"General Equity" in light of Scripture and Westminster

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Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
It seems to me that a lot of the theonomic debate hinges on the interpretation of "general equity," since we all agree that such a thing biblically remains binding today. The disagreement seems to primarily be that non-theonomists take the general equity of the judicial laws to simply be the moral law, no more, no less; whereas the theonomists take the general equity of the judicial laws to be more specific applications of the moral law, found in the underlying principles seen in the various judicial laws. I summarized my reasons for seeing both Scripture and Westminster as supportive of the latter interpretation near the end of a past thread, and have never seen them answered, which is why I am bringing them up now:

Regarding Westminster's interpretation, here is how I see the issue:

Originally posted by Me Died Blue
Another thing that sheds light on that issue is the Westminster Divines' interpretation of the case laws. If, as you say, they were not chiefly an application of the moral law, but were a completely separate category, why are there so many case laws appealed to in the Catechisms to define the boundaries set by each commandment of the Decalogue? Furthermore, there are two important inconsistencies that cannot be accounted for under your interpretation of WCF.XIX: Firstly, if the "general equity" in section IV is, as you say, merely referring to the moral law as contained in the Decalogue, and not to its applications in the case laws, then why did the Divines purposefully note its continuity in section IV in accordance with their talk of the judicial laws, when the very next section is wholly devoted to the continuity of the moral law? Under your interpretation of "general equity," the last part of section IV is useless and redundant in light of section V. The second inconsistency under your interpretation is something Paul (Manata) pointed out above, which is the difference in the use of the term "abrogated" in reference to the ceremonial laws, and "expired" in reference to the judicial laws. If they both cease to apply to the lives of New Testament saints in the same way, then why the difference in terms, and so close to each other as well? Maybe the Divines just felt like playing some useless word games that day.

As to Rutherford's statement, he said, "the whole bulk of the judicial law, as judicial, and as it concerned the Republic of the Jews only, is abolished, though the moral equity of all those be not abolished" (emphasis mine). To see what he meant by that last phrase, it is quite interesting to note that all the subsequent examples he gives of case laws being expired are all in reference to specific cultural-Jewish aspects of them, while he never discredits the use of the principles that may be derived from them.

Regarding the Scriptural foundation for that interpretation of Westminster, here is how I see the issue:

Originally posted by Me Died Blue
As far as the Scriptural reasons for the cultural-Jewish aspects of the judicial law being rescinded, but the underlying principles remaining, one example of the truth of that principle is found in 1 Corinthians 9:9-14. Here Paul discards the cultural element from Deuteronomy 25:4, and yet applies the law principally. Likewise, he quotes that same passage from Deuteronomy on par with a quotation from Matthew 10:10 when instructing Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:18. He does the same type of application of the case law of Deuteronomy 22:10 in an extended way in 2 Corinthians 6:14.

Furthermore, Jesus often inserted references to the case laws right in the middle of references to the laws of the Decalogue, such as in Mark 10:19, where "Do not defraud" from Deuteronomy 24:16 is referenced. He also sent the lepper in Mark 1:44 to follow a Mosaic law. Likewise, in Mark 7:6-13 and Matthew 15:3-9, in rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus referred to the fifth commandment, but made no distinction between that and his reference to the penal sanction specifying capital punishment.

The point of all those references to case laws is found in Matthew 5:18-19: "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." We know this cannot mean every detail of the law just as it was lived out in the Old Testament, else Paul and Jesus would be fools for making new applications of them and rendering other details of them as expired (such as the ox in the field). What, then, is to be taken from the universal wording of that passage? "Not an iota, not a dot." Since the entire law is validated for our standards of direct living, yet not every law was applied by New Testament writers in the same way it had been in the Old, the only conclusion that makes sense of both the universal language in Matthew 5 and the new applications such as those cited above is that every law has a binding application to us, but that the external outworking of that application can take on different forms with the culture. And that is the theonomist's position. If, however, the case laws have been fully abolished in their entirety as non-theonomists claim, then the universal language used in that passage, as well as the various applications made by Christ and Paul, are absurd.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Very good, Chris.

First let me say that I did not respond because that is not my idea of general equity. I certainly agree that the application of the moral law is always generally equitable via the judiciary laws. But it would be better to turn that around to say that the judiciary laws are always generally equitable via the application of the moral law. But that, I believe, does not confine "general equity" to a mere application of morality as fits, not the culture, but what men are willing to submit themselves to. That is not "general equity" in my understanding. And I think we have this concern in common.

I believe that general equity has been traditionally held as the application of specific law to the specific case. Laws, by the nature of them, cover as wide an area of offense, and as general and specific as needs be to do so, as to establish a societal norm. But the specific applications of each and every judiciary law to the case at hand requires a judge to deliberate the extent of the offense, and to mete out justice to match that extent. One person may be forced by circumstance or by lack of proper judgment, but not by malice aforethought or by habit, into an offense; and such would be judged with some more leniency than someone who proves by habitual and constant boldness and rebellion that his same offense is more reprehensible.

That is to say, laws are always in combination of one another. One offense is never a breaking of one sole law, but is always a breaking of a different combination of laws, as each case will come into consideration. So there must be underneath a general equity by which specific offenses are considered by a judge. Judges need to be legal experts for that reason. He is always weighing the case for extent of offense to each applicable law.

In reference, then, to the OT judicial laws concerning the state of Israel as God's covenant people, we still apply our modern laws according to the general equity found in those laws, not in the general equity found in the modern state's laws. We judge the laws that the state institutes for her own specific legal and societal needs by the standard of equity that the Biblical law in its entirety gives us, not what men of our day are willing to submit themselves to as outlined in the State's laws. Without, say, instituting any laws against witchcraft, the general equity against sorcery still applies as much as if the OT law still stood. That is, a State ought to incorporate a law against witchcraft if witchcraft becomes an offense to the State. And, of course, if it is there it will inevitably become an offense. But all the same, each offense will be more than only a presence of witchcraft, for other offenses will follow by degree.

This is enough for now, just for starters. Thank you very much for opening this discussion in such a "generally equitable" fashion. Now I want to go back and re-read your opening post, for there is more there to think about.



[Edited on 8-19-2005 by JohnV]
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Might I add, as an afterthought, that there is as much confusion concerning the term "expired". I think it means that the State of Israel as a body politic is not to be applied to any particular nation as if they now are the specific people of God as a State. Some British used to and some still do think that, and some Americans used to and some still do too. But the people of God is a church, not a nation/state. The church is universal, transcending State boundaries. And therefore the equity of the laws applies to the authority of the church as a "new body politic", if you will, but to the State as the protector of that body within her.

This might suggest to you what so many have objected to n fear, but which Theonomists have rejected, namely that Theonomy aims to reinstitute a claim to a national church/state. In other words, the suggestion is for a new Israel to be represented by a particular nation instead of by Church. I think that this has been rejected by Theonomists in principle. So I don't want to go there, except as a help to understand what we mean by the word "expired" as a counterpoint.
 
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