Posted in theonomy

King’s Law: Of Whose in Particular do we Speak and Thereby Abide?

Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death” (Exod 21.16; ESV).1

This law is against kidnapping and it prohibits chattel slavery. The law states that the penalty for such activity is death. “Shall be…” is the equivalent of “certainly.” That is to say, “That person, who is found guilty of such activity, certainly will be put to death. Those who commit such acts deserve to die. Furthermore, God commands that when an individual is found guilty, when the punishment is to be carried out:

Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deut 19.21).

Meaning that the justice being served out in such situations is warranted and equitable to the offense that has been committed. The purpose was to purge the evil from society and to drive fear into the hearts of the people so that they did not commit such abominable acts (cf. Deut 24.7). Think for a moment how upholding God’s holy standard in society would affect society as a whole.

Rather than a Civil War, which our nation suffered under for treating a certain sector of society as less than human (i.e., animal property), where tens of thousands died, some, members of the same household, an application of God’s statutes in the civil sector of our society would have prevented it. The simple truth remains as a historical reality, where the Christian worldview (a.k.a., the biblical worldview) persists, slavery and other such undesirable practices dissipate. One such example is seen in the life of William Wilberforce (1759-1833, A. D.), a Christian parliamentarian in England whose life’s goal was to eradicate the slave-trade and the practice of holding slaves as property on the shores of his cherished country. He succeeded at the end of his life, after a long, well-fought battle.

It was Wilberforce’s convictions that stemmed from his religious zeal for the God of Scripture revealed in Jesus Christ and made evident by the Holy Spirit’s Word-driven promptings that moved England to a slave free state. The reason our nation suffered a Civil War was not only tied to chattel slavery, but an abuse of power being practiced by those serving in the offices of civil government. Rather than recognizing their duty as God’s ministers for good (Rom 13.4), they pursued the desires of their own heart.

Why? Why is this the case? Because at base all men are sinners, preferring the standard of their own subjective word over and above the revealed Word of God. But, why was it that some who professed to bear the mantle of Christ argued against freeing men and women and children from chattel style servitude? Because, they refused to use the Word of God, in particular His laws concerning chattel slavery, as a corrective lens over and above their perverted view of reality.

This attitude prevails today. People prefer their own law, their own traditions, their own understanding of the world around them rather than God’s own. People prefer a secular form of governance, rather than a divinely inspired one. I can understand this from someone who denies the God of Scripture, but not those who profess the name of Christ.

Lord and Savior (Deliverer)…

Christians profess that Jesus the Christ is Lord and Savior, but what is supposed to be understood by this profession of faith? Well, I’ll tell you what its supposed to mean. It means that Jesus is our King, our Deliverer. He is the established head over all things, having preeminence over all things, because all things were made through (and for) Him. Therefore, all things are commanded to serve Him.

James R. White sums up very nicely the reality of Jesus Christ and His gospel in a statement he made during a public speaking event. I do not have the direct quote in front of me, so I will paraphrase: “I’m tired of people presenting Jesus as a weak beggar, for He is a mighty Lord. And, the gospel is not an invitation, it is a command.”

This reality is demonstrated in the words of Christ’s Great Commission. Before His ascension to His heavenly throne at the right hand (the hand of power/authority) of His Father, Jesus declares a word to His disciples:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28.18; NASB).

This statement does not mean that before that day Jesus had no kingly authority. He has had that type of authority before the beginning (cf. John 1.1-3; 8.58; 17.5). What then is meant? That, now as the God-Man (fully divine, fully human), having accomplished the work that He was sent to complete (John 19.30; Col 2.14-17), He has became the permanent mediator between God and man, being mankind’s chief representative, replacing Adam in the garden (Rom 5.12-19; 1Cor 15.45-49, 57), and thereby destroying the works of the devil (1John 3.8).2

According to Gary North, “This text [Matt 28.18-20], more than any other in the New Testament, places the nations under Jesus Christ.”3 A point similarly made by Kenneth L. Gentry in his work entitled, The Greatness of the Great Commission: “In the concluding Great Commission, Christ sovereignly declares that He had been “given’ ‘all authority,’ not only over the kingdoms Satan had authority over, but also in heaven….”4

Most notice the evangelistic side of the commission, but few seem to recognize the other elements pertinent for consideration. The role of the Christian disciple under this charge is that of representation. Not only is the proclamation of the gospel (a command to the nations) required, but after baptism (an identification with Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior) in the name of God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) the disciple is to train up new converts in the observing and obeying of all that God has commanded. This last reference (Matt 28.20a) speaks of God’s Law.

A key aspect of the law of God is that it is not burdensome to the new convert, but a delight to their lives (1John 5.3). An oft repeated verse illustrates this truth:

Take my yoke [figuratively, my law] upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke [figuratively, My law] is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11.29-30; ESV).

Imaging slaves…

All men (people) are slaves. No, I didn’t misspeak. All men are slaves. The question isn’t whether or not we are slaves, but who are we slaves to (cf. Rom 6.16)? Jesus explains that people will be a slave of one master or Lord (see Matt 6.24 and Luke 16.13). They will, in response, hate the one and love the other, being devoted to the one whom they serve as they despise another.

To be an image bearer means that we are dependent not independent beings. God created mankind to serve Him, to live for Him, to exercise godly dominion through the reflection of His holy mind. If we are not slaves to the Lord who created all, then we will be slaves of some other lord. We will either respond to the voice of God in obedience, submitting to what He has revealed as good, or we will listen to the voice of another. The Great Commission of Christ is that He, having all authority in all creation (both the seen and unseen), sends out His representatives into the world, commanding all sinners to lay down their arms of rebellion and serve Him. Those that become new converts (i.e., disciples) are required to learn and obey all that He has commanded.

Not a N.T. thing…

Nowhere does Scripture limit this teaching to the New Testament. The overarching principle of the Creator versus the creature distinction, which is on display even in the Great Commission, is that when God speaks (or has spoken) through His inscripturated Word we are required to listen (i.e., obey). The only time a law or command can be said to be different now than in the past, is if God has dictated it to us as such. Mankind is never, not even the redeemed body of Christ, to add to or take away from what God has declared as good, righteous and holy. How can the subjective mind of man ever have a standard as clear as the objective mind of God? It is not possible.

Applicability of God’s Law Today…

Here’s the thing, the law against chattel slavery is an example of what the Lord requires His disciples to teach to the nations. This form of sin (a criminal act against a fellow image bearer of God) is worthy of death. This is true of a multitude of sinful activities, which we would define as crimes today, and even those our modern culture would not.

Here are a few examples of crimes against society as a whole that are worthy of death. Things that make modern Evangelicals pee their pants in frustration. To rape is punishable by death (Deut 22.25-27). To maliciously lie in a court of law in order to get the death penalty for one you hate is punishable by death (Deut 19.16-19). To kidnap or steal a fellow human being is punishable by death (Exod 21.16). If a person has an aggressive animal that they have not dealt with properly and it kills another, both the owner and the animal shall be put to death (Exod 21.29). To have sex with an animal is punishable by death (Lev 20.15-16). To kill a child in the womb is punishable by death (Exod 21.22-23). To kill a thief in broad daylight is punishable by death (Exod 22.3). To mistreat the widow or fatherless (i.e., the orphan) is punishable by death (Exod 22.22-24). To curse one’s parents, to strike out against them in harm is worthy of the death penalty (Lev 20.9). Treason in its various forms is punishable by death (Deut 13). Publicly blaspheming the Name (character of) God is punishable by death (Lev 24.11). To have sexual intimacy with the same sex (a man with a man, or a woman with a woman) was worthy of the death penalty (Lev 20.13; Rom 1.26-27, 32; also see Matt 19.4-5). As is adultery (Deut 22.22), and incest (Lev 18.6; 20.11-12, 14, 17), and cross-dressing (Deut 22.5; known in our day as transitioning genders).

This list is by no means exhaustive, and it does not cover a multitude of other laws that deal things touched upon in the civil sphere. For example, theft was dealt with not by the cutting off of one’s hands, or throwing them into prison, but the penalty prescribed was restitution or indentured servitude until what was stolen was paid back by the percentage determined in light of the violation that had taken place (e.g., Exod 22.1-14). It should also be noted to the reader that just because something required the death penalty, does not in fact that the death penalty would be determined. The prosecution must prove the guilt of such a person or persons, and this only in the light of two to three witnesses (i.e., lines of evidence), anything less would not suffice (see Deut 17.6; 19.15).

It is when we get to the particulars of God’s Law that begins to get people squeamish. (I was somewhat joking about modern Evangelicals peeing their pants in frustration). Jesus is identified in Scripture as King of kings and Lord of lords (1Tim 6.15; Rev 1.5; 17.14). The reference alone should settle the debate in regards to “whose law should be the standard for living?” A king exercises authority by dictating the normative practices of their citizenry. Laws are unavoidable. According to the Bible the civil magistrate is the one charged with upholding the good and punishing evil doers (cf. Rom 13.1-7). Debate swirls around what the role of civil magistrate actually entails, around what good and what evil are being spoken of. If only we would learn to read a little further, then perhaps, and I say “perhaps” because of the desire to be our own little gods, we would discern the truth as clearly as it has been dictated to us. For it is God’s law that is referenced as the normative good that the civil authorities are meant to publish and uphold (cf. Rom 13.8-10). And if it is not God’s Law, which is the Law of Christ, then whose shall it be? I think the current culture along with her leaders speaks volumes of just what type of law is being enforced upon us today.

In the United States, there was no king and so the people sought to do whatever they perceived right in their own eyes, under the guise of “We the people…” and our civil leaders were joyous at the opportunity to impose their own subjective opinions on the hearts of all…..

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV). Emphasis added.

2This resurrection certified this result (i.e., judicially), although history has a part to play as things are incrementally brought under the sovereign Jesus’ feet: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he [Jesus the Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1Cor 15.24-26; ESV).

3Gary North, Priorities and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Matthew (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1999), e-book, Chapter 46, “Discipling the Nations.” https://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/sidefrm2.htm.

4Kenneth L. Gentry, The Greatness of the Great Commission: The Christian Enterprise in a Fallen World (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), PDF e-book. When Adam sinned in the garden, he laid down his arms of warfare (contrary to Gen 2.15) and surrendered to the creature, rather than the voice of his Creator (Gen 3.17), and as a result was sold into slavery unto sin; judged ethically dead before the Lord (cf. Eph 2.1-3).

Posted in theonomy

Theonomic Outlook: From Generalities to Particulars–Part 2

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1John 5.3; ESV).1
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Eccl 12.13-14).
“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 13.4-5)
“The concern that when a religiously dominated society has control of the family, moral and governmental regulations, who is to govern the governors?” –Matt Slick2

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS…

What is it that is so troubling about the theonomic position? What is it about the Law of God enforced or applied beyond the individualistic sphere of governance that causes such a negative reaction? What earns the theonomist labels like legalist, radical, biblicist, or an extremist Christian sect? Is it because we teach an ethical norm derived directly from the fount of God’s law? Is the standard that God established, which serves as a reflection of His holy heart, not sufficient, defunct, or tyrannical? How can that possibly be the case when Moses’ proclamation to the children of Israel was the following:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deut 4.5-6; emphasis added).

According to Matt Slick’s rhetorical question above, to seek to apply God’s law in this way to every area of life (starting from the individual, going to the family, and in the church and the greater society at large) is a seemingly dangerous notion. Who will “govern the governors?” Who will govern these religious leaders that have “dominated society [and] has control of the family, moral and governmental regulations?”

What is Slick concerned about? What sits beneath this question? In other words, what serves as the bedrock for Slick’s reasoning that a civil government led by God’s law seems a troublesome scenario?

First things first…

Keyboard warriors are a dime a dozen. Trolls that search the internet just to pick a fight and give you a headache are everywhere. Courage hidden is no courage at all.

That is not what I am doing. I’m not trying to pick a fight. I’m not trying to puff out my chest. The fact of the matter is that I don’t know Matt Slick personally from Adam (our forefather), though I do KNOW he is a son of Adam, like myself. That being said, I also know that Slick professes to be a son of the Last Adam—Jesus Christ. On these two things we share common footing. More importantly, confessing that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, we share a common heritage in God’s covenantal body.3 My interaction with his writing is not personal; although, I must confess that I personally hope that Slick (and others that share his thinking) would reevaluate their position in light of God’s Law-Word. What peaks my interest is the teeter-tottering occurring when one professes Christ as Lord of their heart and Savior of their being, but then they take a firm mental stand in opposition to His Law.

Peeling back the onion…

To look at the outside shell of an onion reveals little, but upon inspection we find that there are layers upon layers when we begin the peeling process. Some onions are sweet, others are a bit pungent with a hint of heat, and for most people the process of preparing an onion as a garnish for a meal will result in crying eyes. Despite the uncomfortable situation one often gets removing layers of the onion in order to prepare it for a dish, the effort is worthwhile. The same is true when we attempt to get to the underlying beliefs of those that hold differing positions from our own.

What is Slick’s underlying position in light of government? What is it that bothers him about applying God’s law (theonomic application) in civil government? It is because he sees civil government as a secular institution:

“A government is a political organization within a nation that exercises the control of military and judicial powers over its population. There are many different types of governments including communist, socialist, democracy, republic, etc. Though an argument can be made that some governments are religious in nature and that governments are overall instituted by God, CARM will classify governments as secular entities….”4

Notice that Slick claims that “some governments are religious in nature” but at the same time he asserts that “overall [governments] are instituted by God.” Raising the question as to whether “all” governments or just “some” are instituted by the Lord? If God institutes all, then why are only some religious? From where is Slick drawing such distinctions? He points to Romans 13:1-2 as to why he believes that God institutes civil governments:

...For there is no authority except from God, and those which exists are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God” (vv. 1b-2a; NASB).

But, what leads him to conclude that classifying all governments under the general heading “secular entities” is good and proper? Is this a biblical distinction that he provides his readers or an experiential one?

It would seem that the best policy at this point is to make sure that our definitions of “institute,” “religious” and “secular” are properly defined. The definitions shall be drawn from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary of 2008:

  • “institute—to establish in a position or office…to originate and…establish.
  • religious—relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.
  • secular—of or relating to the worldly or temporal [concerns]…not overtly or specifically religious.”5

What are we to make of these definitions? We know from Romans 13, as well as other places (see Jer 18.7-10; Dan 2.21; 4.17; Prov 8.15-16), that God is the author of civil governments. He has established the institution and office. In fact, if we read a little further in Romans 13 we see that those that fill the office of leadership in the civil sector are called ministers of God three times (vv. 4 {2x}, 6). To what end? The institution and office of civil government is given two key roles in society: “1) They are “a minister of God to you for good”; 2) They are “a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Thus, they do “not bear the sword [of judgment] for nothing” for the civil sector’s responsibility is to uphold justice, protecting the good from the evil, by purging the evil doer (if necessary) from the midst of civil society.

Again, Slick’s concern is that if God’s Law is enacted as the standard of justice, of righteous behavior, then who will “govern the governor’s;” who will limit their use of power? And so, he prefers to use “secular” (a.k.a. non-religious leaders or laws or morals) to define the role of civil government in general. Now, it is true that the use of secular does not necessitate non-religious, for the primary concern of secular is worldly concerns, but since the use of God’s law in the civil sphere of governance is what bothers Slick, what other conclusions are we supposed to draw from his writings?

A Question of Religion intent…

This leaves us with the question of religious intent (since that seems to be the actual heart of the issue). To be religious means to be faithfully devoted to what one supposes is true, ultimately, of reality. This can be a deity, but not necessarily so. The practice of faith is not in question, but the object of a person’s or societies faith is.

All people have faith everywhere you look. All people trust (entrust themselves) in, or to, something. They all possess an object of faith that leads them in their perception of reality (metaphysics), their source of knowledge (epistemology), from which they derive their moral norms (ethics).

Let’s look at Slick’s rhetorical question once more:

“The concern that when a religiously dominated society has control of the family, moral and governmental regulations, who is to govern the governors?”

Common but False…

His underlying assumption, which is common but nonetheless false, is that if we apply God’s Law then we are applying a religious standard that is not suitable. Meaning, that without applying God’s Law (theonomy) to the civil government then that government, as most governments are (at least, according to Slick’s view) are non-religious (secular in nature). Again, as I said, common but nonetheless false.

All of life is Ethical and therefore Religious…

Do secular (non-religious) civil governments have laws regarding right versus wrong behavior? Do they then punish what they view as bad behavior and in turn uphold or praise the good behavior of other citizens? We know that they do. We see it, regardless of the form of the established civil government. All nations, all cultures, and therefore all established civil governments have a religious view point that they adhere to and make prescriptions from.

The question is not “if” but “what.” It is not “if this nation has a religious belief that governs the presuppositional worldview of its people and therefore exercised in its civil institutions,” but “what is the religious viewpoint of the people that shapes the society and the civil institutions that govern it?” Again, not “if” but “what.”

Slick’s fear of a religiously dominated society is already realized. The question we must ask is what religious view of the world is being exercised versus what religious view of the world ought to be exercised in the governing of a civil society.

In other words, if God is the author of both the office and the institution of civil government, what should be the standard that governs both the officer and the institution? If God declares that they are to be “His minister for good” in order to pour out “His vengeance” by use of the “sword” of judgment against all who commit “evil,” then what standard of good is to be upheld, what definition of evil is to be used? Should such things be left to the whims of fallen man? Can those who declare evil good and good evil really be seen as fit to rule? Are they not established to image God’s goodness and to hate what He hates?

“The theonomist would contend that neither we as individuals nor our society as a whole has enough wisdom to improve upon that which God Himself has revealed in the pages of His holy law. Sinful creatures are in no position to question or correct the wisdom of God at any point where He has chosen to speak…We must not trade the objective standard of sola Scriptura in our Christian ethic for the subjective standard of personally perceived wisdom…”6

This applies not only to the individual in the home, in the work place, in the church, but the individual tasked with being a civil servant. Both the office and the institution of civil government are God ordained to reflect God’s holy standards, not the whims of personal subjectivism.

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2Slick, Matt. “Christian Reconstructionism, Theonomy – CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry),” January 12, 2009, Accessed May 27, 2021. https://carm.org/christian-reconstructionism-theonomy/.

3For example, in an article entitled “Is Christianity a Cruel Religion?” Slick writes, “The truth is that many who claim to be Christians have violated what the Scriptures themselves teach. Christianity is not a religion that advocates cruelty. However, it does teach that all who reject Christ as Savior will face the ultimate punishment of eternal hell. If they want to say this is cruelty, then I would respond by saying it is justice.” October 21, 2013, https://carm.org/about-christianity/is-christianity-a-cruel-religion/. To this I would give a hearty amen.

4Matt Slick, “What is the Purpose of Government According to the Bible?” CARM (Christian Apologetcs & Research Ministry), accessed June 17, 2021. https://carm.org/government/what-is-the-purpose-of-government-according-to-the-bible/

5These are broad definitions missing, perhaps, many of the nuances that some may want to attribute to these terms. They are accurate insofar as they are intended to give a general or basic understanding of how the English language defined them. Given the current war on language here in the West, in light of the ongoing sexual revolution with the alphabet soup crowd, I chose to use a copy readily available in my personal library.

6Greg L. Bahnsen, No Other Standard: Theonomy and its Critics (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), 32, 33, PDF e-book. Emphasis in original.

Posted in theonomy

Theonomic Outlook: From Generalities to Particulars–Part 1

The use of God’s Word is akin to a sharpened two-edged sword (cf. Heb 4.12). Either it will cut you to the quick in a temporal sense; or, it will cut you to the quick in an eternal sense. In other words, one will find, when confronted with God’s whetted blade, that they readily confess on bended knee that Jesus Christ is Lord over all life, admitting they have sinned against Him in the here and now, or before the final judgment seat of God Almighty. For it is appointed that all men shall die and then face judgment (Heb 9.27), that is never in question, but the question does remain, “will it happen now before the axe falls, or after it has severed the root?” (cf. Matt 3.10; Luke 3.9).

Law and order…

Over my last two posts I started speaking on the subject of theonomy—God’s Law. My reasons for this is rather simple. Our current culture is severely fragmented. The old guard which has been dying the death of a thousand cuts, due to Christians continual compromise with the unbelieving culture. There is a call for “law and order” by many, but from what standard shall that “law and order” be drawn?

As I noted in my first post (That Dirty Word Called Theonomy), theonomy is a dirty (i.e., taboo) word or idea in many Christian circles. A part of me is still amazed that such is the case. And so, I raised the question in my second post (Saved from What to What?) as to how we are supposed to live after we have been delivered from our previous life of sin? Not just as individuals, but as families, as congregations, and even in the sociopolitical spheres of life. You became a Christian…now what?

Anything but…

Anything but a theonomic outlook. Anything but that. That is the response you will get by those that have an aversion to God’s Law-Word. Take for example Matt Slick founder of CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry). Here is what he has to say about theonomy (although he equates Christian Reconstruction with Theonomy)1:

“Christian Reconstructionism (also known as theonomy) is a highly controversial movement within some conservative Christian circles. It maintains that the world should be brought under (reconstructed) the lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas: social, moral, political, judicial, military, family, art, education, music, etc. Christian Reconstructionism advocates the restoration of Old Testament civil and moral laws in order to reconstruct present American society into an Old Testament type Mosaic form and that the three main areas of society – family, church, government – should all be biblically modeled, the Bible being the sole standard. This would include severe punishments for lawbreakers. Some Christian reconstructionists would advocate death for adulterers, abortionists, idolaters, murderers, homosexuals, rapists, etc.”2

Controversial teachings…

There are a few more items in Slick’s short article that I would like to address, but for the moment let us bask in his insight in this paragraph under the heading, “Teachings.” Minus the error in equating Christian Reconstruction with Theonomy (see note 1 below), Slick is correct that in “some…Christian circles” theonomic teaching is “highly controversial.” He is also right in pointing out that the desire of the Christian Reconstructionist is to apply Christ’s lordship to all areas of life.3 Unfortunately, though, Slick’s disdain for theonomic thinking begins to seep through as he tries to muddy the waters a bit with his large audience.

He says that theonomy is about restoring the Old Testament Mosaic system and applying it to American society. While it is true that theonomists are concerned about properly applying God’s standard of righteousness to all areas of life, it is not true that we desire to use a cut-and-paste style format.4 We are not trying to recreate ancient Israel. Nor is it accurate to say that theonomists are only concerned about American society. For as the biblical worldview pertains to the entire globe (the entire created order where mankind has been placed by their Creator) so too does the theonomic outlook contain in its vision of the entire world. All countries not just America are under the authority of Jesus Christ whether they recognize so or not.

Slick rightly identifies three of the four main spheres of governance5 that Christian Reconstructionist who teach theonomy believe should have the same standard of holiness applied as the Bible teaches. And yet, he quickly adds that this will “…include severe punishments for lawbreakers” with some who share a theonomic outlook “advocat[ing] death for adulterers, abortionists, idolaters, murders, homosexuals, rapists, etc.” I’m not sure Slick has taken the time to clearly think through what he is saying before he sat down to write it. Severe punishments for lawbreakers, including the death penalty, were authorized by whom? Moses was merely a mouthpiece. He repeated what had been handed down to him. These were not Moses’ laws, they are God’s. These are not Moses’ punishments, they are God’s.

When kicking is preferred...

This is where the “kicking against the goads” to use a KJV expression for our stubborn, stiff-necked stupidity is a useless, though highly practiced venture by the children of Adam, is appropriate. The Lord God is the author of those laws and punishments, is Slick then calling Him severe? Is Slick troubled by the death penalty (a maximum not necessarily required for every violation of the law, and one that could not be enforced without two or three witnesses) that God said was a just punishment for violating His Law-Word?

Slick is not alone. These types of comments are normative for those who cannot stand the thought of holding all people, in all societies, by the same holy standard.6 This, in spite of the fact that God calls the application of differing standards of judgment an abomination (see: Prov 20.10; Lev 24.22). Rather than God’s objective law, man’s subjective law is preferred (cf. Prov 18.2; Mark 7.6-9). This has been a handicap since the beginning. For rather than stating, “It is written, man shall not live on bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt 4.4; cf. Deut 8.1-3), the preferred response is “Did God actually say…” (Gen 3.1). Better a man to declare what the law is, for him we will listen to, than the law be given from the mouth of God (cf. John 5.43).7

Throughout his article Slick’s apparent distaste for theonomy as a Christian branch of theology is clearly seen. Calling it “an extremist Christian movement, not held by very many people,” he then proposes the following rhetorical question:

“The concern is that when a religiously dominated society has control of the family, moral, and governmental regulations, who is to govern the governors?” (final par.).

Two things can be said about Slick’s closing thoughts (the comment about extremists and the rhetorical question of “who is to govern the governors?”). To follow Christ, to bring every thought captive to Him in every area of life, to take His Law as written, in context, deriving either its positive or negative application, or deriving the underlying principle behind it is what is required of all who profess a love of the Lord (John 14.15; 15.10; 1John 2.3-4; 5.3). This is not optional, although admittedly, it is considered radical by the world and those who are (perhaps unknowingly) influenced by it. As to the “who will govern the governors?” the answer is very simple—Jesus the Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords. Laws are holy and good when used properly (1 Tim 1.8).

More will be said on this, but this seems a sufficient place to stop.

ENDNOTES:

1Although there is no question that Christian Reconstruction and Theonomy are interrelated, they are not the same thing. This is a common misconception that I have noticed by the uninformed. Christian Reconstruction is related to the Dominion mandate (a.k.a., cultural mandate) of Genesis 1:26-28. Since mankind is God’s image bearers they are expected to exercise godly dominion over all the earth. The earth was made for mankind, just like the Sabbath (a day of rest) was given as a gift after six days of labor (coinciding with the biblical creation week; cf. Gen 1; Exod 20.11). It is an example of God’s delegated authority given to His earthly representatives. This command to “subdue the earth” has never been remitted. Rather we still see this delegated authority exercised in Scripture through God’s people. And, it is King Jesus who reaffirms it to His followers in Matthew 28:18-20. Theonomy on the other hand is the toolin the believer’s hand by which he/she has been enabled to exercise this godly dominion. First in their lives, and then in the lives around them. Therefore, Christian Reconstruction is the practice of reforming the world in which we live to properly image the Creator who made it all. Theonomy is one of the key tools that God has given so that we might be faithful to that end.

2 Slick, Matt. “Christian Reconstructionism, Theonomy – CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry),” January 12, 2009, Accessed May 27, 2021. https://carm.org/christian-reconstructionism-theonomy/.

3I’m not sure how Slick sees this application of Christ’s lordship over all things, but the way the rest of the article reads it would appear that he is not convinced that such thinking is right or to be put into practice. However, I would merely offer that since Christ is Lord over all, and since all things owe their being to Him, as all things were created by Him and for Him (ff. Col 1.15-18), that the only logical conclusion one might draw when applying the biblical worldview consistently is that, as Christians, our goal ought to be to shape this world (at least our little niches or areas of influence) in a way that conforms to Christ’s thinking.

4Greg L. Bahnsen answers many of these sort of objections in his work, “By This Standard.” In it he is quick to point out that “We need to be sensitive to the fact that interpreting the Old Testament law, properly categorizing its details…and making modern day applications of the authoritative standards of the Old Testament is not an easy or simple task. It is not always readily apparent to us how to understand an Old Testament commandment or use it properly today. So the position taken here does not make everything in Christian ethics [i.e., theonomic outlook] a simple matter of looking up obvious answers in a code-book. Much hard thinking—exegetical and theological homework—is entailed by a commitment to the position advocated in these studies” (7).

However, Bahnsen does offer a strong caveat to the Christian who thinks of sidestepping God’s Law-Word, “If something was sinful in the Old Testament, it is likewise sinful in the age of the New Testament. Moral standards… do not fluctuate…When the Lord makes a moral judgment, He is not unsure of Himself, or tentative, or fickle. Unlike human lawmakers, God does not change His mind or alter His standards of righteousness…When the Lord speaks, His word stands firm forever. His standards of right and wrong do no tchange from age to age: ‘All His precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness’ (Ps. 111:7-8).” Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), 37-38, PDF e-book.

5The one that Slick misses is “personal or individual governance.” As creatures we are accountable to the Lord above. God blesses and curses not just nations for how they behave, but the individuals who live in them. If a person fails to self govern properly in light of God’s revealed Word, then they are cursed (e.g., Judas Iscariot). However, if a person does govern themselves properly in relationship to God’s commands, then they are blessed by Him (e.g., Jesus Christ).

6Paul Copan in his book entitled “Is God a Moral Monster?” seems in my mind to be an excellent example of this type of thinking intimated by Slick. Copan argues that “…we shouldn’t see the law as the ideal standard for all humanity” (86). A little later he adds, “the Mosaic law is not permanent, universal, and the standard for all nations” (89). Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011).

Kyle D. Fedler conveys a similar strain of thought in stating a warning of the danger in assuming that “…all the Torah laws are still valid.” Kyle D. Fedler, Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 115.

This based on the premise that Christ removes the bondage one suffers under the law. But, we must not forget what that bondage was; it was the curse of sin. The bondage was not a righteous requirement, the righteous requirement that the law enforced upon humanity brought to bear our enslavement to sin, and so a curse was what we were held under until Christ set us free via our faith in Him. Fedler either fails to see this or allow this truth to shape his meaning.

7This is the problem that Jesus faced during His earthly ministry. It was not just what He did that offended the cultural elites (the supposed religious leaders/experts in the law), but what He said in regards to God’s Law. He gave the proper interpretation of it, showing it applicability over an above their own erroneous standards. If anything, Israel at the time of Jesus reveals what it looks like when man’s law is held on par with God’s own.

Posted in theonomy

That Dirty Word Called Theonomy

Theonomy is a dirty word. For the uninitiated the term is the combination of two Greek terms: Theos (God) and nomos (law). “So then,” you might be wondering, “how is it a dirty word?” How indeed!

Sometimes I’m a bit naive and I make assumptions of others that I learn later were in error. Over a decade ago I did this in two different settings. The first was in a secular setting on a job I was running in Columbus, OH. The second was in a local church where I served as pastor. My subject matter was different in each situation, but I assumed too much on a commonality that I believed was sufficient grounds for civil conversation.

Let me share with you what happened in the secular setting first and then move onto the ecclesiastical one. Afterwards I will tie in the subject of Theonomy. I believe you’ll understand the connection without much effort.

Secular setting…

As I mentioned earlier I was running a job in Columbus, OH. It was on a new construction project, a rather large L-shaped building, that was to be an assisted living facility. My position was the HVAC foreman, and I was responsible for ordering, installing, and managing my team in the process. This type of job required that I become acquainted with all the other trades (e.g., electricians, plumbers, pipe-fitters, painters, etc.) as we were all expected to work together in a somewhat coordinated effort; so that, all steps of the building/finishing of the project were according to the schedule laid out for us by the general contractor.

The project was about two-thirds of the way done when my encounter with a window caulker occurred. I had returned from lunch and was heading from the rear parking lot towards one of the main entrances when I heard the man on his step ladder humming the melody of a well-known hymn. I thought, “Here is a kindred spirit that shares my faith,” and so, I attempted to start a conversation with him.

Now the day was warm and sunny, therefore my attire matched the elements. I had some worn jeans on and a sleeveless black shirt. About the age of 26 I began to enter into that stage of life that some men experience (male pattern baldness), and so, having been gifted with a nice dome from my Lord I began the ritual of cleanly shaving my head. My arms are tatted and my ears are pierced. So, I suppose outwardly I look anything but a Christian, least of all a pastor, nevertheless, I am both. Unfortunately, the man I struck up a conversation with. That fellow humming a familiar hymn. As soon as I spoke he looked me up and down arriving at the conclusion that the person speaking to hymn was a wolf pretending to be a sheep. He was anything but polite. Judgmental would be a better word. A very unpleasant encounter to say the least.

Ecclesiastical Setting…

My second encounter around the same time period happened after a lesson I’d given during a service. It was an election year and I used another dirty word (unknown to me): politics. What I had proclaimed from the pulpit is the universal nature of God’s Word. How it is intended to shape our thinking and acting in every area of life. No subject was forbidden. No matter is off limits as far as God is concerned, and this included politics. In particular, the way we ought to vote for a candidate. If the candidate is firmly planted on a platform that calls for the execution of the newly conceived, then any Christian worth his or her weight should not cast a vote for that individual. How could they in good conscience?

The individual in question, as soon as I was finished speaking, stood up with a Bible firmly gripped in one hand and a pointing finger on the other. On the verge of shouting, he explained to me that I was dead wrong. You would have thought I’d just finished blaspheming from the pulpit. His frustration was pouring from every facet of his being. His face was contorted with what I do not doubt was a righteous indignation on his part. Trying to reason with him went no where. Eventually, he stormed out of the sanctuary. His wife apologized for the spectacle. She told me that she doubted that he’d return. I kept my composure until after they left and then I hit my knees before the Lord praying for the man.

(Sidenote: Later that evening I received a call from the individual who attacked me, apologizing for his behavior. The following week he apologized to the church. The man is a solid believer. I believed this when he attacked me, and so I prayed for him. I told his wife as much when she left that service embarrassed. The Lord heard my prayer, and the believer repented. He became one of my strongest supporters before I resigned from the Nazarene denomination for issues pertaining to doctrine. I plan on seeing him and his wife in heaven one day.)

The Dirty Word called Theonomy

We have now come full circle. My point in sharing those experiences was illustrative. We sometimes make assumptions about people or teachings that are in error. Presuppositions are strong deterrents. This can be a good thing, if the presuppositions that we hold are correct. The first individual I spoke about made a judgment call about me because of how I appeared to him outwardly. He couldn’t reconcile what he believed a Christian should look like, with what actually makes one a Christian (the atoning life of Christ put upon those that trust in Him). The second individual struggled with seeing how his voting was an extension of His faith in Christ. The first individual never spoke to me again, even though I saw him for the a few more months before the job was finished. The second person did, and through consistent biblical teaching eventually laid aside his former convictions, adopting new ones.

I first encountered the word “Theonomy” in the writings of Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen. I had found a paperback copy of his book, By This Standard, while working on my Master of Divinity degree (2011-2015). After reading through it, I was convinced by the biblically based cogent arguments provided by Bahnsen that saturate every page. Here is the general synopsis that Bahnsen proves in this work:

“Fundamental to the position taken herein is the conviction that God’s special revelation—His written word—is necessary as the objective standard of morality for God’s people. Over against the autonomous ethical philosophies of men, where good and evil are defined by sinful speculation, the Christian ethic gains its character and direction from the revealed word of God, a revelation which harmonizes with the general revelation made of God’s standards through the created order and man’s conscience…

by this standard, 2

“Indeed, the Bible teaches that we should presume continuity between ethical standards of New Testament and those of the Old, rather than abbreviating the validity of God’s law according to some preconceived artificial limit…

by this standard, 2

“The methodological point, then, is that we presume our obligation to obey any Old Testament commandment unless the New Testament indicates otherwise. We must assume continuity with the Old Testament rather than discontinuity.”1

by this standard, 3

In other words, God has revealed to His people and through them to the world, the manner in which He intends for His creatures to live righteous lives. This ethic applies to all, including even the civil government over us, who are in reality, according to the testimony of the apostle Paul, God’s ordained ministers for good (Rom 13.1-5). A little later, Bahnsen continues,

“Christ said that the attitude which is genuinely godly recognizes the moral authority of God alone, does not question the wisdom of His dictates, and observes every last detail of his word. This is man’s proper path to God-likeness…[Moreover,] those who are not striving to become rivals to God by replacing His commands according to their own wisdom will rather endeavor to reflect His moral perfection by obeying all of His commands.”

By This standard, 47, 48

To be an image bearer means to reflect the One in whose image you’ve been created to mirror. According to Christ, says Bahnsen, God is concerned that our mode of operation is to submit to His divine word as an ethical standard that cannot be deviated from. So far so good?

One would think that all Christians would find commonality in this standard of ethics revealed in Scripture and proclaimed by Bahnsen (among others of his ilk). Yet, that is not the case. In fact, much to my own astonishment (initially at least) there are many who, bearing the name of Christ, kick at every jot and tittle laid before them from God’s Law-Word. Much of the angst seems to be based on misunderstandings as to what has changed between the Old and New covenants. A direct equivalency is not what Bahnsen or other theonomists (like Gary North, David Chilton, or Gary DeMar) argue for.2 Bahnsen even notes this in the beginning of his work:

“The aim of those studies is to set forth a case in favor of the continuing validity of the Old Testament law, including its sociopolitical standards of justice. It is advocated that we should presume the abiding authority of any Old Testament commandment until and unless the New Testament reveals otherwise, and this presumption holds just as much for laws pertaining to the state as for laws pertaining to the individual. As already noted, such a presumption does not deny the reality of some discontinuities with the Old Testament today; it simply insists that such changes be warranted by Biblical teaching, not untrustworthy personal feeling or opinion.”3

By This Standard, 7

That being said “Theonomy” is still a dirty word in many Christian circles. Bahnsen had his critics. He wrote an entire book answering them in the follow up to this work entitled, No Other Standard. I have encountered the same sort of criticism since adopting this theological branch of study into my own Christian worldview. Regardless, I have found that when investigated at a foundational level the critics are the one’s standing on shifting sand. Not the other way around.

As of yet, I have hardly begun to answer the question, “Why is Theonomy viewed in such a negative light?” This will be a topic returned to at some future date. Until then….

For those interested I would recommend the following works:4

Bahnsen, Greg L. By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1985.

_____________. No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1991.

North, Gary, ed. Theonomy An Informed Response. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1991.

____________. Was Calvin a Theonomist? Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1990.

ENDNOTES:

1Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), PDF e-book. All emphasis in these quotes (throughout) are what Bahnsen stressed, not the particular whims of the current writer.

2An easy example for the reader to consider is found in Deuteronomy 22:8, which reads, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it” (ESV).

A couple of things may be said about this verse. First, taking it as stated and trying to apply it exactly as written is not what a good theonomist would do. The reader would need to consider what a parapet is (a boundary marker or “fence” or “rail”) and what the historical setting entailed (flat-roofed homes were commonplace in the Middle East [and still are], first before attempting to apply it. The concern is to discern the direction and purpose of God’s Law-Word here. The Law-Word of God is meant to demonstrate the love of the image bearer; primarily for the Creator, secondarily for the neighbor (i.e., fellow image bearer). Secondly, the underlying principle would need to then be applied to the current cultural setting. An example today would entail building a rail around one’s deck. This would be set as a guard for the guests life. Notice that the law does not say that the railing or fence needs to be impassible, for it invites the conclusion that one might still fall and die, but it does state that if the individual in question does this kindness in submission to what God has revealed, then, if something undesirable does happen (like injury or death) the individual in question is innocent before the eyes of the Lord.

3The emphasis in this section is of my own doing.

4Anyone may get these books free of charge in their PDF version here: https://www.garynorth.com/public/2649.cfm

Posted in Canaanites, Covenant, Ethics, Law, Wrath

Big Bad God or Are We Looking at Past Events Wrong?

My previous post was in many ways a bit redundant, as it is a carry-over of things I have discussed before.  However, my concern was establishing the right perspective in order to properly view things disclosed in the Old Testament.  Difficulty understanding certain biblical passages arises because of an incorrect outlook. Some examples we might point to would be: 1) being kicked out of the garden in Adam’s day, 2) the Flood in Noah’s day, 3) the plagues in Egypt or the Canaanite conquest during the period of Joshua and Judges.

Wrong viewpoints tend to pose various questions regarding biblical revelation.  Such as: “How can a loving God do those things?”; “Is the God of the O.T. the same as the one in the N.T., for His actions do not seem to line up with I understand God’s character to be?”; “If God is good, then how could He command such things?”

(In particular, the commands of God that calls for the entire destruction of whole groups of people including not just men and women but also children and animals. This shall be the primary focus of this article.)

Tacit Assumptions…

Pay attention to some of the tacit assumptions being smuggled in when such questions are posed, as a result of an improper perspective.

First, the questioner is presupposing that human beings are innocent.  However, we are not because we are sinners—that’s our identity before God.  Now that is not all of our identity, for we are also all image bearers of God, but our status before Him is guilty not innocent.

Second, the questioner is assuming that God is only good and loving.  However, He is not just those things; He is more.  God is defined as Holy (purity/separateness) from His creation in particular regarding sin which He hates.  God is defined as just meaning that He only does what is righteous (right), and therefore judges the motivations and activities of those He has created to reflect Him.  God is merciful, but He is also wrathful and as a result He delves out consistently what is deserved for all His rational creatures. There are many other attributes that could be described about God, but I am hoping you are beginning to get the picture.  God is more than love and goodness, He is perfect and as such no one defining attribute is properly demonstrated above another.  If you want to pick and choose which attributes of God you prefer to highlight (and some do this), then you are not describing the God of the Bible but an idol formed in your own heart/mind.

Third and finally, the questioner is assuming that they are in the position to determine the rightness or wrongness of the activity of God described in the Old/New Testaments. However, they (we) are afforded no such status in that we are creatures, not the Creator.  He is not in the dock, we are.

A proper exploratory question would be to ask, “Why did God call for the death of so many in the past, including not just men and women but also children and animals?”  I believe the answer is found in the fact that God is covenantal when dealing with His creation.  Ultimately, what the covenant establishes is life and death depending upon what position you (we) fall in regarding the covenant.

God created man (Adam) in a covenantal relationship with Him.  This is expressed in a variety of ways (check out God’s Covenant with Adam https://kristafal.wordpress.com/2019/04/05/gods-covenant-with-adam/; where I discuss this in more detail), but is particularly seen in the two trees in the midst of the garden.  One tree signified life and was accessible via obedience; the other tree signified death and was accessible via disobedience.  How Adam chose to respond in regards to the covenant that God had established had a lasting effect not only on him personally, but all his offspring.  Since Adam was given dominion—the right to rule in God’s name over all of earthly creation (Gen 1.26, 28)—when he sinned the consequential result was a cursed creation.  In other words, Adam was not the only one who suffered as a result of his transgressions for all of life under his headship suffered in the wake of his rebellion (comp. Gen 3.17-19; Rom 8.20-22; on a small scale restricted to the land of Israel see Isa 24.5-6).

Suppose you don’t like that. Some don’t.  What do you do by denying it? Well you deny the same sort of result from the opposite position in Jesus Christ.  I have heard some theology teachers deny that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.  Well, without delving into a rather deep theological debate I will just point out that if His righteousness is not imputed to us, if His holiness is not accredited to our bankrupt accounts, then we have no hope of eternal life.  Either Christ is our covenantal head and we are blessed by His obedience or we are left in a cursed sinful state with no hope of salvation/deliverance from the second death.  Human beings are not holy by any real or imaginary standard, and without such no one will be seen in the presence of God (Heb 12.14).

Getting back to God’s acts of wrathful judgment against sinful mankind…

Why did God destroy men, women, children, animals and the entire earth in the Flood of Noah’s day?  The short answer is that mankind’s dominion was in direct opposition to God.  Mankind (human beings if you prefer) was exceedingly wicked and rebellious and had hearts filled with violence (Gen 6.5, 11-12).  Violence against whom?  Ultimately against God, that’s who.

Yet, we read because of God’s merciful grace He preserved one man and through that one man all members of his household including his wife, their three sons and their wives, as well as all representative kinds of land dwelling animals.  The same reason God destroyed the many in Noah’s day is the same reason God saved the few.  God acts covenantally with His creatures and those who are covenantally faithful are blessed inheriting life; whereas those who do not are cursed inheriting death.

What the Law Reveals about our Status…

Now our disposition before God is not right.  We are not in a good spot when we stand before Him.  We are not innocent, which His Law demonstrates quite effectively.  I will use the summation that Jesus puts on God’s Law to demonstrate this: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is not one person who can make the claim (past, present or future) that they have fulfilled the entirety of these commands with absolute perfection.  Accordingly, one deviation, no matter how small, in God’s commandments reserves condemnation for the person(s) in question, for to break it at one point is to be guilty of all of it (James 2.10).

  • “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction” (Exod 22.20).1
    • NOTE: In case you were wondering offering a sacrifice to another, other than the Lord God is an act of worship. Accordingly, the entire human race since Adam has done this very thing and is therefore without excuse, fully deserving the entire wrath of God (cf. Rom 1.18-23). (This text will be helpful later when considering the question of “Who’s God’s anger against, false religion or the people who practice them?)

Dreaded Commands against the Canaanites…

Knowing this to be true, let us look at a couple references from Scripture that make ignorant believers blush.

  • “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittite, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them” (Deut 7.1-2; italics added).

–This same theme is taken up in Deut 20–

  • “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded” (Deut 20.16-17; italics added).

These people were to be totally devoted to destruction.  This is an act of worship, an act of righteous retribution in the Name of God.  Christians like Paul Copan argue for a hyperbolic understanding of such passages.  In response to Deut 7:1-2 quoted above, Copan makes the following statement, “Earlier in Deuteronomy 7:2-5, we find…tension [in the text].2  On the one hand, God tells Israel that they should ‘defeat’ and ‘utterly destroy [haram]’ the Canaanites (v.2)—a holy consecration to destruction.  On the other hand, he immediately goes on to say…”3

  • “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.  But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire” (Deut 7.3-5; italics added).

Continuing with Copan’s thoughts, “If the Canaanites were to be completely obliterated, why this discussion about intermarriage or treaties?  The final verse emphasizes that the ultimate issues was religious: Israel was to destroy altars, images and sacred pillars.  In other words, destroying Canaanite religion was more important than destroying Canaanite people.”4 (The current writer is seen shaking his head at the kitchen table as he is typing on his laptop reading this ridiculous statement by a notable Christian scholar.)

What would help at this point is if Copan and others like him would merely compare Scripture with Scripture.  God has already stated that to offer worship to any other god (so-called) than He is to invite a death sentence (cf. Exod 22.20).  So then, why the talk of “intermarriage or treaties” in the Deuteronomic text?  Actually, this is not the first time God has warned His people to be careful not to do these things when they enter the land (see Exod 34.11-16; cf. Num 25.1-2).

Yes, but if God was really concerned about destroying all of these people, then why the warning? Copan seems to be making a pretty strong argument here.  The answer is simple, God has already told them that He would fight for them, that He would drive them from the land, but at the same time He also said He would not do it too quickly.  He gives at least two reasons for this:

  1. For the welfare of His people who He is giving the land to: “The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you” (Deut 7.22; italics added; cf. Exod 23.29-30).
  2. God left them there to teach the next generation war: “I will no longer drive out before them [Israel] any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not. So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua” (Judg 2.21-23).

Here’s the problem.  The reason that the Lord left the people in the land is because Israel was disobedient and did not follow God’s commands as He instructed (cf. Judg 2.1-20).  Therefore, they suffered negative sanctions as members of the covenant community.  They were handed over to their enemies as slaves as a result.

You see, God knows human hearts.  He knows our hearts better than we think we do.  Despite what seems to be our best motivations we are weak and powerless when faced with temptation, as we are always carried off by the desires of our heart.  “Always?” you ask.  Yes, unless God gives us sufficient strength to resist by His grace we will always fall flat in the muck and the mire.  We will be like a dog that returns to its vomit or a pig that corrals in the mud.

What should we see?

When you look back at Deut 7:1-5 what you should note is that God is saying two things at once.  On the one hand He is giving explicit instructions on what they are to do when they enter the land of Canaan.  They are not to pity their enemies, but to utterly destroy them. This would help ensure their safety from without (externally) and within (internally).  This command does not supersede the one formerly given in Exod 23:29-30 and then repeated in Deut 7:22 about not driving them out all at once lest the wild animals in the land over take them.  And those beasts would overtake them; if they did not obey the voice of the Lord, as that was one of the negative sanctions He promised them (cf. Lev 26.22; Deut 32.24).

Everything is to be done according to God’s timetable, not men.  We are to learn His scheduling of events (listening to His voice), rather than attempting to act like Sarah offering up Hagar to get God moving at a quicker, more convenient, humanly pace (cf. Gen 16.1-4; 21.12).

False Religion or the Practitioner?

Copan claims that God is more concerned by false religion than by false people, and that is why we should not read these commands as anything but hyperbole.  Uhm…false religion is not practiced in a vacuum.  By itself it is nothing.  False religion—its rites, forms and idols—are vacant lifeless things, unless people are found practicing them.

To say that God is concerned more about false religion than He is about the people practicing it ignores the many passages of Scripture that speak of God’s judgment against the people who do them.  The destruction of their idols was a physical/symbolic reminder of what ought not be done, unless one wants to die before a Holy God.

  • “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Exod 20.5; Deut 5.9)
  • “…and [the Lord God] repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him.  He will repay him to his face” (Deut 7.10).
  • “You hand [God] will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear.  The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them” (Psa 21.8-9).

There are many such passages in Scripture and while some of the language may no doubt be symbolic, let us not be so arrogant to assume that God will allow anyone who hates Him to get away with their misdeeds.  Take for example King Agag.  Did he escape from the wrath of God?  Did he have to wait for eternity to feel the sharp fiery sword of God’s judgment?

Saul was commanded as prince over the people of God to attack the Amalekites and wipe them all out, women, children and livestock included.  Nothing was to remain of them, they were to be utterly destroyed—given to the Lord above.  Saul refused to obey God, and it was Samuel who took up the task of hacking that wicked King Agag to pieces (see 1Sam 15.1-33).

Back to the Heart of the Issue…

Dare we assume that any such individuals are innocent?  Is there an innocent man on the earth?  Is there any who do good?  Is there any who seek God rather than foolishly denying Him?  The Lord, says “No there is not one.  None can stand before Me.  None can claim his innocence.”

For if it were not for the grace of God in Jesus Christ applied by the power of the Holy Spirit there would not be one wretch that would be saved.

It is only when you understand our covenantal standing before God in Adam that you see we are all unworthy, all unrighteous, all full of the filth of sin.  What we should be asking is how does God tarry with us?  How can God stand the stench of us within His nostrils?  It is by the pleasing, overpowering aroma of Christ’s sacrifice that frees us from doom.  Even the unbelieving enjoy some measure of salvation in the fact that He allows them life, power and wealth in spite of their sin—their unbelief.5

But this is the true heart of the issue.  Due to our standing before a Holy God we live on this earth on borrowed time.  God, at any time in terms of righteousness and justice, has the right to end life.  Because of mankind’s status as His image bearers in covenantal apostasy, no life may claim innocence or innate goodness.  God destroyed whole groups of people (old and young) and their animals, and the very earth upon which they dwelt because of their rebellion against Him.  There is “none…righteous, no not one” (Rom 3.10), and so we have nothing to open our mouths about in opposition to these commands.

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ENDNOTES:

1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2 Pay special attention to the term “tension” when you are reading a work on the Bible.  That is a catch word that reveals the writer’s disposition towards the biblical text.  Tension means apparent disagreement.  For the scholar that may be leaning towards errancy (i.e. mistakes, errors, or contradictions in Scripture) this is a key indicator of their underlying beliefs. A lot of neo-evangelical “experts” on the truth have a strong tendency in leaning in this direction.

3 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 172

4 Ibid, 173.

I don’t want to paint the picture that Copan is a total white-washed liberal.  As I said in a former post he does have some good things to say, and he is much smarter than I am in a lot of areas.  By way of example though, Copan does admit that the Canaanites were a vile, wicked people that practiced all sorts of immoral deeds (p. 159-60).  However, his concern is obvious to the reader.  He wants to protect God’s credibility, by showing that God is not a moral monster. Unfortunately, it also seems like he wants to make God more appealing to the Gerd Ludemann’s of the world by softening the message (the bite if you will) of God’s Word.

5  I want to clarify a distinction here that might not be readily apparent to the reader. What I refer to here is the common grace of God.  None deserve life, and yet it is the sacrificial Lamb of God that purchases even the reprobate a certain portion of this life.  It is true the chief concern here on God’s part are the people His Son has died for (that none of God’s elect should perish), but without Christ’s atoning work none of us would have a reason for living.  The life that all enjoy temporally is due to God’s predetermined plan in Jesus, but only those who are saved in Christ enjoy it eternally.

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