalem, but heavenly (Gal. 4:21–31; Rev. 21:1–8). The land promise of inheritance is also universalized. It now includes gentiles and it now covers the whole earth. Christ received all power in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). The Psalms prophesied that the believers would “inherit the earth” (Psa. 25:13; 37:9, 11, 22). Jesus affirmed this by repeating it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:5). Consequently, He taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and His will be done on earth (Matt. 6:10). Hebrews then tells us that as believers, we have arrived at the inheritance: Mount Zion, heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22–24). When Paul repeats the land promise made to Abraham, he universalizes it:
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world [kosmos] did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:13).
The inheritance of God’s people is no longer just a symbolic strip between Egypt and the Euphrates River. It is now the earth, the world.
Thus, even the aspects of the Ten Commandments which were originally tied directly to the land then given to Israel are universalized and generalized in the New Testament. Consider the command to obey one’s parents:
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you (Ex. 20:12).
When Paul restates this in Ephesians, he leaves off the last part of the promise which pertained specifically to the Jews:
“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph. 6:2–3).
Keep in mind also that this commandment is here being applied to that “one new man” Paul had just described earlier in the same letter (Eph. 2:15)—made of both Jews and Gentiles.
In short, the New Testament teaches that all laws pertaining to the Old Covenant priesthood, bloodline separations, and land laws reached their terminus in Jesus Christ. They no longer continue in the New Testament.
Next section: The Cherem Principle
I have waited a few days to publish these comments in order to let the hype die down, reality sink in, and the tectonic plates to settle back into place. Now that there is a bit more calm—riots and fire not withstanding—here are a few notes on the 2016 election.
I was not surprised by the results of this election. I wrote back in May about the wildly unprecedented amount of support Trump garnered in the primaries, and I think I rightly analyzed who was behind it. While I was not quite confident enough to make a prediction at the time, I did feel Trump had a far better chance than either the delusional left or the GOP detractors (both establishment and the equally delusional among the #NeverTrump crowd) could see or admit. My feeling was right.
Though my feeling was right, I was a little surprised by how well the phenomenon succeeded in places that have not swung Republican in decades—Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania. This appears to be good on the surface.
This “silver lining” (if it can be called that) has a cloud around it, though. The alt-right-types boost did not occur uniformly across the country, and did not lead the victory in some places it probably could have. This is good, of course, in many respects, as we all should detest the fascism and racism inherent in much of alt-rightism; but it also means that the “victory” for conservatives must be short lived. Why? Because it comes mainly from older voters who will eventually die off not to be replaced. Second, because the big cities that always vote Democrat voted Democrat in even more intense percentages this election. As the old alt-righters die off, or don’t have a Trump to energize them enough to wheel themselves to the polls, you will not see the type of turnout in the rural areas again. They will stay home.
Aside from these introductory glosses, let make a few more substantial observations with comment on the 2016 election:
First, we will hopefully never have to consider the Clinton brand in politics again. Or Bush for that matter (though there is still a Bush in Texas politics, just starting out). The Trumpocalypse marks the end of the Clinton dynasty, and probably the Bush dynasty as well. I do not say necessarily that Trump caused this, but they at least coincided. I don’t think Chelsea will carry on the family tradition.
The real dynasty, however, that Americans should be concerned with is the one that ruled both Clinton and Bush dynasties: the Council on Foreign Relations. As North noted a couple days ago, this will be the first thing to watch for in the new great white hype. The moment Trump cracks here, you’ll know it was all a waste and a fraud. Those hoping Trump would fight the “New World Order” will be crying like Hillary’s staff last Tuesday night. They will have to mutter the political motto of shame: “but you said you’d still love me in the morning.”
Given that he’s already cracked in praising Hillary and Obama, and looks to be surrounding himself with many of the same old GOP establishment names, we ought not to be surprised how much a Trump looks like a Clinton or a Bush before it’s over.
If and when that happens, there will be a tremendous obligation on the shoulders of certain of his supporters. More on that in a minute.
Second, if Trump sticks to his word (not necessarily likely), the only time we should ever have to hear Hillary’s name in national headlines again will not be for another campaign or office, but for her trial.
This silence would be a blessing, although the wickedness she represents is still all around us—in national politics, lobbies, agendas, state government, local government, academia, school boards, and beyond. It is no time to rejoice or go to sleep. Ding, dong, the witch may be gone, but the wicked lives on.
Third, for all the talk about this “historic” election for women, Hillary actually drew fewer female voters than Obama did in 2012. It seems some ceilings are due to self-limitations.
But voter turnout was also down in general, lower than 2012 and 2008, but even 2004. You mean Trump vs. Clinton could not enthuse people more than the great snore that was Bush vs. Kerry? This speaks volumes about the poor quality of both candidates. Voters stayed home in droves.
Plus, remember the greatest thing that damned Kerry in the campaign? It was the repeated phrase, “flip flop.” Wonder if conservatives will have the integrity to nail Trump with that when he starts.
Fourth, those Christians—especially those within our closer circles—who admitted Trump is a poor candidate, compromised, unqualified, sinful, adulterous, unacceptably vulgar, etc., etc., but who nevertheless demanded we vote for him because Hillary must be stopped at all costs; and who promised that Trump will be the most checked candidate ever in office and then we will oppose his own wickedness and wicked policies once he’s in: you have a tremendous self-imposed obligation on your shoulders. You will now have to start showing your opposition to his character and unbiblical policies. You absolutely must not let your campaigning for him transform into apologizing for every evil he does once in office.
Doing this will be difficult for you, even though it is right. It will be difficult because you invested so much time and energy in his win, you actually admired certain qualities about his do-whatever-I-want leadership toughness, and you now, to some extent, no matter how much you acknowledged his sins, see him as “my guy.”
You defended Trump at all costs during the campaign, and your great temptation will be to defend him at high cost now, too. This is because of the same reason you supported during the campaign: anti-leftism. If the main reason you supported Trump before was to beat rabid leftism, guess what? Rabid leftism and leftist anti-Trump mania didn’t leave with Hillary. It’s still here, and will still try everything it has—media, spin, scandal, old clips, academia, tax returns, corruption allegations, etc., etc.—to bring him down. You will be in the position of ignoring what you said before because of the same impulse to defend Trump—because, you will reason, “If we don’t, these rabid leftists will win. Do you want another Obama or Clinton to take the White House in 2020?”
And so the game will go on, and the compromised blind will keep leading the compromised blind into the ditch. You guys who willfully closed your eyes for the campaign, better open them and start leading people out of the ditch and back into the true advance of Christian principles in politics, which will mean tremendous and sustained critique of Trump and his policies.
If you do not, we’ll know you were either not in earnest before, or have chickened out once under pressure.
Fifth, take a good look at the election results, numbers, and demographic results compared to those in 2012 and other recent elections. The truth is, not much is really that different. The same fundamental divisions are with us as have been for a long time. Trump was able to energize some dormant voters, or at least get some “blue dog” Dem-types to flip, but he only won because Hillary failed to do so for herself in key places. The election hung upon a relative pittance of votes in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida.
This is true for almost any election: 90 percent or more of voters are always on one side or the other no matter what and will never change. The difference in any election is made up by a small minority to show up in a select few places.
This single point makes American presidential elections a huge joke. No matter how much the media or compatriots may sing about a “mandate” in any election, one never truly exists, not even in a modern “landslide” like Reagan 1980 or Obama 2008. It’s another delusion. White Houses can change and we can inaugurate new dawns, new mornings, or new hopes, but at the end of the day, the urban centers still vote 70 percent liberal and the rural areas 70 percent conservative, and the two are roughly equal in number overall. That a handful of voters in national elections move either way or stay home may decide the residents of the White House, but has not yet put a single dent in the problems of “liberty and justice for all.” This includes the problems in the inner cities, the blind socialism of farm subsidies, public schools, the military industrial complex—not to mention abortion and a hundred thousand other issues.
Not a dent.
Christians and Christian conservatives absolutely must get their eyes off the national delusion and start looking to local solutions and local resistance to Federal tyranny. If we don’t, we’ll be the asylum inmate who keeps trying to empty the bathtub with a teaspoon while the tap keeps pouring. Insane.
Finally, if either Trump or Hillary had been elected, Christians who care about the biblical law of liberty would have been facing tremendous challenges, just different sets of them. With Trump, the greatest danger will, I think, result from an attempt to get tough on crime and terrorism: there will be a tremendous ramp-up in the police state, and since it will no longer be Obama behind it, Republicans will be far less likely to resist further erosions of the Fourth and Fifth amendments, and others. This has the potential to be a liberty-destroyer, and Christian conservatives will be cheering it on like they would a declaration of war on Iran to “defend Israel.”
The second greatest danger under Trump will probably be whatever damage his protectionism and potential trade wars will do to the economy. I have not thought through this completely yet, so won’t risk any details, but there is potential for a yuge ripple effect—more than even the most charismatic of leaders can just comb over. Plus, any tremor in this economy could start the earthquake of another recession, which will undermine Trump’s greatest boast and greatest appeal and probably lead to a Dem sweep in 2020.
As I said, it is hardly time to get happy, rejoice, or go back to sleep. The witch may be gone, but the same evil is ever present. The devil presents himself as an angel of light, and we must be vigilant.
Even though everyone may be worn out about the election this year and may be frustrated after all of the debates, we must be thankful for what it all exposed. We must realize that all of the generalizations of how we describe ourselves have been unfolded. What we really believe has been put on the table. No matter what a person says they believe, we are able to understand what they mean in times like this. There are those who claim to hate religion and say they want to keep it out of politics, and there are those who are religious and say we should not be strongly engaged in politics. However, we must realize, there is a strong connection between politics and religion.
Politics reveal our worldview
Many people who say they are not controversial, will tell you there are two things they do not talk about: politics and religion. In most work places, one rule is that the employees do not speak about two things: politics and religion. People are able to find a sense of peace when these conversations are not brought up explicitly, but it is a false peace. People are left only to talk about are things that really do not matter. The problem is that no matter what you talk about, your worldview is leaking out even if you are trying to muffle it.
How one views everything in the world is shaped by his foundational beliefs about God even if he claims to be an atheist or an agnostic. How one views the science of government or the affairs of state is shaped by his beliefs. When Christians grasp this concept, there will be no escaping the fact that the standard of righteousness for government explicitly comes from God and ought not be altered or tainted by human ideologies. We then can realize there is no room for compromise because we see that when a political statement is made, a religious statement is being made as well.
Christians may profess various creeds, confessions, and statements of faith. Through the political realm, however, we are able to see how those doctrines shape their worldview. How does the sovereignty and Lordship of Christ shape the way they view rulers on earth? What example does the humility of Christ through incarnation set for the men they choose to lead the nation? How does the eighth commandment shape their view of property taxes and public schools? How does the tenth commandment shape their worldview about ObamaCare and Social Security? How does their view of creation shape their view about the ban of Cannabis, certain vitamins, and other plants? Obviously it is clear that our theology informs us about the sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage. So why is it hard to see that our theology should shape, and is what shapes, the way we view anything else, including the political realm?
It is not ironic that atheists will tell you that even though they may not agree with a person’s sexual lifestyle, they are not able to come up with a reason to say that they are wrong. It is because their worldview will not allow them to. Even atheists understand that a person’s political and social views are and should be connected to their religion. If a Christian is arguing against Socialism, atheists and sadly misinformed Christians will often argue that Jesus himself was a Socialist. They will misinterpret his statements and twist scriptures to justify a system of “charity” based on theft. Even though such atheists and misguided Christians are wrong about the scriptures, it proves the point that there is no disconnect when it comes to politics and religion. What they are trying to do is appeal to the worldview of Christians by saying that if Jesus were here, these are the things for which he would advocate. So even though they would mock Jesus when it comes to scripture they have not yet found a way to twist, they are essentially arguing that Christians must look to the final authority of scripture (the life of Jesus) to determine what they believe about law when it is convenient for them.
Religion and politics go hand in hand all throughout the Old Testament. There was direct interaction with prophets and kings. Even today we see that most presidents have had a council of pastors or spiritual advisors. Even the pagan Kings in scripture took counsel from diviners who were supposed to have a direct connection with a god or gods. Even Pharaoh had “wise men” and sorcerers. In Indian and African tribes, they are led by spirits and/or ancestors. The rulers of a land rule based upon their object of worship. When Israel asked for a King, the political statement was not absent of a religious content. God told Samuel that when they begged for a King like the other nations, they were rejecting him—Yahweh.
Politics shows the ignorance of Christians
One thing we—the whole world—can clearly see from this election is that the body of Christ is divided in its application of the Christian worldview to politics. We may be of one mind when it comes to basic doctrines in general, but there is great confusion and division when it comes to what we believe about governing authorities. Sure there is room for us to have our own opinions on certain matters, but when dealing with issues that have been the main topic of debate as of late, there should not be this much confusion. Sadly, some Christians have used the Bible to justify their choices in an irresponsible way and others have claimed the Bible has nothing to say to social and political matters and made their “conscience” the final authority.
This election has also exposed the fact that there are many Christians who were at a total loss at what to do in this election. It is understandable for the world to be lost and undecided. However, Christians should not be confused, especially in the matters that have been presented to us. Christians should feel confident on Election Day and not have anxiety like unbelievers. The reason why so many Christians are instead confused is because they have not been well discipled. They may have learned doctrine and may they have been through membership classes, but true discipleship has not occurred. If it has occurred, then many have been discipled by misguided teachers. Many Christians were lost and could not even find help from their pastors because their pastors did not know what to do either.
Politics shows the sin that remains in our hearts
Through this election we have seen many compromise out of fear, many become pragmatic out of allegiance to a worldly system, and many promote policies that exalt the kingdom of darkness. The reasoning of many Christians and non-Christians of why they are voting for a certain candidate or law reveals the idols they cling so closely to. In the majority of cases, people’s justification for their choices has been that they are against someone or something, not that they are necessarily for what they have chosen. We hear over and over what such people are against, but we never really find out what they are for. Why not? Because they live in fear? Because they have never thought through their Christian worldview? Or because they have been bribed by their idols?
The choices we make, or have made during this season, in the political realm reflect the choices we make at home, in our churches, and in our communities. The compromises we are willing to make in the voting booth reflect the compromises we have already made in our hearts and our faith; they are the same compromises we make, and will continue to make, on an everyday basis in our lives. This is why we are in such a mess in this country, and why the political choices before us have been so wicked. We lack courageous men and women who stand for something and are not willing to let up or compromise. We lack men and women who are willing to sacrifice and not be sucked into delusions and the comforts our idols promise to our sinful hearts.
One of the most damaging sins that remains in our hearts is that we want Christ as savior but we do not really want him as Lord over our lives. Our lives therefore show many choices that are deny his rule. Our political choices reveal who we really want as King. We want him as Lord in our households when we want our wives and children to submit, and when wives want their husbands to live with them in an understanding way. We want him as Lord in our church when we want sermons to be heard, ministers respected, tithes paid, or need to discipline someone. But when it comes time to choose a civil authority or vote on legislation, we may pay him lip service, but we forget him being Lord over this country, and we instead choose a king like the other nations.
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.
Help us help you
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.
We can extend our understanding of positive commands for distinct incidents to all aspects of the Old Testament law which had only temporal application. This category accounts for the vast bulk of Old Testament laws which are no longer in effect. It includes the majority of what are traditionally called “ceremonial” laws, as well as others.
The primary places we hear stark statements of discontinuity are in the books of Galatians and Hebrews. When properly understood, both give us a similar answer: while speaking in stark and absolute terms, a close examination reveals that each is speaking of only a portion of the law as being discontinued—namely, the types and shadows of the Old Testament priesthood, temple, and sacrificial system. Let us look at the instances in these two books.
Galatians and “the weak and beggarly elements”
In the third chapter of Galatians, the word “law” appears 15 times in only 29 verses, and almost every time it appears in a negative light. Here is a representative sample:
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith (Gal. 3:21–26).
A couple things stand out here: first, there are no categories of law being discussed here, just “the law.” At this point, we don’t know if Paul is speaking of the whole law as a single unit or only part of it. We will have to deduce this point from other passages. Second, Paul is clearly talking about a cessation of “the law” in these passages. “The law” was an imprisonment—a custodianship akin to slavery (see Gal. 4:1–7)—that lasted only until Christ came.
With no further understanding, it would be easy to conclude from this that the entire law—“the law”—was abrogated when Christ came. That which Paul called a “schoolmaster to lead us to Christ” included the entirety of Old Testament law, and it is now null and void.
The problem with this view is that it would create a contradiction with the many passages we have already seen. The law is holy, just, and good. Paul appeals to the lawful use of the law, and the New Testament writers appeal to various parts of Mosaic law in order to support their arguments for Christian ethics. Jesus Himself upheld all the law and the prophets via the law of love, and ordered His disciples to keep His commandments. Further, we have seen that the New Covenant itself involves God writing His laws on our hearts! So how could Paul here be arguing that the entirety of the Law is abrogated?
He is not. He is making a more nuanced point that becomes clear when you study the context of the letter. In Galatians 4:3, Paul refers to the time under “the law” as “when we . . . were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” In verse nine, he chides the Galatians, saying, “How can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” The KJV memorably translates the phrase “the weak and beggarly elements of the world.” Was Paul speaking of the whole law here—including the Ten Commandments, civil laws, etc.? The very next verse begins to illuminate the issue: Paul’s condemnation is directed against those who “observe days and months and seasons and years!” (4:10).
It appears that Paul is concentrating on what have been traditionally called the “ceremonial” aspects of the law. Several of the Galatians had been deceived into believing they had to follow feast days, Sabbaths, and especially circumcision in order to be faithful Christians. This was seeking salvation through works, not faith. Thus it is clear that by condemning “the law” here, Paul is referring only to two things: 1) any attempt to attain salvation through any works of the law, and 2) those who require submission to certain ceremonial aspects of the law.
This issue becomes clearer in two places. First, in Galatian 5, Paul’s discussion of “the law” turns specifically to circumcision:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Gal. 5:1–6).
This type of behavior is where the term Judaizing comes from. It is actually used explicitly in the Greek by Paul in Galatians 2:14, when he condemns the Jewish faction among the Galatians for trying to force Gentiles to “live like Jews” (Ioudaizein). From the discussion in Galatians 4–5, it appears he had in mind circumcision primarily and perhaps following the feast days and calendar as well.
This view receives further support when we see Paul making a similar argument with the same language in Colossians 2. He argues that even the uncircumcised believers have been spiritually circumcised in Christ, and that Christ has removed the “legal demands” against us by nailing them to His cross (Col. 2:8–15). Then Paul says,
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. . . . If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits [principles] of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Col. 2:16–23).
Paul is referring here to the same feasts and Sabbaths. In Galatians he called them “weak and beggarly elements.” Here he just calls them “elements” or “elemental principles” which serve only “self-made religion.”
Given that Paul and other New Testament writers elsewhere uphold much of Old Testament law in very strong terms, it is clear that he is concerned here with only certain aspects of it which include ceremonial rites and outward marks of separation, and which some teachers at the time believed were still necessary in order to be saved.
By dismissing “the law” in Galatians, therefore, Paul is not saying that none of the law retains any validity. If this were the case he would be promoting “faith” at the expense of murder, theft, rape, arson, covetousness, and every other moral and civil transgression, along with the abrogated ceremonial rites like feast days and circumcision. This would be utter nonsense.
It is doubly helpful that Paul, in Colossians, refers to this superseded part of the law as “shadows of things to come.” It is here that we find a strong confirmatory link in the book of Hebrews, and an important doctrine.
Hebrews and the “shadows”
Colossians and Galatians have already given us an important category by which to think in confirming that some parts (but not all) of the law are weak and beggarly “elements.” Colossians helps us further by labeling these elements as mere “shadows” of things to come. This book of Hebrews uses the same language and opens the concepts for us further. The relevant passages are Hebrews 8:5 and 10:1. Let us examine them along with their meaning.
Hebrews 8:5 reads,
They [the Old Covenant priests] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
The letter reiterates this concept in chapter 10:
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near (Heb. 10:1).
These passages make it clear enough that the “shadows” refer only to those aspects of the law that pertain to the Old Testament priesthood, temple (or tabernacle), sacrifices, etc.—with no reference to what are normally called the moral or judicial aspects of the law. The distinction appears clearly again in chapter 9 with more focus on the substance:
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:1–12; emphasis added).
The argument here is the argument of the letter to the Hebrews in general: the New Covenant is superior to the Old. Specifically, it has a superior priest (Christ), superior sacrifice (Christ Himself, the lamb of God, once-for-all), and superior temple (heavenly, not earthly). This section makes clear that these “symbolic” aspects of the law deal only with these things—things including the “earthly place of holiness,” “priests,” “ritual duties,” “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body.” These are all things Paul previously called out as the mere “elements” of the law (Col. 2:17).
This being the case, we learn that the priesthood, sacrifices, rituals, and temple of the Old Covenant are therefore only “symbolic” (the Greek word here literally translates as “a parable”). The letter argues specifically that these are temporary, being imposed only until the “time of reformation” (9:10). When was this “time of reformation”? The letter indicates that this time had already been inaugurated with Christ, would be finalized once the old temple was no longer standing (9:8), and that this end was very near already then: “And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13).
But what about the rest of the law? As we have already seen, the same passage that says these old elements were obsolete and about to vanish also says, just three verses earlier, that in the New Covenant, God will write his law on our minds and hearts (Heb. 8:10). So, obviously, the entirety of the law did not vanish along with the priesthood, temple, rituals, and other elements. In other words, the rest of the law was not part of the “weak and beggarly elements,” or the “shadow of good things to come.” The rest continues in capacities such as we have seen God prescribe in Hebrews 8:10 and 1 Timothy 1:8–10, as well as the Gospel and epistles of John.
The great question is, still, how do we know where to draw the lines? How do we know which parts of the law pertain to the temporary “shadows” of the law and which parts continue as everlasting moral and judicial standards? We will further answer these questions in the next couple of chapters.
Next section: Biblical Principles of Continuity and Discontinuity
My concise definition of Theonomy raises some important questions. For this reason, a fuller treatment is in order to address at least a couple of these.
For example, is Theonomy primarily concerned only with civil government or politics? The short answer is no, and this is already implied in the concise definition, as well as clear in the Introduction. Theonomy is indeed much broader than civil government. It is about all of life—individual, business, work, family, church, medicine, science, etc. It is, however, the unique position of Theonomy to say that Mosaic judicial law contains abiding standards to which civil governments today remain obliged. In this view, the whole of the word of God reveals abiding standards for the whole of life and society.
But the most pressing question to be discussed is that of how to categorize the different laws God has given us. This will help us determine why they continue today or have been abrogated.
Biblical categories for biblical law
The most important questions that my definition leaves unanswered are, “Which Mosaic laws continue and which do not?” and “How do we know?” After all, the position that the perpetual and obligatory moral standards includes “some” civil laws means that we have to say which ones are included, which ones are not, and why. By what standard shall we determine? In this section I will argue that whatever functional categories we determine Mosaic law may be divided into, for the purposes of continuity in the New Testament, there are ultimately only two categories. I will also argue that the standard by which we determine this is Scripture itself. The Bible, not man, tells us this.
The importance of maintaining clear distinctions and a clear standard applies to all areas of law, not just civil government, but it receives particularly keen attention in the civil realm because several of the Mosaic civil laws have death penalties attached to them, and others would require considerable moderation of current penalties. Shall we execute Sabbath breakers today? What about adulterers? Whatever the propriety of determining a position based on how these questions are answered first—which does happen, unfortunately—they do have tremendous import for society. Getting the answer wrong would obviously be tragic. But then again, a wrong answer either way would be tragic.
Theologians have arrived at all kinds of answers to this question. The differing views span the entire spectrum from arguing that no Old Testament laws remain today to arguing that virtually all do. In the middle, some argue that only a few laws apply, and others say more or even most. Some say that what laws do apply only apply in a spiritual way for the church. Others argue that some laws apply outside the church in the realm of civil government, but only certain “principles” apply, and that things like the actual punishments prescribed in Old Testament law do not apply.
At the heart of these disagreements are a couple of main factors: 1) the relationship between Old and New Testaments, 2) different types (or categories) of law which appear in the Old Testament. Only extreme positions hold that either none or all of the laws still oblige; and since I have already shown in the Introduction how the New Testament calls for God’s law in general as an abiding standard for Christians and for standards of civil righteousness outside the church, we will deal here with the broad spectrum of those that argue some laws abide and others do not. This means we will deal mainly with the second question: we must examine the categories Scripture uses to explain which laws remain and which do not.
First, the most famous categorization of the Old Testament law, in the Reformed traditions anyway, has been called the “three-fold” distinction: the three categories being moral, judicial, and ceremonial.
We can see this three-fold division easily enough in the structure of the law. In Exodus 20, God gives the Ten Commandments—the moral law. In chapters 21–23, God has Moses speak a series of mostly judical laws to the people. These are written in a book, and the covenant is ratified on these terms by the people in chapter 24. Finally, in chapters 25–30, God reveals to Moses the pattern for the Tabernacle and the priestly worship. With these three sections, we can see the functional division of the law into moral, judicial, and ceremonial categories. But whether these categorical lines are absolute, and whether they determine continuity or discontinuity are far less clear.
This view has been widely adopted, but less commonly agreed upon in substance. All agree that the “moral” category—usually including at least part of the Ten Commandments—still applies, but arguments remain as to exactly what beyond the Ten Commandments can be categorized as moral, and to what extent it applies. Arguments also exist over whether the Ten Commandments as a whole is “moral” and thus abiding, or whether aspects of it (for example, the curses and promises attached to the second commandment, Exodus 20:5–6) are peculiar to Israel only. All also agree that the ceremonial laws (sacrifices, temple rites, priesthood, feast days, etc.) no longer apply, but even here arguments exist as to exactly how and why (with some theologians, for example, dispensationalists, arguing that many of the temple rites and sacrifices will be revived during a future millennium; likewise, those pursuing elements of high liturgy may actually appeal to the pattern laid down for the Old Testament priesthood). Finally, the civil category gives rise to important arguments as well. Some see important moral elements in the judicial “case” laws of the Old Testament, and these, most would agree, remain today. But there is little agreement (or really even discussion) as to which of these laws (or parts of laws) constitute “moral” elements and which do not. Further, it seems to be a majority (though very modern) position to deny any moral aspect to the Mosaic civil law and to dismiss these laws in their entirety as abrogated along with the ceremonial laws.
In the end, despite the witness of the great Reformed confessions—for example, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession—to this three-fold distinction, there has never been consensus on important terms and aspects of it. Even if all agree that these three categories are properly biblical, there is no agreed-upon standard for determining which laws belong in which categories, and thus which abide and which do not.
In this very strain, some Reformed and later Puritan theologians of both Reformed and Baptist backgrounds arrived at what could be called a four-fold distinction of the law. These saw the traditional abiding moral core and an abrogated ceremonial set, but then divided the third category of “civil” (or “judicial”) into two divisions of its own. The first judicial division included those judicial laws which were tied directly to the ceremonial law and the ancient state of Israel and thus were abrogated along with it. The second set, however, were those case laws which were tied to the moral law, and thus abide along with it. We will cover these particular theologians and their arguments more thoroughly later. It is enough now simply to understand that they exist and what their position was.
This position is important because it highlights the real nature of the problem: the truth is that all parties involved in this long-enduring argument hold ultimately to a two-fold division of the law. This is not merely to introduce yet another wrinkle in an already complicated discussion. Rather, it is an attempt to simplify the problem and explain why it has so far not been resolved. The two divisions are these: those laws which abide, and those which do not. With rare exceptions, no one has given a scriptural argument to support their positions of any other categories, or especially how particular Old Testament laws fit into them.
Those that struggled and ended up defining four categories merely arrived at a more complicated version of this two-fold distinction: in the four-fold distinction, we basically have the judicial law tied back to two other categories, one which abides (moral) and one which does not (ceremonial). So, we really, ultimately have only a two-fold distinction here as well—those laws which abide and those which do not. Likewise, the more traditional and more popular three-fold distinction includes variants in which either some or none of the judicial laws are abrogated, and so it really falls under the same assessment.
In this light, we can still accept the classic three-fold division of the confessions as a functional distinction. “Civil” is certainly separate and distinct from temple, priesthood, sacrifice, or “ceremonial” law functionally, and is certainly a separate functional aspect from the declaration of core moral principles. But it can hardly be an absolute distinction by which we determine continuity or termination in the New Testament. After all, the commandment against murder is certainly moral, but it also certainly has civil ramifications. We ought therefore to inquire of the converse, and we will find that virtually all of the civil side of that equation is just as much moral as it is civil—including the level of civil punishment prescribed. We will discuss this aspect more under the chapter “The Abiding Judicial Standard.”
The language of the Westminster Confession of Faith makes these various distinctions clear. When it says that the civil or judicial laws “expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now,” it does not leave this as a blanket abrogation. Instead, it concludes, “further than the general equity thereof may require.” ((Westminster Confession of Faith, 19.4.)) This, of course, means two things: we must consider what is meant by “general equity” (we will do this later), and we must acknowledge that whatever part of the judicial laws does in fact involve “general equity” does in fact abide today and oblige civil government. This means the Confession’s underlying assumption is that some part of the Mosaic civil code applies to civil governments today.
In short, behind the classic three-fold functional distinction of the law is in reality a more fundamental two-fold distinction. All discussion about categories of the law, unless it focuses only on the functions each category represents, really does boil down to a more fundamental discussion of whether any given Old Testament law stands or does not stand. There are at least some distinctions within Old Testament law itself that we can see on the very surface of reading the text. There are others we will have to discern with more detailed exegesis.
One set of commandments we must see as not binding are instances of particular commands to an individual. An example of this would be the command for Samuel to go anoint a new king (David) at a particular place and time (Jesse’s house in Bethlehem) (1 Sam. 16). Another example would be Saul being commanded to destroy the entire Amalekite civilization—man, woman, child, and cattle at a particular time (1 Sam. 15).
These commandments were special revelations given to specific individuals at specific times for specific purposes. We are not to generalize social principles as law from them. For example, we are not to look at Samuel’s mission here and conclude that from henceforth, all civil officials must be descended from Jesse and anointed in a special ceremony at his house in Bethlehem. Nor should we look at the instance with Saul and conclude any state policy from it. We should not deduce from it that we must wage all wars with the mission being to annihilate the enemy’s civilization totally, including women, children, and property. Despite the fact that Saul himself was judged harshly for rebellion and witchcraft merely for failing in only a small part of this mission (saving the cattle and King Agag alive), we must not attach to it any abiding policy. (We can, however, learn the general lesson that we must obey God utterly in what He does command to us.)
Similarly, in the New Testament, Paul was given specific directives via the Holy Spirit for him in his mission trips. For example, he was forbidden to visit Asia or Bythinia to evangelize (Acts 16:6, 7). Should we deduce from these commandments that the Gospel is generally, always forbidden to be preached in Asia or northern Turkey? Obviously not.
We should be careful, therefore, when drawing meaning from commandments that had only specific personal, temporal, local, and/or purposive application.
In addition to such specific personal commands, there are also positive commands for distinct incidents. This would include, for example, God’s one-time command for Israel to exterminate the Canaanites tribes. Such positive commandments should be viewed very similarly to the specific commandments just discussed except that they are given to a broader group of people. Nevertheless, they still pertain to a special mission, purpose, and/or time only.
The Canaanite crusade is a perfect example of this type of law. It was for ancient Israel only and in the Promised Land only. It also pertained to God’s special presence in the altar fire in the land, as we shall see. It does not apply to rules of warfare or international relations in general. In fact, Israel was given a different set of laws governing warfare in general where the specific Canaanite nations in the Land were not involved (see Deut. 20). This distinction is critical because there are, even today, respected theologians who appeal to the Canaanite genocides as providing a “crusade” model for modern warfare.1 In light of the qualifications made in the text, and further general laws given in addition, we must not apply these commandments today.
Next section: The Shadows
- See Harold O. J. Brown, “Preventive War,” in War: Four Christian Views, ed. by Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991).
Listen in as hosts David “Chocolate Knox” Shannon, Gabriel Wrench, and Toby Sumpter of the CrossPolitic podcast invite yours truly to “rattle some cages” with my Restoring America One County at a Time which these fine and highly talented hosts describe as “high octane libertarianism” “with a bite” which will “blow your socks off.”
What else can I say? Who could stand to miss this? (FYI, listen to it all, but I join the show around the 22 minute mark. And don’t forget to check out other great CrossPolitic podcasts at CrossPolitic.com.)http://d1s6yijfrvmtp9.cloudfront.net/static/2016/11/02075324/CP-With-Joel.mp3
It is unfortunate that theonomists in the past have had to spend more time saying what Theonomy is not than what it is. There are good reasons for why this has been the case, but the fact can also leave newcomers and critics alike frustrated when searching for a concise definition which is both broad enough and distinctive enough to be helpful. In this chapter, I will give my version of that definition. I will also discuss some of the reasons past theonomists so often have had to spend time saying what Theonomy is not, as well as often take a defensive posture. I will show you why some of these reasons are not only expedient, but necessary.
Before discussing the difficulties in defining a theological term like “Theonomy,” let me first offer my own simple definition up front. I will save explanation for later, but for now, let the reader know where I am going. Theonomy can be defined as follows: the biblical teaching that Mosaic Law contains perpetual moral standards for living, including some civil laws, which remain obligatory for today.
“Theonomy” is a much broader subject than merely civil government and social theory, but this is where it is, in my opinion, most distinct from other positions. It is also where it has been most controversial, owing to the fact that most Christians in history have allowed the civil realm to be governed by pagan and humanistic ideas and laws. Biblical direction here has always been badly needed. Thus, this is precisely where our discussion of a definition of Theonomy will focus.
Stating the definition as I have avoids certain misunderstandings. By including the word “some,” the new or hasty reader will (or should) at least not get the impression that Theonomy has no discontinuities with Old Testament law in view. Several critics have leveled this charge, absurd as it is. Let us foreclose even the possibility of such a charge up front.
My definition also avoids the common assumption that Theonomy involves salvation by law or salvation by works. I will discuss this aspect later as well.
Nevertheless, even if it avoids key misconceptions (which is not to say that some critics will not draw them anyway), my definition still leaves questions unanswered. I am willing to live with this, for this is where the difficulty in definition comes in with any theological term. You simply cannot give the thumbnail pic and the hi-res version at the same time. So, before moving on to a more detailed approach to my definition, let me review the necessity of my method here.
The problem of theological definition
First, what is a “definition,” after all? I think too often we take the word for granted, especially in theology. We generally accept that a definition is a concise statement that tells what something is or what it means. But such a statement must also necessarily tell us why that term is distinct from other terms and their meanings. The word “definition” comes from a Latin term—finis—that literally refers to limits, ends, or boundaries (we get our words “finish” and “finite” from the same term). Thus, a definition states the boundaries of meaning for a term—“this far and no more,” as in, “this, and not that.” Thus a definition not only tells us what something is, but also what it is not—by implication at least, if not directly.
Theonomy is as easy to define as any other complex theological doctrine, and that’s been part of the problem in defining Theonomy in practice: accuracy requires detail, and detail requires space, time, and patience. After all, it only took roughly three centuries to hammer out the doctrine of the Trinity, and longer for the dual nature of Christ. The fact that modern theonomists have worked for a couple of decades, and that the process has sparked considerable controversy, objection, and accusation, ought not surprise or deter us from continuing the process.
I said I will attempt to give both a concise definition and an explanation which serves as a fuller definition. Theological definitions especially require such treatments for several reasons. After all, the more that condensing a statement of a position requires excluding important details and qualifications, then the more that statement becomes generalized and less helpful in relating the distinctives of the position. On the other hand, if the definition includes only the distinctives divorced from any broader context, the result may raise so many further questions as to be unhelpful as anything other than a starting point for a longer discussion. Worse, in the hands of those who are predetermined to criticize or even engage in witch-hunts for heresy (and there is no shortage of such self-proclaimed discerners today), such incomplete definitions provide a smorgasbord for misrepresentations.
A sentiment I once heard from N. T. Wright gets to the point: “The problem with theology is that if you don’t say everything all the time, someone will accuse you of leaving something out on purpose.” In my experience, that is certainly true. In fact, the truth is even more extreme when the allegedly “left out” portions are used in some way to portray you as a heretic or nonbeliever. Some even claim that the allegedly “left out” portions—which may or may not be what you actually teach—are in fact left out in an attempt to deceive people into becoming unwitting disciples. Forcing unfounded accusations like this makes profitable discussion difficult if not impossible.
What results is usually a critic demanding a concise definition of “Theonomy.” If one simply posits the classic etymological definition—the application of “God’s law” today—the objection is immediately raised that all Christians have some view of this, so this definition is too broad. What is the distinctive that “Theonomy” brings to the table? If one then adds, for example, Greg Bahnsen’s phrase “in exhaustive detail,” an objection is immediately (and rightly) raised concerning ceremonial laws, circumcision, legalism, Judaizing, dietary laws, etc. What about these? Well, Bahnsen answered such questions and provided qualifications. “Where?” In 600 pages of his book Theonomy and Christian Ethics. Then the objection is raised: “You mean to tell me I have to read 600 pages to get a definition of Theonomy?” Why can’t you just provide a concise definition? Ugh.
The reason this is difficult is because “the law of God” is a large and complex set of doctrines which is made more complex by the change in administrations between the Old and New Covenants. Everyone—even Lutherans, classic Dispensationalists, and the faddish “New Covenant” theologians—agree that the standards for Christian ethics are the laws of God in some way and to some degree. All Christians believe to some degree that there is continuity between the Old and New Testaments. So, a broad definition would make everyone a “Theonomist”—and this is obviously not the case (yet). On the other hand, every Theonomist believes that much of the Mosaic law is discontinued in the New Covenant. No Theonomist believes in applying circumcision, sacrificial and ceremonial laws, and several of the other laws. Even if they would provisionally (for the sake of developing a thesis) adopt a view like Bahnsen’s “in exhaustive detail,” all Theonomists nevertheless believe in many important and radical discontinuities. Thus, all Christians also believe to some degree that there is discontinuity between the testaments.
The argument between Theonomists and non-Theonomists, then, is really more about which parts of the law abide, which parts do not, and why. Providing a concise definition that makes this clear without itself leaving out necessary parts or raising a myriad of questions is almost impossible.
The situation this causes for discussion of controversial theological topics works against concise definitions for the most part entirely. Whatever may be said in a sentence—let’s say 140 characters—will almost inevitably leave crucial questions to be explored, which, unfortunately, usually means assumed in the case of the undisciplined.
For example, a classic summary verse—a “concise definition,” if you will—for the Gospel in general has always been John 3:16. (Ironically, the King James Version of this verse is almost exactly 140 characters—141 if you include all its punctuation). Yet this verse alone leaves questions unanswered in regard even to the Gospel itself, let alone further theological questions. Is “believeth” exclusive here? Are works involved at all? What is “everlasting life”? Does this mean we will not die physically? What is the “world”? Does this imply unlimited atonement? Does “whosoever believeth” imply conditional election? What does “only begotten Son” mean? Does it have implications for our adoption? Is Jesus really unique after all? (I ask all of these hypothetically.) Not a single one of these questions is answered in John 3:16. So you see, a whole host of further elucidations is required even to understand properly something as simple as John 3:16. This could take thousands of words, cross references, and exegesis to demonstrate.
This does not mean, of course, that John 3:16 does not in general carry the message of salvation. Nor is it to say that no one can “get saved” by hearing or reading John 3:16 because they must first read a dozen theology books. But in the context of understanding, teaching, and debating theological distinctives with all their nuances and implications, we must take the longer path.
The same process is true for the classic creedal definitions, as I said above, for the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc. A concise summary statement like “Three Persons, One Essence,” can be, and has been, misconstrued in various ways. It took about three centuries of debate and strife to arrive at the Nicene formulation, and can the result be called a “concise definition” of the Trinity? Maybe, maybe not. But does it not leave many questions about the doctrine of the Trinity unanswered? Indeed, the later addition of merely one word in Latin—filioque (“and the Son”)—by the Latin church in A.D. 589 was a key ingredient in the Great Schism between East and West in A.D. 1054. That can be the difference between unity and purity in doctrine.
The Trinity is more thoroughly defined by the later “Athanasian Creed” which certainly leaves fewer questions unanswered, but is also so detailed, long (the version we used in seminary covered three pages), and cumbersome as to relegate it to the fate of most full theology books: the shelf. In fact, its disuse is so widespread that few Christians—indeed most Protestants—even know about it.
The doctrine of the incarnation of Christ fared little better. It took until A.D. 451 to get the orthodox concise definition. It is a beautifully accurate statement of roughly 200 words. And yet even this came only after rivers of ink, and years of intense debate and church politics. Even still, subsequent theologians have found it necessary to publish thousands of pages saying what these few words mean and how they apply. Oh, and wars ensued as well.
The same could be said for dozens of key doctrines all throughout church history. Imagine a whole Reformation starting over one monk’s academic objections to the Papal doctrine of indulgences. Imagine millions of pages of definitional battle lines being drawn over justification, ordination, ecclesiology, liturgy, sacraments, and more—not to mention spilled blood, charred flesh, and asphyxiations.
If you demand theology fit only for soundbites, bumper stickers, and Twitter, you may have a problem with the whole history of Christianity. That which is concise will almost always exclude key details. That which is both accurate and thorough will almost always require time and patience on the part of the reader.
In short, do not demand only thumbnail sketches when the truth requires a full schematic; and do not complain about not having details when you only asked for a thumbnail sketch to begin with. There is a discussion to be had. Have it, learn from it, or stay out of it.
Because of the nature of theological definition just discussed, we need both a concise definition and a more detailed treatment of Theonomy. It is not enough simply to affirm, for example, “Mosaic civil laws are obligatory for civil governments today.” This is decent, but represents only part of the broader theonomic view (civil laws). It is part of the part which is most distinctive about the theonomic position, but is nevertheless not accurate enough. It does not specify, for example, “all,” “none” or “some” in regard to those Mosaic civil laws, and thus anyone taking either an affirmative and negative position could actually make a valid case depending upon how they qualified and interpreted it. For the record, no Theonomist would say that all Mosaic civil laws remain obligatory, so any critic interpreting it that way would not achieve very much. But with that particular resolution, a critic could nevertheless attempt to make such a case. They could also, however, argue that no Mosaic civil law has any abiding validity today, but hardly anyone today holds such a view. To avoid such misunderstanding, it would be more accurate to say “Some Mosaic civil laws . . . ,” but this puts us back at the original need to define where the lines are drawn.
The concise definition I have given above addresses these concerns while stating the definition very concisely:
Theonomy is the biblical teaching that Mosaic law contains perpetual moral standards for living, including some civil laws, which remain obligatory for today.
This makes it clear up front that Theonomy is 1) about moral standards for living, not justification or salvation, 2) includes, but is not limited to, civil government, and 3) involves only some, not all, of Mosaic law.
This definition is clear, accurate, and distinctive. It is concise yet delineated enough that those who would derive from it that Theonomy teaches keeping the whole law, no discontinuity, works righteousness, salvation by works, Judaizing, Phariseeism, etc., are either seriously confused or obviously grinding an agenda and should not be taken seriously.
Nevertheless, any concise definition will leave further details to supply and questions to answer. So now that we have the concise version, the next few chapters will cover the qualifications and more detailed questions for a fuller definition.
Next section: Biblical Categories for Biblical Law
This Reformation Day, we will hear once again all about Martin Luther, the 95 Theses, maybe John Calvin, and maybe a bit about the five solas. It’s all good stuff, but it’s just a small portion of the legacy of the Reformation, and by focusing on the same old smidgen that is all about personal salvation, American Christians will once again let pietism push out the greater breadth and depth of the Reformed heritage. Before you get too far into the second verse of “A Mighty Fortress,” or carve Luther’s face into your pumpkin, let’s stop and think for a moment about the Reformation we have lost.
If I asked you to give me a list of the great Puritans—the direct heirs of the Reformation—your list would almost certainly include famous names such as John Owen, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, maybe Jeremiah Burroughs, William Perkins, William Ames, and one of several Thomases: Boston, Watson, or Brooks. Some who have read further may provide some of the more obscure names reprinted in the twentieth century: Richard Sibbes, Samuel Bolton, Robert Bolton, Obadiah Sedgwick, Ralph Venning. Others will come up—Samuel Rutherford, James Buchanan, and maybe the literary figures, John Milton and John Donne—but then we begin to run out. There are many others, however, and others that are perhaps even more important than these great figures.
Allow me to list some of the most influential Puritan writers of their time along with their impactful writings (see how many you have heard of):
- Thomas Becon, “The news from heaven” (1541), “A pleasant new nosegay” (1542), “The fortresse of the faithful” (1550), and hundreds of sermons.
- William Conway, An exortation to charitie (1550)
- Thomas Lupset, A treatise on charitie (1533)
- Thomas Starkley, (1533–36)
- Henry Brinkelow, The lamentation of a Christian against the citie of London (1542), The complaint of Roderyck Mors (1550)
- Thomas Lever, A fruitful sermon… in Poules churche (1550), and other sermons
- Thomas Drant, A fruitfull and necessary sermon (1572), and many other sermons
- Thomas White, preacher and founder of Sion College (1570s–90s)
- Richard Turnbull, An exposition upon… St. James (1591)
- Samuel Bird, Lectures (1598)
- William Harrison, Deaths advantage (1602)
- Henry Smith, Sermons (1599)
- Richard Curteys, The care of the conscience (1600)
- Robert Allen, The oderifferous garden of charitie (1603)
- William Fulbecke, A book of Christian ethics (1587)
- Thomas Twyne, The garland of godly flowers (1574)
- George Whetstone, A mirour for magestrates of cities (1584)
- Andreas Gerardus, The regiment of the pouertie (1572)
- Henry Tripp, preacher of Gerardus’ ideas
Never heard of a single one of these men or their works? I had not either, at least not until I read the magnificent work by W. K. Jordan, Philanthropy in England, 1480–1660. Jordan shows how the Protestant Reformation, through preaching and social application of the Gospel, led to an unprecedented outpouring of private charitable giving in society. From fortunes amassed through international trade and businesses fueled by new technology (often funded and advanced by Puritans), Puritans turned to improve society through founding schools and colleges, training workers, relieving and training the poor, and improvements in public works.
The wealthy businessmen in many cases did not merely create these ideas on their own: preachers beginning as early as the reign of Edward VI preached on social improvement from the pulpit. Jordan notes why the money flowed:
These gifts were principally made by men moved by the stirring pleas of the great preachers of the Edwardian Reformation, Latimer, Ridley, Hooper, and the rest, who were warm in their confidence, resolute in their demands on the reformed conscience, and fresh and humane in their view of the social obligations of the Christian conscience.
Examining what we can of the works of such gentlemen we find exactly what Jordan notes. Hugh Latimer, for example, preached his then-famous “Sermon of the Plough” (1548), decrying the nobles and lords who busied themselves with luxurious living and excuses while the poor died in the streets:
In times past men were full of pity and compassion but now there is no pity, for in London their brother shall die in the streets for cold, he shall lie sick at their door between stock and stock. I cannot tell what to call it, and perish there for hunger, was there any more unmercifulness in Nebo [Jer. 48:1]? I think not. . . . Repent therefore repent London and remember that the same God lives now that punished Nebo, even the same God and none other, and he will punish sin as well now as he did then, and he will punish the iniquity of London as well as he did then of Nebo.
We find the same Latimer preaching on very specifics social issues like “Inflation of Prices and Decay of Standards” (1549)—a sermon preached to the face of the King. Latimer said,
So now you have double too much which is too too much. But let the preacher preach until his tongue be worn to stumps, nothing is amended. We have good statutes made for the commonwealth as touching commoners, enclosers, many meetings and Sessions, but in the end of the matter there comes nothing forth. Well, well, this is one thing I will say unto you, from where it comes I know, even from the devil. I know his intent in it. For if you bring it to pass, that the yeomanry be not able to put their sons to school (as indeed universities do wondrously decay already) and that they be not able to marry [off] their daughters to the avoiding of whoredom, I say you pluck salvation from the people and utterly destroy the realm.
These guys obviously had a greater and broader understanding of “salvation” than the pietistic Puritanism that has been presented to us up until now. I wish we could begin to recover it.
Several years ago, many in the evangelical and Reformed community made a push to dig up the works of the Puritans. The great heritage of the English Reformation held many treasures, and some Christians determined to find these lost nuggets and present them to the Christian public. As a result, up-and-coming Calvinists like me walked into a plethora of “Puritan Paperbacks” and the great publications of Soli Deo Gloria (now subsumed under Reformation Heritage Books).
As I grew further in the faith and had more questions, however, I ran across a very sad phenomenon: our treasure hunters have only given us a fraction of the works of the Puritans, and worse, the fraction they have given only deals with a fraction of that for which these great Reformers believed and worked. As a result, our understanding of the Puritans (and thus of the breadth of the Reformation as a whole) has suffered from a certain myopia. We have come to see those great Reformers as churchmen concerned mainly with doctrine, personal conscience, and piety. In short, we have been presented with a pietistic Puritanism. A pietistic market has cherry-picked the Puritans, and stripped them of half their contribution, and perhaps the most important half at that.
I don’t know of any seminary, Christian college, or publishing house (aside from American Vision, anyway) that very much acknowledges, let alone emphasizes, the great social work of our Reformation heritage. There are liberals like Jim Wallis and Ron Sider who would acknowledge it, but only leverage it to lean toward their leftist solutions. Since, to most Christians, social action in general smacks of “Social Gospel”—generally perceived as denuded Gospel and liberal utopianism—conservatives face enormous opposition to returning to this aspect of our own heritage. To bring it up is to risk being tarred-and-feathered with “Social Gospel” or “worldliness” of some sort (which, I can assure you, regularly happens). Evangelicals and most modern Reformed believers therefore retreat inwardly to “personal Jesus” pietism and “don’t-rock-the-boat” church life. Our seminaries and colleges then train pastors and believers to preach and teach to this market alone. Modern Reformed believers ought to add to their five solas, soli pietati, for to think of the Word of God applying to anything outside of your personal salvation and prayer closet is almost treated as something outside the faith. With the exception of Leland Ryken’s book Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, I don’t know of many conservative Christian books that remind us of the forgotten part of the Reformation: law, government, education, psychology, economics, entrepreneurship, private charities, social activism, criminal justice reform, justice, and more.
This Reformation Day, let’s appreciate what Luther did, but let’s appreciate it for the greater Reformation he helped open up: a broad, comprehensive social Reformation. Let’s return to the type of Reformation that touches every area of life. Let’s not settle for one set of theses on one issue nailed on one church door. Let’s go on to recover the Reformation we have lost. Let’s not stop until every every area of life is thoroughly Reformed, every church door is hounded with the whole Gospel, and there’s a Thomas Gresham on every pumpkin.[The original of this essay and others like it are available in Inglorious Kingdoms: Saving the Public Square from the Tyrannies of Bad Theology.]
 All of the sources listed above I have taken from Jordan’s book (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1964 ), 155–179. My list stops with Elizabeth I, and doesn’t even cover the Stuart era and beyond which Jordan goes on to cover. The actual list is much longer.
 Jordan, 243–244.
 Hugh Latimer, “Sermon of the Plough,” In God’s Name: Examples of Preaching in England from the Act of Supremacy to the Act of Uniformity, 1534–1662, ed. John Chandos (Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1971), 13. I have modernized the language.
 Latimer, “Inflation of Prices and Decay of Standards,” In God’s Name, 16, modernized language.
 Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986. See in particular the chapter “Social Action” on pp. 173–185.
Saved by grace, for good works
Theonomists all know and agree that no one can be saved by works, or by keeping God’s law. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is a pure gift of God. It is not of man’s works lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8–9). To God alone shall be all the glory.
Nevertheless, too many people who quote Ephesians 2:8–9 fail to go on and quote verse 10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Scripture teaches that we are not saved by works, but the same passage of Scripture teaches us that we are saved for good works. So there is no question that good works have a necessary role in the life of the believer. That role may not be as necessary for salvation, but it is still necessary as a result of salvation.
Uses of the law
Most Christians agree that God’s law reveals to us His standards for righteousness. Most would agree on certain uses of this law. First, we would agree that God’s righteous standards show us why we need Christ: we can never measure up to His perfect standard. In this aspect, His law convicts us as hopeless sinners, and we despair of any ability or merit on our own part to escape damnation. This use of the law should drive us to Christ alone seeking our salvation. Since the law teaches us our need for Christ and leads us to Him in this way, it is usually referred to as the “pedagogical” use of the law.
Most Christians also agree that the law provides a standard by which to restrain evil in society. Various agencies—including everything from personal relationships, advice of elders and parents, schools, businesses, social customs, and civil governments—should work together to curtail expressions of evil and promote goodness. We see this use of the law most readily in the role of the civil authorities revealed in Romans 13:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:3–4).
This is God’s minister and he must execute God’s wrath. This mandates God’s standard, then, as well. We call this use of the law the “political” or “civil” use, because its function is that of maintaining civility in society. Note a couple things in regard to the civil use of the law. First, this use pertains to external behavior only. It has no reference, generally, to justification by faith or our salvation. It is merely a standard of behavior for all people. As such, secondly, this use of the law applies to unbelievers as well as believers. All, regardless of faith or not, are expected to behave according to this standard, and civil authorities are ordained of God to enforce certain external standards on all people alike.
A third use of the law is accepted throughout the world of Reformed theology, including most confessional Baptists (but not among most Lutherans, among others). This use is called “normative” or “didactic” (meaning “instructive”) and refers to the use of the law as a pattern of good works for righteous behavior which the redeemed Christian should follow.
The teaching of Theonomy agrees with and promotes all three of the traditionally accepted uses of the law, though is most notable in regard to the civil use. Our view appears most distinctly in the beliefs that Scripture reveals standards by which the civil magistrate is bound to perform his task, that these standards are revealed primarily in Mosaic judicial law, and that they remain applicable for civil magistrates today.
Theonomists contend that this view should not be a point of controversy. After all, it is an argument based upon Scriptural standards, not man’s. It is just this type of standard upon which we all agree in regard to the other uses of the law. In regard to the law as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, we look to God’s revealed law, including Mosaic law. In regard to moral standards for Christian life and ethics, we look to God’s revealed law, including Mosaic law. But then, in regard to standards for civil and political ethics, most theologians depart from revealed standards and argue that human standards, or some other standards (“nature”), are adequate. But not only is this argument a departure from the pattern accepted in the other uses of the law, it is also itself not found in Scripture. It is utterly devoid of Scriptural root or directive.
New Testament mandate
What then does the Bible say about the civil use of the law? The easiest place to see the abiding validity of God’s Old Testament law in its civil and judicial standards is in 1 Timothy 1. Here Paul warns Timothy against false “teachers of the law” and instructs him in regard to the proper use of the law. Here is what he says,
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Tim. 1:3–11).
Let’s break this down into its key points. First, Paul is promoting “the stewardship from God that is by faith.” The word for “stewardship” (v. 4) here is oikonomia, from which we get our words “economy” and “economics.” It literally translates as “law of the house.” It is a term of governance. I actually prefer the NASB here which translates the word as “administration.” This is a passage in which Paul is contrasting the frivolous, superstitious use of the law against that use of it which accords with the government of God which we are to obey “by faith.”
Second, Paul contrasts those who want to be “teachers of the law,” but do not understand what they are talking about, with the proper use of the law. He is not arguing against the teaching or use of the law in itself, but against those who want to do so in a way contrary to the law and the gospel. To this end, Paul affirms that the law is in fact “good,” but only “if one uses it lawfully.”
It may sound funny for someone to say that the right way to use the law is “lawfully.” And just to be sure, the Greek contains the exact same redundancy: nomos (law) must be used nomimos (lawfully). It sounds like a circular argument. But that is just Paul’s point: there is only one standard by which we can interpret God’s word, and that is God’s word. So, in order to understand God’s law, we need to read and understand God’s law—in this case, as opposed to “myths” and “genealogies,” but also as opposed to man’s laws, nature’s laws, or anyone else’s laws. There is no neutrality in this universe: we will conform either to God’s law or to someone else’s law. Only God is the ultimate authority. The Scriptures say that “when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself” (Heb. 6:13). The same is true with regard to His law: there is no other standard by which to appeal in order to understand and apply His law. Only His law is authoritative.
This means first that we should read the law for what it actually says. Many people condemn God’s law based on misunderstandings of it. This problem can often be remedied by merely reading what the law actually says. Some people fear it for irrational reasons. Some people dismiss it because they think the Old Testament was harsh and cruel while the New Testament is loving and forgiving. In fact, this view is not only incorrect according to Scripture, but was promoted by a heretic named Marcion who denied the authority of most of the Bible—including half of the New Testament!—because of this view of the Old Testament. It was condemned by the church as a heresy way back in the third century. Instead, those who would use the law lawfully as Paul instructs must read the law itself, read what it actually teaches, and read all of it in the context of all of Scripture together.
Third, Paul teaches here that the law applies not only as a guide for the life of believers, but as a rule outside the church. He says specifically that the law, in this sense, “is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane” (v. 9). This verse confirms the “civil” use of the law mentioned above—the use it has for restraining evil in society.
Here we must repeat that this use of the law is for the lawless, ungodly, and sinners—people outside the church. We must also remember that most Christians accept this use of the law—it is not a controversial distinctive of Theonomy. Many critics object to Theonomy in modern civil law by arguing something like, “You can’t impose biblical laws on an unbelieving people.” Yet this is not only exactly how Paul says the law applies in this verse, but for hundreds of years most Christians have not objected to this very use of the law! Yet when Theonomists say that the standards of that law are revealed in Scripture, some critics apparently forget that they themselves believe that God’s law in general applies outside the church in this way. Theonomists simply note that even the content of the law appears in this passage as well—the very next thing.
Fourth, therefore, Paul cites the civil and judicial sections of Mosaic Law here. We will discuss categories of biblical law in more detail later. For now, we simply note that Paul does not confine himself to the Ten Commandments, or the “love” commandments. He specifically cites from that portion of the law which is most often dismissed today: the judicial “case” laws that follow after the Ten Commandments, as well as points within Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
In addition to references to murder and lies which are obviously drawn directly from the Ten Commandments, Paul also specifically cites, among others, “those who strike their fathers and mothers,” “men who practice homosexuality,” “enslavers,” and “perjurers.” Striking parents appears in Exodus 21:15. Likewise, “enslavers” is a reference to the very next verse in Exodus which prohibits kidnapping and slave-trading. Both of these laws are considered to be part of the civil and judicial law of Israel. They are case examples of how the Ten Commandments apply in the realm of civil government. Paul is citing them here as the proper use of the law, including outside the church, in the New Testament.
Similarly, the reference to “men who practice homosexuality” comes from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The latter of these two passages makes clear that this is also a civil law because it prescribed the death penalty—the role of the civil magistrate. In the same way, “perjury” is a reference to Deuteronomy 19:16–19. This law designates that false witness in a court case (“perjury”) is a serious crime and specifies the just punishment of it (whatever punishment would have fallen upon the accused is to be imposed upon the false witness).
So with just a little Bible study, we can see that Paul’s “lawful” use of the law includes content from that part of Mosaic Law which pertains to civil government. It is no wonder, then, that we see the author of Hebrews stating that Mosaic Law “proved to be reliable,” that by it “every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,” and that we should therefore “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we should drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1–2). It is only here that we see just punishments delivered by God Himself.
Fifth, Paul closes this brief discussion of the lawful use of the law by saying it is “in accordance with the gospel” (1 Tim. 1:11). Far too often, any mention of law in the Christian life at all, let alone specific reference to Old Testament judicial law, is dismissed quickly with sayings like “we’re not under law but grace,” or “that’s law not gospel.” Here it is unavoidably clear that Paul teaches that the proper use of the law is in accordance with the gospel, not separate from it or opposed to it.
We can see this same accord in Christ’s Great Commission to His disciples (Matthew 28:18–20). He not only commanded them to make disciples and baptize them, but also to teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). While the preaching of the gospel is the heart and soul of the Great Commission, the enduring teaching of God’s commandments and obedience to them is just as necessary and obligatory to it.
So, what does 1 Timothy 1:3–11 reveal to us? Paul teaches that we should avoid aberrant views of the law, and instead seek to obey the administration of God. This administration involves the lawful use of the law. This lawful use applies outside of the church, includes civil government, and follows the statutes for civil government revealed in Mosaic Law. Finally, this use of the law is in sweet accord with the gospel itself. This is the distinctive teaching of Theonomy in a nutshell. As you can see, it is simply straight, biblical teaching.
The New Testament teaching on God’s law, therefore, is that love is the highest of Christian virtues. It is the greatest of the commandments of the law itself. Love is the law upon which all other law depends. It is the summary of the law. Since it is a summary, then in order to understand the details and nuances of the law of love, we must look back to the nuances and applications of the detail of the law in the law itself. This law is at the heart of the New Covenant, the heart of Jesus’ teaching to His disciples, the heart of the disciples’ teaching in their epistles, and the heart of the Great Commission.
This perfect law applies not only in Christian life and Christian ethics, but outside the church as well. The lawful use of the law is not only to lead us to Christ for salvation and to direct the Christian in holiness and righteousness, but also to provide standards of justice in the civil realm, even among unbelievers.
With this basic background, we are now in a position to start talking about theological definitions.
Next section: A Simple Definition
The word “Theonomy” comes from two Greek words, theos (God) and nomos (law). Together, these words simply mean “God’s law.” Since every Christian has some view of the role of God’s standards for living, every Christian believes in “Theonomy” in some way.
The label “Theonomy,” however, has come to describe a particular doctrine of the role of God’s law that includes the application of aspects of Old Testament law to all of life including the social realm and civil government. Those who hold to this view are properly called “theonomists.” This book teaches the perspective of this more specific “all of life” view.
Love and law
The Christian should never dismiss Scripture’s comprehensive witness to the greatness, goodness, and justness of God’s law. The Psalmist declares this general truth over and over. Just a few instances say things like:
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psa. 119:97).
Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true (Psa. 119:142).
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether (Psa. 19:9 NASB).
Examples like this could be multiplied. Even in the New Testament, where Paul teaches that we are no longer “under the law” and freed from the curse of the law, he nevertheless also adds that the Law is “holy and righteous, and good” (Rom. 7:12). He follows, “I agree with the law, that it is good” (7:16), and “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (7:18). The problem is not with the law itself, but with our sinful selves who cannot keep it: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (7:14). “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). The Christian has a different mindset, however: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9). Considering what he has just said about the law, what should this difference of mindset tell you about the Christian’s orientation to the law?
The standard for Spirit-led, Christian living, Paul teaches, is that of love. It is here where the tie back to the law of God is explicit, although often unacknowledged. Later in the same epistle, Paul says,
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:8–10).
Love is not contrary to the law. Love is the fulfillment of it. Love is not a new commandment. Love is the summary of “any other commandment” God has given. Christians must simply arrive at the mindset that when God calls us to the standard of “love,” He is calling us to obey the law He has already published and taught us in our hearts (Jer. 33; Heb. 8; 10).
The summary of the law
Consider just how explicitly that last sentiment is taught in Scripture—especially in the New Testament. The best place to see it is when Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37–40:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second greatest is to love your neighbor. While sometimes misunderstood as new commandments, these are actually taken directly from the Old Testament Law itself. The first of these commandments is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. The second is found in Leviticus 19:18. Both come from Mosaic law, and the heart of both is love.
But note that Jesus says all the rest of the Law and the Prophets depends (literally “hangs”) upon the love of God and the love of neighbor. In short, Paul was teaching the same thing in Romans 13 as Jesus teaches here: love fulfills the law in every commandment. It should not be difficult to discern that in this case, the opposite relationship must be true: if you wish to pursue love, you must abide by the Law of God.
Love is not an emotion, as our culture routinely portrays it, and we often think as well. Love is a standard of action. If you wish to know the definitions and objective standards of what it means “to love,” you will need to read the law. What is loving and what is not loving will be defined there. There you will find the divinely revealed boundaries of the actions and reactions of love.
This applies in civil law as well. For example, is it loving to allow a murderer to run free in society? No. Then what penalty should they bear that could be called “loving”? The Bible gives an objective standard. What about a thief? Would it be loving to allow a thief to go unpunished? No. But would it be loving to give a petty thief the death penalty? No. The objective standard of love must meet both the victim and the criminal properly, else we fall short of the standard of love. He who loves will be understood to do so only as far as he is in accord with God’s revealed law, for God’s commandments are the substance of love.
This is the exact lesson Jesus taught His disciples during His upper room discourse (John 14–16). He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He repeats it:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (14:21–24).
He repeats the lesson:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you (15:9–14).
The author of this Gospel reiterates the same teaching in his later Epistle:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2–3).
So we can see that love is not a new law or a replacement for the law—it is nothing more than a summary of the law. To love God means to obey His commandments. To love neighbor means to treat them according to God’s revealed law.
Next section: The Law and the New Covenant
This is the web version of my book The Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God’s Law of Liberty. You can find hard copies and eBook versions in our store for purchase. We make at least one version free for those who cannot otherwise afford the small sum to purchase.
For others, please consider making a donation to American Vision to help cover the costs for those who cannot, and to continue the work we do.
Look for more links to become active as I post more sections in the future gradually.
2. Rightly Dividing the Law
3. Where to Draw the Lines
- Biblical Principles of Continuity and Discontinuity
- The Cherem Principle
- Fulfilled and Forever
4. The Abiding Judicial Standard
- The Abiding Moral Principle for Penal Sanctions
- Some Objections Answered
5. What It Would Look Like
- A First Table Vision
- A Second Table Vision
6. How it Will Come to Pass
- The Spirit and the Great Commission
- Action Plans
7. What is Not Theonomy
- Constantinianism through Aquinas
- Constantinianism during the Reformation
- Constantinianism after Calvin