Objections to the Abiding Validity of the Judicial Law

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by Reformed Covenanter, Dec 16, 2007.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Let's all admit that "general equity" is a compromise phrase.
  2. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Do you mean it was added as a compromise by the Divines? Similar to eating 'at' or 'around' the table?
  3. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    See here on Chalcedon Presbyterian Church leaving the PCA and the formation of the RPCUS in 1983.
  4. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Interesting. Is the following still true of PCA?

  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Gillespie and Rutherford collapsed the judicial laws under moral and applied the penalties thereto. Even if they are not theonomists, they saw a greater continuity. Others saw more discontinuity. The theonomists today would rightly point to "general equity" furthering their position. What does general equity mean? Simply to apply the law justly in its current context. Nothing too shocking about that.

    But there is the other side of the coin. The expiration clause. But why is this a problem? I as a theonomists never, ever, ever believed that all judicial laws always apply and are to be exucted always in the same fashion. Of course not.

    Bahnsen and Gentry go to great lengths, not that anybody cares, to show that the laws apply, sometimes differently, in the New Covenant context.
  6. wsw201

    wsw201 Puritan Board Senior

  7. Thomas2007

    Thomas2007 Puritan Board Sophomore

    The term general equity in reference to civil law is a legal term that means more than the "spirit of fairness", than your statement defines. It's more about the quality of the law reasonably inferred within the scope of the spirit of its intent. Hence, general equity would mean that the law applies to cases in which it does not expressly provide, and equity may require its application. So, what the Confession is saying is that the case laws, while not necessarily specifically applicable, do provide the legal principles in which their general equity is binding (e.g., may require).

    If I understand the argument against theonomic principles, it is that the institution of civil government is ordained by God as "minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil," (Romans 13:4b) but it does not follow that the standards of justice and equity employed by that civil magistrate must come from the Scriptures.

    This is a bifurcation that posits that the morality of God's law is binding upon man as a man, but not as a king, that is to say, in practice of his office of civil magistrate he is not subject to God's law. Rutherford dealt precisely with this same supposition saying his opponents:

    "[W]ill have the king, as king, under no law of God; so he must either be above God, as king, or co-equal with God; which are manifest blasphemies." Lex Rex, p 57

    The alterations to the Confession in 1788 followed the Declaration of Independence and establishment of the United States Constitution, and were intended to reflect the altered legal status of the colonies under British Monarchy to separate and independent States. The Bill of Rights were added in 1791, and probably wouldn't have necessitated the changes in 1788 if amendment prior. In the Declaration they appealed to the "Law of Nature and of Natures God," which Blackstone defines as the will of God expressed in nature, which is binding over all the globe, and at all times, in which no human laws are valid if contrary to this; and the holy Scriptures which trumps reason's attempt to interpret the law of nature, providing a revealed will of God that is expressly declared to be so by God Himself. Hence, the law of nature cannot contradict Scripture and kings can contradict neither.

    The thing I would like to know is that if the civil magistrate is Gods minister, a revenger to execute His wrath, then how is He no longer entitled to His definition of His wrath? My understanding of theonomy and it's intent is a truer recognition of Deuteronomy 4:2, "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you."

  8. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

  9. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    I believe B and F are still true. A is not true, strictly speaking. I'd be surprised if C, D and E are still true, especially C.
  10. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    I was really surprised about C. But if they let in a bunch of hippie Calvinists...Who knows?! :D
  11. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Ford quotes from the Mayflower Compact:

    He quotes from Massechusetts Gov. John Winthrop in 1629:

    Ford believes that the fact that the New England provinces could not legitimize any societal covenant that "lacked God's sanction" through His Word, shows that they considered themselves to be in covenant with God.

    He quotes from a sermon by Samuel Wigglesworth in 1733 addressed to an assembly of civil representatives:

    He quotes from a sermon by Andrew Eliot in 1753 at a public fast in Boston:

    He quotes from the Declaration of Independance:

    He quotes from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massechusetts in 1780:

    He points to the many official Days of Thanksgiving including the one on Thrusday, Dec 11, 1783:

    He quotes from the Bill of Rights of Massechusett's Constitution:

  12. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

  13. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    Can you cite an example, with references, of where either man shows that a Mosaic civil stipulation (either crime or equity of punishment) is altered in the NT. While I am not familiar with all of Gentry's writings, I have yet to find an example in Bahnsen's major books on the topic in which he makes such a move.

    NB I know Bahnsen argues for a change of method of execution in death penalty cases, but this is not a change in the equity that the criminal receives.
  14. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I might be able to if I get around to it. I was quoting a Gentry lecture. Bahnsen in many of his lectures said that Sabbath-breaking is not a capital crime, for example. It was in his "Myth of Neutrality" series and a dozen others. I know, I know, it's not a book.

    Regarding the Ford quotes, Ken and I (mainly Ken) were merely showing that earlier Reformers presumed a greater degree of continuity and God's judicial sanctions in post-biblical history. No one was arguing that they are theonomists. No one is arguing that they are Bahnsenian theonomists. Logan's essay is okay and better than most of the TRC. I think Bahnsen-North adequately responded to it.
  15. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Very interesting... I am thankful for you post, Thomas, and I am sorry I missed it earlier. Much to think about. :detective:
  16. crownrights

    crownrights Puritan Board Freshman

    Brian Schwertley's primary target in his "Judicial Law" series on Sermon Audio has been my 2003 critique of Christian Reconstructionism/Theonomy, but his condemnations of my views as "modified Dispensationalism," "natural law antinomianism," and now also "heresy," are completely outrageous. In fact, there isn't a single statement of mine that he has not taken out of context, misquoted, or even fabricated out of thin air. According to him, I believe Christians should ignore the Old Testament, that it may not be consulted for personal sanctification, that the moral law has been obliterated and no longer binds anyone, that I deny original sin, etc. etc. - absolutely NONE of which is true. What I do believe is that the covenant made with the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai was added "because of transgressions," that it was subservient to the Abrahamic covenant and therefore did not abrogate "the promise," that it was a "pedagogue" to lead the "stiff-necked" Israelites to Christ, that its covenantal sanctions were typological of the Covenant of Works, that its demands were all perfectly fulfilled by Christ, and that it ceased to operate AS A COVENANT with the institution of the New Covenant.

    There is nothing new or unique about any of this - not only is it biblical (2 Corinthians 3), but this was all expressly taught by numerous Reformed commentators in the past, including John Owen, Samuel Petto, Thomas Boston, Meredith Kline, et. al. See my synopsis "Different Views of the Mosaic Covenant Within the Reformed Tradition"

    Schwertley's problem is that he identifies Reformed orthodoxy in terms of his extreme theonomic perspective which practically denies the difference between the Old and New Covenants and views the Sinaitic covenant as a mere administration of the Covenant of Grace rather than subservient to (the handmaiden of) the Covenant of Grace. This is seen in how he follows Greg Bahnsen in speaking of the "Older" and "Newer" Covenant. He also fails to understand my criticisms of the "covenantal nomism" of Reconstructionism and how (in my opinion) it laid the foundation for the Federal Vision heresy of progressive justification.

    I contacted Schwertley right after he posted part one of his series back in September and I have spent a great deal of time explaining my position to him and showing him exactly where and how he had misrepresented it. To date, he has not retracted any of his comments and this past December, he returned to the subject and had the incredible gall to claim that I had "refused to respond" to him. A detailed record of our correspondence is now online at this address. I have also contacted both his session and his presbytery, but have not yet received a reply from them. They probably only received the documentation this past weekend, so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for a while longer.

    Since my name was brought up in this thread (which is how I found it through Google), I thought I'd try to set the record straight.
  17. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Welcome to PB Mr. Durand!
  18. Stephen

    Stephen Puritan Board Junior

    Brother, insomnia at your age is not good. If I was reading this material at 3AM, it would cure my insomnia.:lol:
  19. crownrights

    crownrights Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you! Please call me Greg. :D
  20. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    Hi Greg

    Welcome to the PB
  21. Jim Johnston

    Jim Johnston Puritan Board Sophomore

    Don't theonomists allow that the *laws* have/can change, not be applicable, expire with the nation of Israel, etc.?

    Haven't, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, the more sophisticated theonomists argued that the *principles* shoudl still be opperative today?

    Moral principles are different than moral facts.

    For instance, the Indian peoples should accept the *facts* that people don't reincarnate into cows. Thus they shouldn't think that it is *immoral* to eat cows.

    But(!), the *principle* that one shouldn't eat grandma is still a valid and binding principle.

    If the *facts* were such that grandma came back as a cow, then the Hindu is right -- we *shouldn't* eat the cow. This is because of the *principle* that underwrites the moral status of the action.

    So, there is no moral disagreement between us and the Hindu. We *both* agree that one shouldn't eat their grandmother. At least I hope we agree! If not, I guess that would be at least a convo for another thread (or, possibly we would have to report you to your elders:)

    The Hindu and us disagree not with the principle but with the facts of the matter.

    The *laws* are what they are because, among other things, the *facts* of the day required such. Particular laws on law books are almost never principles themselves; though they rest on principles.

    So with the theonomist, disagreement at the level of fact isn't enough to show that there is a basic and fundamental disagreement between the two camps. Just as disagreement between the Hinu and I is not enough to show that we disagree at the basic moral level. That is, we could both holkd the *same* ethic, yet we could differ on how it is *applied.*

    It seems to me, then, that *simply* to show that you should *apply* the principles of the Bible differently isn't sufficient to undercut the theonomist.

    I say the above as someone personally agnostic about the issue right now. That is, this isn't a post from a theonomist, defending theonomy. In fact, I'm so agnostic about it that I think that even some forms of Natural Law Ethics are consistent with Theonomy.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2008
  22. Jim Johnston

    Jim Johnston Puritan Board Sophomore

    Doesn't it mean that one isn't bound by the *facts* of the *historical situation* that Israel found themseleves in, and thus specified the *concrete laws,* according to moral principles, to fit that specific time and unique situation?

    Thus one wouldn't be obligated put fences around roof tops. One wouldn't fail to bring charges against a baseball player for letting his bat fly off (due to improper treatment of the wood) into the crowd hitting a fan in the face all because the Bible only speaks of flying "ax heads."

    Surely the *princple* behind the roof top and flying ax law are still in effect, no? Or have those been done away with?

    If the *principle* has been done away with, then can we not hold others (or companies) responsible for injuring others due to not following saftey procautions? Say a car manufacturer fails to do something that results in car crashes, death, and injury. Should they be held responsible?

    If so, then the *principle* given in the OT is "still binding" yet the *facts* have changed, most naturally, because the historical situation has changed.

    Same caveat - this isn't a post from a theonomist.
  23. Jim Johnston

    Jim Johnston Puritan Board Sophomore

    Wouldn't it seem that they did "just say-so?"

    After all, how would you explain the use of two different words used, especially if we aren't going to attribute carelessness to the framers (or, the re-framers) of the confession. For example:

    Seems to me that one (the ceremonial) has been *abrogated* while the other (the judicial) has merely *expired.*

    There is no "general equity" for the ceremonial, but there is for the other.

    Moreover, the judicial laws referred to are the actual particular laws given to that body politic, not the principles which underwrote them.
  24. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Most of the difficulty of theonomic discussions arises because of the vague use of terms. Theonomy teaches the abiding validity of *law*. It is inconsistent to assert the abiding validity of law, and then retreat under scrutiny to a position which asserts the abiding validity of *principle*. Law is law, not principle.

    As I've noted in the past, much time has been spent on defining the usus loquendi of "general equity." That is good so far as it goes; but the crucial term is "expiration." That has a technical meaning in jurisprudence which cannot in any sense be reconciled with the basic contentions of theonomy. A law is said to have expired when the conditions no longer exist for which it was enacted. The Westminster Confession of Faith states in no uncertain terms that the OT judicials have expired, which means they are no longer applicable as laws to modern nations. Theonomy, OTOH, contends that these laws are very much applicable and as laws ought to govern modern nations. Therein lies the discrepancy.

    The time to abandon the old debate about theonomy is well overdue, since most of its original adherents qualified their position to such a degree that the term itself became virtually meaningless. Theonomy is a good term when used in opposition to autonomy, and should be used to distinguish the Christian belief that God's will alone determines what is good and evil from the non Christian belief that morality is relative. It is, however, an inappropriate term in the context of discussing the extent to which OT judicial laws apply to modern states. The stubborn maintenance of this one term dooms all discussions to the quagmire of mutual misunderstanding.
  25. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Check and mate. That deserves another addition to the Quotes database.
  26. Jim Johnston

    Jim Johnston Puritan Board Sophomore

    Rich Didn't See The Fianchettoed Bishop, Calls Early Checkmate :)

    That may be true. But the flip side is that one can hear the principle/fact-law distinction and made mention by theonmists in audio and literature. I don't think it's fair to say that they "retreated" to the "principle" distinction. Especially when that seems to have been a part from the start (minus any careless language). Thus Bahnsen could write: "...[O]ne nowhere reads [in the Bible] about God's law that his moral stipulations share the same kind of historical variation [as the specific commands]. ... Christian ethics, the standard by which we judge all other opinions, should be that the laws moral pervisions are correct" (Bahnsen, The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel, in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p.109, emphasis supplied.). I am afraid, Matthew, that you are not being charitable here. People are finite, fallen, and just plain human, so I expect them to make mistakes, not be perfect, etc. If someone qualifies, amends, or makes more clear his position, you must let them do that. You can't hold them to a position that is not theirs, or is only theirs due to them not saying what they meant. The proof that this is an eminently plausible way to proceed is to get up from reading my words, go to your restroom, look in the mirror, and ask yourself if you've ever not put things as clearly as you would have liked. What you call a "retreat" I call a "qualification." This reminds me of what ole Bertie Russell once wisely quipped about how language can be employed: "I am firm. You are obstinate. He is a pig-headed fool."

    And I think the qualifications I listed actually show that this isn't a critique, at all. Yes, the *laws* that he gave *that body politic* have "expired." I think Bahnsen would agree. In fact, I know he did. So I'm at a loss to see how this is meant to be a criticism of theonomy. I can see how it is if one wants to be uncharitable, but I don't think that you do. Thus you'd have to re-work your critique.

    Maybe it should be abandoned. Maybe it is a false theory. As I said, I'm agnostic about it. But the debate surely shouldn't be abandoned do to the faulty criticisms applied above.

    Indeed, Matthew, one could say that the debate over the Divine Command Theory of ethics, which you appeal to in your post, is well overdue. One could say that your broad brushing of non-Christians isn't helpful to our cause. All non-Christians aren't relativists. And, I am an optimist. I don't think all discussions must be doomed to misunderstanding. A good dose of contemporary analytic philosophy, the desire to see your opponent in the best light - so you can give the best critique, and the employment of the mind God has given us, should go a long way in helping resolve misunderstandings. But, as long as people debate more with their heart than head, I agree, the misunderstandings will always remain. I don't say any of this as an attack on Matthew. And, I don't say any of this as a theonomist.
  27. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    One should be as charitable as the facts permit to Bahnsen and other Theonomists, but one must note that Bahnsen in particular created a couple of problems for the idea that his Theonomy distinguished between principle, fact and law.
    First, his exegesis of Matt. 5:18 if correct established once and for all that no change whatsoever is legitimate until the end of the church age. Christ couched His statement in absolute terms and, contra Bahnsen, there is nothing in the immediate context that allows us to conclude that Christ here utters a general statement which He expected to admit of qualification.
    Second, when Bahnsen reduces his Theonomy to axioms the distinction disappears and "the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail" is what remains. For example he wrote:

    (Greg Bahnsen, "The Theonomic Position" in God and Politics, Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government ed. Gary Scott Smith, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1989,
    pp. 40, 41.)

    Bahnsen would also hold that although the Mosaic judicials expired in the sense of their validity for the body politic to which they were given, he also holds that all of them would remain valid by "general equity" (as he understands the term) unless amended by God for any jurisdiction today.
    Non-Theonomists define general equity somewhat differently than Theonomists do.

    For non-Theonomists (theonomists), ge is the abiding rules of justice (the decalogue and good and necessary reasoning from it) which determine whether or not a given Mosaic stipulation will remain valid in the differeing age from which the stipulation was given. Bahnsen would deny that general equity reasoning from the decalogue could be so used. For him the only grounds on which a law could be amended are a) explicit Scriptural statement and b) good and necessary consequence of Scriptural statements that a particular stipulation is no longer in effect.

    AMEN!!! Matthew, may I add the above comments to my book? You have just said exactly what I have been trying to get some Theonomists to see for years now.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2008
  28. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Yes, please feel free to use it for God's glory.
  29. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Please go back and re-read the post again. The point is that theonomy has been so qualified by its advocates as to no longer be theonomy. If it is not judicial law as law which is applicable to modern States then the theonomist has retreated to a position which is not theoNOMIC. TheoDIDACTIC, perhaps; but not theoNOMIC. When the theonomist accepts the idea of "adaptability" to modern situations he has ceased championng the fundamental theonomic tenet that these laws are eternal and unchageable. At that point it is time to abandon the term altogether in order for the discussion to proceed to the next level. Blessings!
  30. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    What about modifiying biblical law in biblical times to new situations in biblical times? For example, we all know if a man is chopping wood and the axehead flies off and kills a fellow, he can flee to refuge, etc. What if, not an axehead, but a sickle blade (or whatever they used) flew off and killed a fellow? Would the same principle still apply, or is this not biblical law whatsoever?
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