Objections to the Abiding Validity of the Judicial Law

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Jim Johnston

Puritan Board Sophomore
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:
First, Christ himself made an *exception* to adultery laws. Thus it is wrong to say that he doesn't admit of qualification.

And, to be charitable, as you say you desire, one should also note that in TEC, which you site, he claims that his position doesn't rest on his exegesis on Matt. 5.

Furthermore, the corpus should be consulted. So, you need to read/listen to all he has to say on the subject, right? He makes my point in many places. I cited one. Here's another: "But then neither does theonomic ethics hold that such a theocracy is a kind of revealed prerequisite for the moral validity of the Mosaic laws" (Bahnsen, NOS, 114). Or, "[The puritans] correctly held that we are not bound today to keep these [Old Testament] judicial laws as they are worded, but only required to keep their underlying moral principles" (Bahnsen, BTS, 137-38). I have therefore refuted the notion that Bahnsen didn't employ the particular law and fact vs. underlying principle distinction. In response to the charges of "retreating" to this position, there is a ready answer: "Since the publication of TEC there have come along the way a fuller explanation and consistent refinement of the thesis, but this is usually not deemed as a fault, but a virtue" (Bahnsen, NOS, p.27).

In all of its minute detail, (every jot and tittle) the law of God down to its least significant provision should be reckoned to have an abiding validity- until and unless the Lawgiver reveals otherwise.

(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.)
And Bahnsen can say that even the principle which underwrites the smallest law is still valid. Therefore that principle should be applied today. It would be ridiculous to assume that Bahnsen meant that one still needs to put fences around roof tops. If you grant me that it would be ridiculous to assume that, then you tacitly grant me my premise: Bahnsen distinguished between historical law and underwriting principle.


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 eqity" (as he understands the term) unless amended by God for any jurisdiction today.
Non-Theonomists define general equity somewhat differently than Theonomists do.
Here is what Bahnsen takes to be GE:

"However, the confession is careful to remind us that "the general equity"
of this illustrations - that is, the underlying moral principle - is still "required" of us" (emphasis supplied). (Note that this justifies my specific law/principle distinction I've made.)

Wasn't Sherman Isbell's article touted here?

Isbell states, "The Confession uses the term general equity to identify the element in the judicial laws which is of enduring obligation. The meaning of this term is evident from the chapter in which it appears. There is an equity or righteousness which on four other occasions in this chapter is said to still oblige, amidst all the changes in redemptive history. That equity is the moral law,"

Now, it is true that Bahnsen doesn't take the Decalogue to *exhaust* the moral law of God as expressed in certain principles either explicitly or implicitly instantiated in the Bible, he claims that they *summarize* them. Is he wrong? "The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments" (LC 98). And John Murray, "[T]he summary does not obliterate or abrogate the expansion of which it is a summary" (Principles of Conduct, p. 192).

So, there is a *basic* agreement, even if some *factual* disagreement is present. This is not sufficient to show that there are two *different* ethics. Just as in my illustration above about eating cows. When we disagree with the Hindu, we *are not* disagreeing in our *ethic.* We *both* agree that it is immoral to eat grandma. So, the disagreement here isn't enough to show a difference in ethic.


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.
Right. And the problem here is that you sound like a theonomist. You are saying that man needs to look to God's revelation to determine the moral precepts men are obliged to follow today. If you say that *the Bible* tells you that X law isn't applicable today, then you agree with Bahnsen.

Indeed, didn't you quote Bahnsen above thusly:

In all of its minute detail, (every jot and tittle) the law of God down to its least significant provision should be reckoned to have an abiding validity- until and unless the Lawgiver reveals otherwise. (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.)

?

Thus Bahnsen would *agree* with you that if the Bible tells us that X law isn't applicable today, then it isn't applicable today.

So I'd say that, at the very least, a critique of a position that is consistent with that position, isn't much of a critique. I take this to be a plausible assumption, for obvious reasons.

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.
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.

If you do, just remember that Bahnsen covered this charge of "qualifying" in NOS (among other places) pgs. 19-29.

Also, if you want to make demonstrably false claims that all non-Christian ethics are relativistic, then you can include the quote. I don't think that will bode well for your book, though. Usually, stating falsehoods isn't good for establishing reliability or intellectual honesty.

I'd also make sure you really want to affirm a DCT theory of ethics. This is implied in the post

Peace.
 

Jim Johnston

Puritan Board Sophomore
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.
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.
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!

Matthew,

With all due respect, I did read the post. I suggest re-reading mine. You are being pedantic in your interpretation of Bahnsen. Basically, your critique looks like this, to me: "I have a certain conception of theonomy, and I have to put it in that box for my argument to work, so I *will* put it in that box, and then my arguments work."

I'd also suggest familiarizing yourself with certain qualification and definitions of terms that ethicists employ.

Anyway, if my post didn't help you or function to allow you look at the situation differently, then there's not much I can say by way of response. I'm sure both of us telling the other to re-read the other's post isn't the best use of our, or the other's, time.

Perhaps other readers/lurkers found either one of our posts helpful, though.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
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.
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.
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!
Matthew,

Are you saying that if Bahnsen had not defined his system as Theonomy but instead Theodidacy, then all would in fact be well? Should not the argument be over the content of the position defended vs. the particular name that it was called?

Also since Theonomists have "accepted" the idea of adaptability to modern situations from the beginning, I am missing the point of the critique.

CT
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Basically, your critique looks like this, to me: "I have a certain conception of theonomy, and I have to put it in that box for my argument to work, so I *will* put it in that box, and then my arguments work."
Friend, you yourself acknowledge that theonomists make the qualification which I have noted, so I fail to see the relevance of your perception that I am twisting facts in order to prove an argument.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Basically, your critique looks like this, to me: "I have a certain conception of theonomy, and I have to put it in that box for my argument to work, so I *will* put it in that box, and then my arguments work."
Friend, you yourself acknowledge that theonomists make the qualification which I have noted, so I fail to see the relevance of your perception that I am twisting facts in order to prove an argument.
Rev Winzer,
I think his point is that the theonomists themselves freely admit these qualifications and don't see it as putting tensions in there system.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Are you saying that if Bahnsen had not defined his system as Theonomy but instead Theodidacy, then all would in fact be well? Should not the argument be over the content of the position defended vs. the particular name that it was called?

Also since Theonomists have "accepted" the idea of adaptability to modern situations from the beginning, I am missing the point of the critique.
Hi Hermonta. It's not simply the word "theonomy" that is the problem, but what that word represents as a basic thesis -- namely, that the law as given is eternal and unchanging. If that is the case, the judicial laws which are not restorative are binding AS LAWS on modern nations and do not leave room for the adaptability of basic principles undergirding the laws. Such a qualification ceases to maintain that the laws as given are substantive, and hence eternal and unchanging, but rather that the laws themselves are the expression of eternal and unchanging principles.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I think his point is that the theonomists themselves freely admit these qualifications and don't see it as putting tensions in there system.
I haven't said anything to the contrary. The fact is that discussions end up in confusion because theonomists take their stand on the basic supposition of unchangeable law, but when their position is shown to be untenable they revert to the position of unchangeable principles undergirding the law. If the latter is their actual position, and I think we agree that it is, then it's high time to move beyond the basic supposition of theonomy and to discuss the subject intelligibly in terms of the unchageability of the eternal principles which are expressed in the judicial law. And at this point theonomists will probably awake to discover that they have more friends than they were aware of.
 

Jim Johnston

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hi Hermonta. It's not simply the word "theonomy" that is the problem, but what that word represents as a basic thesis -- namely, that the law as given is eternal and unchanging. If that is the case, the judicial laws which are not restorative are binding AS LAWS on modern nations and do not leave room for the adaptability of basic principles undergirding the laws.

But surely Matthew, even you don't believe this attempted reductio. You must believe that the *law* to put a railing around your roof was and OT law. Thus you must, according to what you write above, take Bahnsen to believe that *that law* is "unternal and unchanging" and so should be enforced as binding today.

Furthermore, Bahnsen's position is that the *Holy character* of God is "eternal and unchanging." The *particular laws given* are not. The *principles* which underwrite the laws, being based on that character, are "eternal and unchanging." Those *principles* can be *codified* in law-forms that reflect the various historical particulars of the time.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
But surely Matthew, even you don't believe this attempted reductio. You must believe that the *law* to put a railing around your roof was and OT law. Thus you must, according to what you write above, take Bahnsen to believe that *that law* is "unternal and unchanging" and so should be enforced as binding today.

Furthermore, Bahnsen's position is that the *Holy character* of God is "eternal and unchanging." The *particular laws given* are not. The *principles* which underwrite the laws, being based on that character, are "eternal and unchanging." Those *principles* can be *codified* in law-forms that reflect the various historical particulars of the time.
This "surely" is the perennial problem inherent in the discussion. Yes, this is Bahnsen's position as qualified. But the fundamental thesis of theonomy is "the abiding validity of the LAW in exhaustive detail." It is the defence of this basic commitment which causes continual confusion when discussing the subject of theonomy. It is this basic thesis which must be abandoned if the discussion is going to proceed to another level. Any old theoretician knows you cannot put forward one thesis and hope to prove it by defending a different thesis. It simply will not do.
 

Jim Johnston

Puritan Board Sophomore
This "surely" is the perennial problem inherent in the discussion. Yes, this is Bahnsen's position as qualified. But the fundamental thesis of theonomy is "the abiding validity of the LAW in exhaustive detail."
Right. And I've already noted that you're being pedantic here. You're not using "LAW" the way Bahnsen intended. You're simply defining the debate how YOU want to. The way that your critique will work. But surely you would agree that it's not much of an intellectual feat to define a position in a way that makes it subject to a critique, even when your interlocutors have been on record since the 70's making the appropriate qualifications. I'll offer some advice, which you're free to reject, of course: I'd try to make sure to take note of, and respect, the dictinction between *words* and *meanings.*

Lastly, I noted that even YOU don't take Bahnsen to mean "LAW" the way you want to because even you don't think he meant that putting railings around roofs was "eternal and unchanging." If you grant me this most sensible point, your argument crumbles, no?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Friend, there is obviously something in the way I'm speaking which hinders you from understanding the point being made. Let me outline things in simple steps to try to make it as plain as possible. Please hear me out.

Step one. The fundamental tenet of theonomy is the abiding validity of the LAW, not principles.

Step two. Opponents of theonomy object, and point out various discontinuities in the law.

Step three. Theonomists respond by qualifying that by law they actually mean the principles underlying the law, and that the laws themselves are adaptable to changing situations.

Step four. Along comes lil ol me and suggests it would be better to make the qualification the starting point so that the discussion can move ahead without the misunderstanding.

The whole thrust of my point is that Bahnsen does in fact qualify what he means, and that he and his followers ought to present their case with that qualification so that there is no further misunderstanding by the use of the term LAW. I do not believe there is any warrant for your suggestion that I am misunderstanding terminology, because we are both agreed as to the definition of the terms being used. I have not distorted anyone's words in order to prove an argument, and frankly find the accusation unbecoming the charity which ought to mark Christian conversation.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Friend, there is obviously something in the way I'm speaking which hinders you from understanding the point being made. Let me outline things in simple steps to try to make it as plain as possible. Please hear me out.

Step one. The fundamental tenet of theonomy is the abiding validity of the LAW, not principles.

Step two. Opponents of theonomy object, and point out various discontinuities in the law.

Step three. Theonomists respond by qualifying that by law they actually mean the principles underlying the law, and that the laws themselves are adaptable to changing situations.

Step four. Along comes lil ol me and suggests it would be better to make the qualification the starting point so that the discussion can move ahead without the misunderstanding.

The whole thrust of my point is that Bahnsen does in fact qualify what he means, and that he and his followers ought to present their case with that qualification so that there is no further misunderstanding by the use of the term LAW. I do not believe there is any warrant for your suggestion that I am misunderstanding terminology, because we are both agreed as to the definition of the terms being used. I have not distorted anyone's words in order to prove an argument, and frankly find the suggestion unbecoming the charity which ought to mark Christian conversation.
Move Step 3 to Step 1. I do not think Bahnsen engaged in ad hoc qualifications. Yes, you are correct: he did qualify. But as I have read everything he has written, and listened to hundreds of tapes, I believe he began with those qualifications.

Or maybe he didn't consciously begin there. The problem with theological discourse is that you can't say everything at once.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Or maybe he didn't consciously begin there. The problem with theological discourse is that you can't say everything at once.
The problem is, that once the qualification has been made theonomists continue to maintain the abiding validity of the LAW as LAW, not as PRINCIPLE. Bahnsen himself continued to maintain a heremeneutic of continuity until proven otherwise.
 

Jim Johnston

Puritan Board Sophomore
Friend, there is obviously something in the way I'm speaking which hinders you from understanding the point being made. Let me outline things in simple steps to try to make it as plain as possible. Please hear me out.

Step one. The fundamental tenet of theonomy is the abiding validity of the LAW, not principles.

Step two. Opponents of theonomy object, and point out various discontinuities in the law.

Step three. Theonomists respond by qualifying that by law they actually mean the principles underlying the law, and that the laws themselves are adaptable to changing situations.

Step four. Along comes lil ol me and suggests it would be better to make the qualification the starting point so that the discussion can move ahead without the misunderstanding.

The whole thrust of my point is that Bahnsen does in fact qualify what he means, and that he and his followers ought to present their case with that qualification so that there is no further misunderstanding by the use of the term LAW. I do not believe there is any warrant for your suggestion that I am misunderstanding terminology, because we are both agreed as to the definition of the terms being used. I have not distorted anyone's words in order to prove an argument, and frankly find the accusation unbecoming the charity which ought to mark Christian conversation.
Friend, maybe this will make it easier. I reject your characterization of (1).

I have provided ample resources which debunk your shoe horn critique.

It's not that I don't understand your critique, it's that I reject its very foundation. You've done nothing to persuade me that your characterization is correct. I have even pointed out that you don't take them to be offering (1) in the way you're trying to push it.

If your (1) were correct, then you'd have to say that one could validly deduce this from it:

Step one. The fundamental tenet of theonomy is the abiding validity of the LAW, not principles.

Step 1 a: A fundamental tenant is the abiding validity of the putting railing around 21th century American slanted roof tops, not principles.

Since you are honest enough not to attribute 1a to the theonomists, then you have debunked your own argument.

Hopefully that helps.
 

Jim Johnston

Puritan Board Sophomore
Or maybe he didn't consciously begin there. The problem with theological discourse is that you can't say everything at once.
The problem is, that once the qualification has been made theonomists continue to maintain the abiding validity of the LAW as LAW, not as PRINCIPLE. Bahnsen himself continued to maintain a heremeneutic of continuity until proven otherwise.
Right. Bahnsen assumed that the *moral principle* behind, say, laws against rape were still in tact while those *principles* which underwrote laws regarding holy wars were not.

You're still being pedantic.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Friend, maybe this will make it easier. I reject your characterization of (1).
Then your rejection of my characterization of (1) is a rejection of theonomy and its hermeneutic of continuity; which helps to explain your agnostic position.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Right. Bahnsen assumed that the *moral principle* behind, say, laws against rape were still in tact while those *principles* which underwrote laws regarding holy wars were not.

You're still being pedantic.
If pedantic means avoiding imprecision and vagueness, then I'll adopt it. The laws relative to rape, etc. are substantive; the laws relative to holy wars are restorative. Hence you are comparing apples and oranges since this discussion relates only to substantive biblical law.
 

Jim Johnston

Puritan Board Sophomore
Friend, maybe this will make it easier. I reject your characterization of (1).
Then your rejection of my characterization of (1) is a rejection of theonomy and its hermeneutic of continuity; which helps to explain your agnostic position.
At this point I think we can both see the uselessness of continuing. For I will reply, and have proven by quotes from the horses mouth, that your charicature is simply that, a self-serving misrepresentation of someone's position. Apparently you don't feel that you should opperate by the maxim that the formulators of a system have interpretive priority over how one is suppoed to understand the words they use. I guess denying that *moral principle* helps to explain your rejection of theonomy. ;)
 

Jim Johnston

Puritan Board Sophomore
Right. Bahnsen assumed that the *moral principle* behind, say, laws against rape were still in tact while those *principles* which underwrote laws regarding holy wars were not.

You're still being pedantic.
If pedantic means avoiding imprecision and vagueness, then I'll adopt it. The laws relative to rape, etc. are substantive; the laws relative to holy wars are restorative. Hence you are comparing apples and oranges since this discussion relates only to substantive biblical law.

I've supplied the precision, you're refusing to get down and dirty and deal with the position in its best light. CDeal with how the founders of the position would want to be read. This is especially ironic considering all of your fine posts on Calvin and limited atonement. Frankly, you sound just like your interlocutors do in that discussion. Thankfully, I know that you appreciate the value of letting people define their own position, of using other writings to clarify what they have said elsewhere, and not making more out of words ("whole world," "all men" etc.,) than you need to. So, I know that if you were being completely objective, you'd see that you're doing the very same thing the universalists do to Calvin.

I'm also afraid you totally missed my point about the laws of rape and holy war. I proved that his assumption of continuity was over *principles.* Perhaps another example will do:

YOU SAID: The problem is, that once the qualification has been made theonomists continue to maintain the abiding validity of the LAW as LAW, not as PRINCIPLE. Bahnsen himself continued to maintain a heremeneutic of continuity until proven otherwise.

MY REPLY: Well, there is no future revelation saying that we are not to fail to put railings around our roof tops, therefore you should argue that Bahnsen is committed to this idea. If you do not think that, which is the only correct thing to think, then you have disproven your thesis and proven mine. Bahnsen argued for the abiding validity of the PRINCIPLES. For if he did not, then you *must* say that he advocated the continued validity of roof-railings. But, he did not advocate such. Therefore, he did advocate the continuing validity of the underlying moral principles. This is a valid modes tollens argument. All the premises are true. Thus: QED. You can only deny my position by denying a sound logical argument.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
At this point I think we can both see the uselessness of continuing. For I will reply, and have proven by quotes from the horses mouth, that your charicature is simply that, a self-serving misrepresentation of someone's position. Apparently you don't feel that you should opperate by the maxim that the formulators of a system have interpretive priority over how one is suppoed to understand the words they use. I guess denying that *moral principle* helps to explain your rejection of theonomy. ;)
I'm not sure why you think a charge of immorality should be accompanied with a wink. It's disgraceful and ought to be addressed by one of the moderators. You need to go back through this page of the thread and examine your penchant for personal derogation.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
MY REPLY: Well, there is no future revelation saying that we are not to fail to put railings around our roof tops, therefore you should argue that Bahnsen is committed to this idea. If you do not think that, which is the only correct thing to think, then you have disproven your thesis and proven mine. Bahnsen argued for the abiding validity of the PRINCIPLES. For if he did not, then you *must* say that he advocated the continued validity of roof-railings. But, he did not advocate such. Therefore, he did advocate the continuing validity of the underlying moral principles. This is a valid modes tollens argument. All the premises are true. Thus: QED. You can only deny my position by denying a sound logical argument.
This "sound logical argument" is refuted by a simple reference to Bahnsen's discussion of penology, to which he devotes a whole chapter.
 

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:
First, Christ himself made an *exception* to adultery laws. Thus it is wrong to say that he doesn't admit of qualification.
It is not wrong to say that Christ admits of qualification here, but if you say that, you disagree with Bahnsen who denies that Christ did so. The subject of my book is the Theonomic hermeneutic as Bahnsen presented it and Bahnsen, while admitting the possiblility of amendments in theory, (in subsequent works without explaining how such a position would square with his exegesis of Matt. 5:18), specifically denied that Christ made an exception of adultery laws.

And, to be charitable, as you say you desire, one should also note that in TEC, which you site, he claims that his position doesn't rest on his exegesis on Matt. 5.
I demonstrate at some length in HFAF that the other Scriptures generally cited in the debate, notably by Bahnsen and Strevel, don't provide the needed foundation for Bahnsen's hermeneutic. If Bahnsen's hermeneutic doesn't rest on Matt. 5:17-19, on what Scriptural text does it rest?

Furthermore, the corpus should be consulted. So, you need to read/listen to all he has to say on the subject, right? He makes my point in many places. I cited one. Here's another: "But then neither does theonomic ethics hold that such a theocracy is a kind of revealed prerequisite for the moral validity of the Mosaic laws" (Bahnsen, NOS, 114). Or, "[The puritans] correctly held that we are not bound today to keep these [Old Testament] judicial laws as they are worded, but only required to keep their underlying moral principles" (Bahnsen, BTS, 137-38). I have therefore refuted the notion that Bahnsen didn't employ the particular law and fact vs. underlying principle distinction. In response to the charges of "retreating" to this position, there is a ready answer: "Since the publication of TEC there have come along the way a fuller explanation and consistent refinement of the thesis, but this is usually not deemed as a fault, but a virtue" (Bahnsen, NOS, p.27).
Notice, however, how Bahnsen continues:

Moreover, this does not come anywhere
close to gutting the thesis of its original claims (“dying the
death of a thousand qualifications”). If I say “There is a barn
north of the field,” I have certainly not qualitled-away my statement
or challenged its truth by later specifying it firther with
“There is a red barn north of the field.”
But Bahnsen has misunderstood his critics: his exegesis of Matt. 5:18 in TICE, his reduction of his thesis to aphorisms, and his earlier comment:

But that expression meant only to summarize
the teaching of Jesus Himself in the particular text at
Matthew 5:17-19. Did it not do so correctly? Jesus spoke of the
“validity” of the law (“Do not think that I came to abrogate”).
Jesus spoke of it “abiding” (“until heaven and earth pass away”).
And Jesus spoke of it in exhaustive detail (“not one jot or tittle,”
“the least of these commandments”). .... I do not think we
really want to say that. In this connection, Bruce Waltke’s disdain
for “fine details” and the fear of a second encyclopedic Talmud
(as voiced by Rodney Clapp) 15 does not comport well with the
words of Jesus about heartielt concern for jots, tittles and even the
least of the commandments (Matt. 5:17-19) – observing the “weightier
matters of the law” without leaving the other undone (Matt.
23:23).
all say "there is a red barn north of the field" especially when there is nothing in the text of Matt. 5:18 that allows us to think that Jesus intended that

....the general principle would
be qualified by Biblical teaching elsewhere? (the essential point of the ellipsis)
The language of Matt. 5:18 cannot be stronger. Jesus is saying that no change whatsoever to the law is legitimate until "all things are accomplished" and there is nothing in the immediate context to indicate hyperbolic intent, which, under the cirucumstances would have been a major tactical error on Christ's part. If you are at all wise, you don't make unqualified answers to your enemies charges which you know you must qualify later.

But when Bahnsen now tries to say, without exegetical grounds that "the general principle would be qualified by Biblical teaching elsewhere he is saying "there is a red barn south of the field." One may have Bahnsen's "principled" explanation or one may have his exegesis of Matt. 5:18 but one cannot have both at the same time.

In all of its minute detail, (every jot and tittle) the law of God down to its least significant provision should be reckoned to have an abiding validity- until and unless the Lawgiver reveals otherwise. (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.)
And Bahnsen can say that even the principle which underwrites the smallest law is still valid.
And if every jot and tittle remains valid until the lawgiver reveals otherwise then there are only three possibibilities for legitimate amendment of any Mosaic statute.

1) the civil statutes are amended as a class - which Bahnsen rejects.

…that the New Testament does not teach any radical change in Gods law regarding the standards of socio-political morality, God’s law as it touches upon the duty of civil magistrates has not been altered in any systematic or fundamental way in the New Testament.
Consequently, instead of taking a basically antagonistic view of the Old Testament commandments for society and the state, and instead of taking a smorgasbord approach of picking and choosing among those laws on the basis of personal taste and convenience, we must recognize the continuing obligation of civil magistrates to obey and enforce the relevant laws of the Old Testament, including the penal sanctions specified by the just Judge of all the earth, As with the rest of God’s law, we must presume continuity of binding authority regarding the socio-political commandments revealed as standing law in the Old Testament.
(Bahnsen, By This Standard, pp. 3,4)

2) Explicit amendment of particular statutes - of which there is none in the NT other than Christ's changing the laws of adultery (which view Bahnsen rejects) and the apparent relaxation of the sabbath laws in the church (which doesn't really solve the problem for the laws regulating sabbath under Sinai. Those laws should be considered as ceremonial rather than civil as they were enforcing a covenant specific sign and as such would be decriminalized when the covenant ended.) Which means this example is useless for questions of offenses that were not covenant specific. Stealing was stealing whether within Israel or without.

or 3) good and necessary consequence deductions from other Scriptural statements. The problem here is that we cannot prove whether any inferences drawn are necessary or not.

So which civil laws don't apply today "in exhaustive detail"? None

It would be ridiculous to assume that Bahnsen meant that one still needs to put fences around roof tops. Therefore that principle should be applied today. If you grant me that it would be ridiculous to assume that, then you tacitly grant me my premise: Bahnsen distinguished between historical law and underwriting principle.
If the roof is used as a social space a fence is still needed, no? I have at least two condo towers within sight of my corner that require such fences. The trouble is Bahnsen sometimes talks as if he makes the distinction, but at other times he talks as if he denies it. Was it John Robbins who asked "Will the real Greg Bahnsen please stand up?"

Here is what Bahnsen takes to be GE:

"However, the confession is careful to remind us that "the general equity"
of this illustrations - that is, the underlying moral principle - is still "required" of us" (emphasis supplied). (Note that this justifies my specific law/principle distinction I've made.)

Wasn't Sherman Isbell's article touted here?

Isbell states, "The Confession uses the term general equity to identify the element in the judicial laws which is of enduring obligation. The meaning of this term is evident from the chapter in which it appears. There is an equity or righteousness which on four other occasions in this chapter is said to still oblige, amidst all the changes in redemptive history. That equity is the moral law,"

Now, it is true that Bahnsen doesn't take the Decalogue to *exhaust* the moral law of God as expressed in certain principles either explicitly or implicitly instantiated in the Bible, he claims that they *summarize* them. Is he wrong? "The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments" (LC 98). And John Murray, "[T]he summary does not obliterate or abrogate the expansion of which it is a summary" (Principles of Conduct, p. 192).
Yes, Bahnsen and Murray are wrong at this point. “Summarily” means giving the essentials; “comprehended” in context means either "understood" or "included" as in "education comprehends the training of many kinds of ability from the Latin comprehendere," (New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, 1989 s. v. "comprehend") (a meaning well known to the Divines who had all received their University instruction in Latin). (cf. Isbell part 4.) This meaning is preferred because to take it as Bahnsen and Murray do means that the Divines both made an error in WCF 19:1-3 when they specifically defined the decalogue as the moral law, contradicted their definition in WLC 98 and didn't notice the contradiction. That's unlikely, for, as Bahnsen noted, the "Confession is recognized as the most cautiously worked out and carefully worded creed of the Evangelical Church.” (Bahnsen, The Westminster Assembly and the Equity of the Judicial Law) Men who can achieve such a level of clarity do not often contradict themselves.

So, there is a *basic* agreement, even if some *factual* disagreement is present. This is not sufficient to show that there are two *different* ethics. Just as in my illustration above about eating cows. When we disagree with the Hindu, we *are not* disagreeing in our *ethic.* We *both* agree that it is immoral to eat grandma. So, the disagreement here isn't enough to show a difference in ethic.
Uh....I deny the Hindu premise that the cow is grandma. Given the difference in premises we cannot reach identical conclusions about the result. In the same way Bahnsen on the one hand, and Calvin and the Westminster men on the other, differ in their hermeneutics and thus sometimes reach different conclusions. Who is right and why?

Right. And the problem here is that you sound like a theonomist.
I am a theonomist in the sense Van Til used the word. I hold that there is no real ethical alternative between a God sourced ethic and an autonomous one. So also is Greg Durand, the 1990 Faculty of WTS and just about everybody who has criticized Bahnsen and the CR ethical perspective. And all of us get tired of being slandered as antinomian or dispensationalism which is how we have been treated by some of Bahnsen's disciples, just because we are not Theonomists (i.e those who hold to the ethical perspective of Christian Reconstructionism).

You are saying that man needs to look to God's revelation to determine the moral precepts men are obliged to follow today. If you say that *the Bible* tells you that X law isn't applicable today, then you agree with Bahnsen.

Indeed, didn't you quote Bahnsen above thusly:

In all of its minute detail, (every jot and tittle) the law of God down to its least significant provision should be reckoned to have an abiding validity- until and unless the Lawgiver reveals otherwise. (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.) ?

Thus Bahnsen would *agree* with you that if the Bible tells us that X law isn't applicable today, then it isn't applicable today.
But Bahnsen would disagree with me, and Calvin and the Westminster Divines for we differ from him on the grounds that may be adduced for holding that a particular Mosaic judicial is applicable today. Bahnsen presumes continuity unless Scripture teaches the contrary (explicitly or implicitly) the Calvin Westminster tradition presumes discontinuity unless general equity requires, and it "may" not do so in all cases because the covenantal context is different. For example, the Jews were forbidden to lend at interest to fellow Jews but they could do so to Gentiles. Calvin allows interest because he recognized that the superseding of Sinai by the New Covenant ended the prohibition of interest among God's covenant people.

So I'd say that, at the very least, a critique of a position that is consistent with that position, isn't much of a critique. I take this to be a plausible assumption, for obvious reasons.
I hope you now understand where the inconsistency lies.

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.
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.[/QUOTE]

If you do, just remember that Bahnsen covered this charge of "qualifying" in NOS (among other places) pgs. 19-29.
This point is discussed above. There are other places where Bahnsen attempted to address the matter and some key ones are addressed in my book.

Also, if you want to make demonstrably false claims that all non-Christian ethics are relativistic, then you can include the quote. I don't think that will bode well for your book, though. Usually, stating falsehoods isn't good for establishing reliability or intellectual honesty.
Are you calling Van Til in error when he made his quote about the choice being theonomy or autonomy? If so, why? In Van Til's sense, as Bahnsen recognized heretics could be theonomists (He cited Tillich) but one could also cite Moslems as theonomists in this sense. (Their source of ethics is in their "god," but their error is that their god is not God.) I also recognize that some atheists or agnostics try to hold an absolute based ethical system as a hangover from a theistic worldview but I have yet to see such an attempt survive Lewis's knife (one is propounding conclusions in the imperative from premises in the indicative and the conclusion doesn't follow.) Which is why all non-theonomic ethics will inevitably decay into relativism sooner or later: some clear minded sinners will ask the question "Why should this apply to me?" get an illogical answer, and do what they want to do.
 
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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
At this point I think we can both see the uselessness of continuing. For I will reply, and have proven by quotes from the horses mouth, that your charicature is simply that, a self-serving misrepresentation of someone's position. Apparently you don't feel that you should opperate by the maxim that the formulators of a system have interpretive priority over how one is suppoed to understand the words they use. I guess denying that *moral principle* helps to explain your rejection of theonomy. ;)
I'm not sure why you think a charge of immorality should be accompanied with a wink. It's disgraceful and ought to be addressed by one of the moderators. You need to go back through this page of the thread and examine your penchant for personal derogation.
:judge:

I see nothing in Matthew's post that is self-serving. Please moderate the tone here.

I know I threw in with a Check and Mate statement but primarily out of humor.

I think Matthew is acknowledging the point that they don't really claim to uphold what the words or the starting point implies.

Honestly, his critique from a pedagogical standpoint, in my opinion, is a valid one. Given the number of people that do proceed from Step 1 of Matthew's example and never get to Step 3 it might be better for folks to explicitly state Step 3 from the outset.

I'm all for representing people accurately for what they teach but there is a valid criticism to be levied against those who lead with terms that lead those that don't disect the system and are led to erroneous conclusions. Good teachers save their students from error by using approaches that will keep them from error. The fact that we have to spend 100+ posts and dig through material to demonstrate that Bahnsen (and others) don't really teach step 1 speaks volumes to the problem in the approach.

I honestly find Matthew to be saying, basically, that more common ground exists than most people believe and, if the intelligent Theonomists would simply speak more clearly then all would discover there was more common ground.

I don't know if they had this term when you were in the Navy but we like to talk about BLUF in the Corps: Bottom Line Up Front. Theonomy has a basic BLUF problem and that is why some of its followers ended up painting their teachers in a bad light.

I look at my students and what they understand from what I'm teaching. If what they believe is out of whack from what I'm saying then I need to adjust.
 

timmopussycat

Puritan Board Junior
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?
I think that both Bahnsen Theonomists and Calvin/Westminster theonomists
would affirm that we may apply the principles of justice ("general equity") that undergird Mosaic civil stipulations not only to analogous situations in biblical times but to analogous situations today. The difference between the two groups is that the CW's apply general equity reasoning to the identical situation today, and on that basis, may or may not argue that a given stipulation is inapplicable; a premise Bahnsen for one, denies. A CW adherent, noting the change in covenants, may (or may not- see below) deny the death penalty for idolatry, because it is no longer a direct assault on the covenant suzerein and treason to the covenant nation, because it triggers the suzereins curses, but to Theonomist who follows Bahnsen's hermeneutic, this possible view of the matter is rendered unacceptable by Bahnsen's exegesis of Matt. 5:18.

Another CW adherent may recognize that even though God is no longer the covenanted suzerein of his own nation, God still judges ungodliness and idolotry will trigger God's judgments against any nation that commits it. He may suggest to his fellow citizens that a law against idolatry may be in the best interests of the nation, given God's dealings with idolatrous nations and it may pass. What that CW adherent will not do, however, is say that Christians are required to promote or institute such a law as a NT requirement, for it is not.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
It might be useful to consider what Greg Bahnsen himself said concerning changes to Old Testament law by reading his responses to John Robbins:

“Greg Bahnsen Replies (to John Robbins)”

Dear Editor:

I want you to know of my prayers and brotherly affection for you all at The Christian Statesman. Your endeavors to reform our nation according to God’s righteousness are to be commended highly and call for the unified support of God’s people. May god richly bless you in proclaiming the crown rights of Christ, our Savior and the King over the nations. We especially ned each other’s help and support as brothers in the spiritual battle against the enemies of Christ’s kingdom all about us in our culture. That is why I lament the derogatory remarks, unnecessarily nasty spirit, and utter inaccuracies found in John Robbins’ review of my book No Other Standard. This hostile commentary (hardly a “review” of my book’s contents) is actually recycled from the August 1992, issue of Robbins’ own newsletter, The Trinity Review – which I already publicly rebutted in the August 1992 issue of The Counsel of Chalcedon (Box 888022, Dunwoody, GA 30356). Health criticism should always be welcome, but there is really no call for personal insults and slanted misconstrual of what another author has written.

Let me speak simply and from the heart.

1. Theonomy is not “the idealogy of the Judaizers,” nor do I indulge in any “neo-orthodox habit of curbing logic.” These are gratuitous insults and misrepresentations.

2. In my book No Other Standard, I do not “deliberately” and “surreptitiously change terms” in some kind of “attempt to mislead” my readers. Robbins’ accusation that my book “is less than intellectually honest” is shameful.

3. Theonomic ethics has never held, contrary to the distorted portrayal given by Robbins (an inaccurate view brought to my books, not taken from them), that no changes in the Old Testament laws are allowed today. Anyone who is willing to read general statements in context – a fundamental rule of hermeneutics – knows better than to try to pin such a bizarre, unqualified, and erroneous interpretation upon me.

4. The general expression which I have used, “the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail,” actually comes from the mouth of our Lord Himself, who stated categorically that He did not come to abrogate the law, but until heaven and earth pass away, “not one jot or tittle” – indeed not “the least commandment – will pass away (Matt. 5:17-19). All faithful theologians must come to grips with the absoluteness of Christ’s own declaration – as well as with the qualifications which the Lord Himself expresses elsewhere in Scripture. If Robbins accuses anyone of self-contradiction who speaks categorically of the law’s continuing validity, then draws qualifications elsewhere, his accusation would need to be against Jesus Himself (not just theonomists). Doesn’t this show the need for reconsideration on Robbins’ part?

5. Maybe theonomic ethics is mistaken, but the way in which it handles the absoluteness of Christ’s declaration of the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail is to interpret it as laying down the theological presumption which we should bring to every Old Testament commandment. Our operating assumption is that the law declared by God in the Old Testament continues to be binding until and unless the Lawgiver Himself tells us otherwise (e.g., Acts 10 regarding unclean meats). The general statement of Jesus is subject to qualifications Scripture announces elsewhere. But apart from such biblical qualifications, we as readers of God’s word have no prerogative to alter the law. Is that so unreasonable really? If non-theonomists have a better solution, I have yet to see it.

6. So then, the theonomic view is that we should presume continuity regarding Old Testament commandments (contrary to the dispensational approach which is so often taken in our day). But you would never know this from reading reviews by Robbins. He simply misrepresents theonomic ethics, and then outrageously accuses it of contradiction when it recognizes biblically-based qualifications on the general thesis given by Jesus. This “presumptive” view of the validity of Old Testament laws has always been the position advanced in my books, which is obvious from the many qualifications and changes in the Old Testament law which are discussed and acknowledged there.

In Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1977), I wrote “only God has the authority and prerogative to discontinue the binding force of anything He has revealed . . . the presumption would have to be continuity, not contradiction” (pp. 312, 313).
Greg Bahnsen Responds to John Robbins

In By This Standard (1985), I wrote “the presumption should be that an Old Testament law is binding in the New Testament. This does not in any way preclude or reject many radical differences between Old and New Testaments” (pp. 3-4).

In No Other Standard (1991), I wrote “the theonomist maintains just here that there is a controlling presumption which should affect our conclusions about the New Testament view of the validity of the Old Testament commandments . . .: [namely] unless exceptions are revealed elsewhere, every Old Testament commandment is binding” (p. 68).

Robbins has written that “when compared to his earlier volumes, Bahnsen seems to be quietly changing his mind.” From just the very few sample-quotes I have given here, the reader can judge for himself the accuracy and academic reliability of Robbins as a reviewer. I am truly sorry he feels such a need to be abusive and hostile.

Thank you very much for allowing me to reply in your pages. Let me close by appealing to Mr. Robbins – indeed to theonomists and non-theonomists alike in the Reformed community – to display that we are sons of God by being peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). We are not really so far apart as many imagine. We need to stop biting and devouring each other, so that vital attention may be turned to “the enemy at the gate.”
Here is a bigger response to Mr. Robbins:

"Cross-Examination: In Defense of Theonomy" By Dr. Greg Bahnsen

An Odd Review

At the request of a few friends, this month's column will address a critique of the theonomic position in Christian ethics which was written, as well as personally published, by John W. Robbins in his own newsletter, The Trinity Review (no. 84: Feb, 1992; for a copy write to P. O. Box 700, Jefferson, MD 21755). I understand that other periodicals declined to publish it.

What has come to be called the "theonomic" approach to ethics has been expounded in this column previously (see Sept., Oct., Nov., 1991). It is also explained at length in my books Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1977, 1984), By This Standard (1985), and most recently No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics (1991).

Oddly enough, the 1992 piece by Mr. Robbins comes to us in the form of a book review of my By This Standard, which was published fully seven years earlier (1985)! It has taken him some time to accomplish the task.

Equally odd is that Mr. Robbins chose to overlook the very book, published only a year ago, which forthrightly answers would-be critics like himself. Why would he close his eyes to possible answers and skirt dealing with relevant material? (He rationalizes his minimalist approach to research and understanding by gratuitously assuming that Bahnsen might "differ from himself in another book" -- and by whispering the gossip, utterly imaginative and untrue, that "a new, revised edition of this book [is] already in the press"!)

Another oddity: although purporting to be a review specifically of the book By This Standard, the article by Mr. Robbins sets off by wandering far and wide to criticize the positions and vocabulary of men like Gary North, R. J. Rushdoony, and R. E. McMaster. We have to wade through nearly a quarter of the article -- all of it essentially irrelevant material -- before reaching the author's attempt to address and challenge the specific book under review. And then, it wasn't worth the wait.

A Reluctant Reply

For fifteen years I have tried to listen carefully to those who disagree with the theonomic thesis, either to be corrected where it is necessary or to reply to mistakes and misrepresentations on the part of the critics. I have usually made an effort to respond to their charges, aiming to be courteous in every instance (even though in some cases the refutation might need to be stated strongly). I ask forgiveness where I have failed in this aim.

However, in some cases the critic is so irresponsible -- so academically outlandish and/or personally nasty -- that I have felt it the better part of Christian wisdom not to answer at all (cf. 2 Tim. 2:23; Prov. 26:4; 29:9). As a general rule, strife with unreasonable or contentious men does not produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jas. 1:20), and it is usually just not a good use of time (cf. Eph. 5:16). These principles once again came back to my mind when I finished reading the Robbins critique, copies of which a handful of people had sent me. His tone was openly arrogant and sarcastic.

The content of his article, in my humble but honest opinion, was so ridiculous as to warrant a failing grade if this were a college assignment. (Professors will sometimes write on student papers rebukes like: "Jack, I do not expect you to agree with Kant's view [or Plato's, etc.], but I do expect as a minimal requirement that you will portray that view accurately -- and not pretend to correct your author as to what his view actually is!")

Accordingly, I simply put aside what Mr. Robbins had written -- put it in the same file with pieces like the diatribe by a Baptist preacher who wrote an absurd newsletter against theonomy on the basis that it (allegedly) calls for a return to the practice of animal sacrifices! If men will not read what their opponents actually write -- or will not read any better than this -- then they deserve no serious response. Thus I am reluctant to take any time with the Robbins critique. However, some friends have encouraged me to pen a reply, and it might ultimately save me time (from repeating myself) to record some comments in this public column.

Bahnsen, the Illogical Moron

What does Mr. Robbins find wrong with the theonomic thesis presented in By This Standard? At various points in his article Robbins is not shy to voice the utter severity of his condemnation: "Bahnsen abandons logic." Bahnsen fails to exercise "logical rigor." Bahnsen is committed to "Anti-Rational Theology"; like Van Til, he affirms and denies the use of logic in theology. "Bahnsen advocates two irreconcilable views." "Oblivious to the contradictions, Bahnsen slogs on." "The contradictions in Dr. Bahnsen's book are patent, numerous, and insuperable." His position is "utter nonsense." "Theonomy is simply not biblical." "It is, in fact, anti-Christian." Mr. Robbins tells his readers with bravado that "it is all too easy to lay waste" my arguments.

This is, to be sure, one possibility. I cannot hide behind a doctoral degree in philosophy (specifically epistemology), or behind high marks in graduate school logic, or behind my teaching many courses in advanced logic. That is not an absolutely sure defense, I realize. I still might have published utterly contradictory views on the law of God. Mr. Robbins may indeed be correct. Perhaps in my book I lapsed into a state of blithering stupidity and, like a moron, did not even notice my logical blunders. "Patent, numerous, and insuperable," as Robbins asserts.

But in all fairness of mind, there is another possibility as well which should at least be considered. Isn't it at least possible that maybe it is Mr. Robbins who is utterly confused? Just maybe? In his haste and bravado -- not to mention his notorious and perpetual disdain for anyone favorable to Van Til -- might not Mr. Robbins have misconstrued and distorted his opponent's view, to the point of creating for himself an artificial appearance of internal contradiction, when there is none there in reality? Which hypothesis has initial plausibility?

Is there any possibility -- even presumption -- that an author is more familiar with his own views and published position than a secondary reviewer? If so, then you might expect a reviewer to be somewhat cautious and hesitant, if not duly humble, about leaping to the immediate and emphatic judgment that an author has made the schoolboy mistake of explicitly contradicting himself -- indeed, that his logical gaffs are numerous, patent and insuperable. If it seems he has, shouldn't the reviewer stop and reconsider? Ask if he (the reviewer) is not the one who has not understood? But not so for Mr. Robbins.

Get this. According to the critique written by Mr. Robbins, he finds the author already guilty of outrageous contradiction by page 3 of the (362-page) book under review! Reflect for a moment on that -- on this accusation being lodged at the very outset of the book. I submit that even the friends of Mr. Robbins must recognize that such haste strongly suggests prejudicial thinking and preconceptions on the part of the reviewer. Mr. Robbins claims to perceive an insuperable contradiction right at the threshold of my book. More likely, he arrived with jaundiced vision to begin with -- and an ax to grind.

The Case Against Robbins' Accuracy

So then, on the one hand maybe Bahnsen's book contains patent contradictions. Or on the other hand maybe Robbins himself has prejudicially misconstrued the theonomic position. Let's look and see.

According to Robbins, my book sets forth two contradictory views regarding the validity of God's law: one is the view of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the other is something Robbins calls the reconstructionist or theonomic view. The former view allows for changes in the Mosaic law with the coming of the New Covenant, even though the principles of the ceremonial law are applied in Christ and the general equity (underlying point or purpose) of the judicial laws is still binding. According to Robbins, the "theonomic" view does not allow for any changes in the Mosaic law with the inauguration of the New Covenant.

Holding both of these views (change allowed, no change allowed) would indeed be self-contradictory. But I have never held the latter view -- my books being witness.

According to Bahnsen, the "theonomic" view is not at all what Robbins alleges (viz., no change allowed). It is rather the view that although there are many, even radical, changes regarding the Mosaic law in the New Covenant, the categorical presumption (working assumption) is that of continuity between the covenants; accordingly, New Covenant changes regarding the law are to be warranted on the basis of Biblical exegesis (not the dispensational principle of general abrogation).

Who is correct about the true nature of the "theonomic" thesis? The preposterous character of Robbins' critique becomes manifest with the very asking of that question.

Mr. Robbins defines "theonomy" one way. I wrote an entire book (more than one actually) which defines "theonomy" in a different way. Indeed, the very book under review by Robbins was written to explain and set forth my conception of the "theonomic" viewpoint! So then, when Mr. Robbins got to pages 3-4 of the book and found that my definition of the theonomic position was in conflict with his own conception of what my theonomic view was expected to be, rather than recognize his own error, instead he eagerly pounced on the fallacious inference that "Aha, Bahnsen must be contradicting himself!" This is buffoonery unworthy of Mr. Robbins' intellectual abilities.

For the record, I want the reader to see for himself what was written on pages 3-4 of my book By This Standard. You decide for yourself whether "theonomy" maintains, as Robbins alleges, that no changes in the Mosaic law are allowed in the New Covenant. "Given this instruction [in Matthew 5:17-19], our attitude must be that all Old Testament laws are presently our obligation unless further revelation from the Lawgiver shows that some change has been made.... What has been said above is simply that the presumption should be that an Old Testament law is binding in the New Testament. This does not in any way preclude or reject many radical differences between Old and New Testaments. Changes do indeed come through the course of redemptive history, so that there certainly are exceptions to the general continuity that characterizes the relation between Old and New Covenants.... the New Testament should interpret the Old Testament for us" (all italics original).

Robbins very well knows that I have said these things (and at the very outset of my book, no less), for he even quotes part of them in his review. But alas, he stubbornly takes them as evidence that I am thereby "repudiating" the theonomic view of law, rather than explaining it! (cf. Proverbs 18:2)

Also for the record, I would like the reader to realize that Mr. Robbins could no more justify his pseudo-conception of the theonomic view (no changes allowed in the law) from my preceding book on the subject, entitled Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1977), than he can from the book he has lately reviewed. As a sampling, fifteen years ago I spoke of "legitimate and noteworthy discontinuities" with the Old Testament law -- indeed "radical differences." I wrote that the Mosaic system of shadows was "intended to be superseded." Nevertheless, "only God has the authority and prerogative to discontinue the binding force of anything He has revealed... [and] we are not warranted to affirm discontinuity with the Older Testament except where expressly indicated otherwise.... the New Testament must be used to understand, not undermine, the Older Testament; again the presumption would have to be continuity, not contradiction" (pp. 213, 313, 366, 431).

Has Bahnsen blatantly contradicted himself, or has Mr. Robbins simply displayed his inaccuracy as a reviewer, notably in his (pre)conception of theonomic ethics? The reader can decide for himself.

The Case for Robbins' Artificiality

Rather than taking this correction to heart, I fear that Mr. Robbins instead might complain that his misconstruing of the theonomic position (viz., overlooking that it indeed allows for Biblically-based changes in the Old Testament law) is really Dr. Bahnsen's fault. I can imagine Robbins grumbling that there are sentences in Bahnsen's book which affirm the continuing validity of the Old Testament law, but which do not (each and every time) explain that this is a categorical presumption and which do not (each and every time) acknowledge the exceptions which are possible. Thus, he might protest that these many unqualified statements give the natural impression that theonomists do not allow for any changes whatsoever in the Old Testament law.

If this were the way in which Robbins would attempt to justify his belligerent charge of self-contradiction in my book, it would be appropriate to call down the artificiality of his scholarship and criticism.

1) Human communication by means of language would come to a grinding halt if it were illegitimate ever to express yourself by way of generalizations which do not explicitly acknowledge qualifications and exceptions. Lawyers may specialize in the fine print of complicated legal contracts, but even they do not speak that way in ordinary discourse. A father who asserts that his son is a fine basketball player is not guilty of falsehood or deception simply because he does not add that, of course, his son has some bad games.

Generalizations which state an accurate summary or the prevailing principle are not, as generalizations, faulty or inaccurate. Does Mr. Robbins chastise gospel writers Mark and Luke? They generalized our Lord's teaching by saying that anyone who divorces and remarries thereby commits adultery (Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18) -- and they completely omitted the qualifying exceptive clause, found only in Matthew (19:9), that this principle did not apply to cases of fornication. Mark and Luke are not faulted because they did indeed express the prevailing principle -- the main point Jesus intended to make.

2) In a book written to explain that Scripture teaches one prevailing principle over another -- covenantal presumption of continuity in the law over against dispensational discontinuity -- it would be expected that the specific prevailing principle which is supported from Scripture would be expressed often by way of generalization, rather than with all the qualifications and exceptions mentioned every time.

After all, the entire book was purportedly given to explain the position being taken, and thus all of the sentences in the book must be taken into account to get a fair and accurate view of that position -- not simply the categorical generalizations (which are repeated for the sake of simplicity in referring to the thesis), but also the qualifying explanations and stated exceptions which the author discusses elsewhere in the book. It is a scholarly expectation that students, reviewers, etc. will pay attention to the entirety of the book under consideration, not just selected parts. Context is crucial, after all.

3) The appropriateness of theonomists summarizing or generalizing their thesis that the entire law continues to be binding in the New Covenant, yet not immediately adding the qualifications, is nowhere more strikingly obvious and grandly sanctified than in the words of our Lord Jesus Himself. He is the one who categorically asserted the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail, without at that point explaining the presumptive sense of His words or the exceptions to the generalization given. (To gain the fuller interpretation, we must go to other texts.)

All evangelical believers -- not simply theonomists -- must hear these words of Christ and somehow take them into account in their theological convictions: "I came not to abrogate... not one jot or tittle shall pass away until heaven and earth pass away... Therefore, whoever teaches the breaking of the least of these commandments shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-19). Our Lord did not at this point add qualifications to His categorical declarations. Thus those critics of theonomic writers who would reproach categorical statements of the law's continuing validity are unwittingly guilty of heaping their reproach upon the Savior Himself.

4) In his review Mr. Robbins acknowledges that I teach that it is the underlying principles of the judicial and ceremonial laws which are valid today -- rather than the literal or cultural details by which those principles are expressed and illustrated. (We do not bring animal sacrifices today, but the principle is still valid that there is no atonement without shedding of blood -- indeed is at the heart of gospel proclamation. We do not build railings around our housetops, but the principle of providing for the safety of others is still valid, etc.) He then turns around and with shameless artificiality says that this approach contradicts my assertion that the law is binding in "exhaustive detail" (or that "every stroke" is confirmed).

But come now. Isn't this the naive mistake made by many dispensational fundamentalists? To assert the authority of every single word of God's law is not at all to assert that those words may only be interpreted in a literal manner. (The professor who requires his students to pay attention to "every line" in a Shakespeare play is not thereby claiming that Shakespeare never used figures of speech!) And remember: Jesus is the one who declared that every "jot and tittle" of the law remains valid until heaven and earth pass away. Does Mr. Robbins now accuse Jesus of self-contradiction because that to which He holds us accountable (evident from other texts of Scripture) are the principles of the law -- both ceremonial (Heb. 9:11-14, 22) and judicial (1 Cor. 9:9-10)? When Jesus ended the story of the Good Samaritan by saying "Go and do likewise," does Mr. Robbins really believe this means all believers are to walk the Jericho road with a donkey and flask of oil? Presumably Mr. Robbins believes that all of the New Testament has moral validity. Does he then literally practice the giving of a kiss in salutation (1 Peter 5:14)?

You see, therefore, what a game this reviewer would like to play. He interprets the statements in my book in the most wooden and contrived manner -- a manner completely at odds with ordinary language analysis and at odds with the way in which he himself understands language elsewhere, including his own -- as a pretext for turning around and accusing me of self-contradiction when I explain my own words as applying to underlying principles or allowing for generalization and illustration, etc.

A further example of his artificiality when it comes to understanding and using language is his suggestion that words may not be used in different ways. He bristles at the idea that some law might be "binding" in one sense, and yet not "binding" in another sense -- e.g., obligatory as to essential principle, but not operative in outward conduct. However the English language is full of examples where the same word is used (even with the same object) in differing ways. I'll bet that Mr. Robbins "honors" the President of the United States (his office, or some of his actions), and yet does not "honor" the President (his person, or other actions taken). Does it not seem to many people that although Gordon Clark is "dead," yet for Mr. Robbins the philosopher nevertheless "lives"? Surely Robbins recognizes this feature of human language.

He should upon reflection, then, not have had such terrible difficulty in properly understanding theonomic claims like the statement that some Old Testament laws are "valid" (not abrogated as to their principle demand) and yet "not valid" (inoperative in outward usage). After all, it is God's own infallible word which makes both of these claims, not just theonomists! Christ insists that even the least commandment is "not abrogated" (Matthew 5:17-19), although Paul can say that certain commandments were "rendered idle" by the redemptive work of Christ (Ephesians 2:15). By resorting to interpreting his opponent's statements in an artificial manner, Mr. Robbins is playing with words and straining to find a criticism. Thinking he has finally found one, he unwittingly ends up being critical of God's own word. In fact, he calls the conjunction of the (Scriptural!) statements that the ceremonial law is confirmed and yet put out of gear "utter nonsense"! What a dreadful position for a theologian to put himself in.

Summation and Appeal

We are led to conclude, then, that the self-assured charge leveled by Mr. Robbins that By This Standard is guilty of patent and insuperable self-contradictions -- advocating two irreconcilable views -- only exposes his own lamentable inaccuracy and desperate artificiality as a scholar. That is why I said earlier that his review would merit a failing grade in school. The perversity of his forced and incredible interpretation of his opponent, as a pretext for criticism, might even disqualify him as a candidate in many graduate departments, to be honest.

Worst of all, though, the way in which Mr. Robbins has distorted and abused the views of a Christian brother (I do not believe I am the only one) dishonors our common Lord whom he endeavors to serve by his writing. May God be merciful to me where I have done likewise. And may Mr. Robbins accept my sincere offer for peace; we are not really so far apart as he may imagine. Let's together turn our attention to deal with the real enemies of God's truth and Christ's kingdom, rather than biting and devouring each other.
That last quote is especially relevant to some enemies of Greg Bahnsen who seem obsessed with discrediting a man who is no longer around to defend himself.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
I think that I just reached an Ah ha!! moment in this discussion. Any critique would be helpful.

The confession assumes both discontinuity and continuity. The discontinuity in all (any?) of the particular laws given in the OT (judicials) and a continuity in the moral principles (Moral Law). In opposition to this, Theonomists assume a continuity in both, while allowing for the NT to reveal various changes. A confessional person/leader would be allowed to implement any law that held to the spirit/moral principles of the law, while changing the particular penalty for a certain crime. A Theonomist would probably balk, however, if one could not put forward a NT justification for a change in the exact penalty.

In the majority of cases, the confessional position and Theonomy, look strikingly similar but a the end of the day, the confessional position would give a leader a great deal more flexibility in "upholding the moral law" before someone could reasonable object that one is breaking the moral law or be called an antinomian.

That being said, if a Theonomist was made dictator for a year of the United States, then
one could not object very much on Biblical grounds (perhaps that one should establish a church, which very few Theonomists have advocated?) without in fact calling OT Israel an unjust soceity, but instead could object some on practical grounds.

CT
 

D. Paul

Puritan Board Sophomore
WCF XIX: IV. To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

Some folks really like to stretch that general equity phrase.
Ok, what does general equity mean, then? And you tell us the answer, not some website which you have "ctrl c + ctrl v". The ball is in your court, with all due respect. At least Ken Gentry (The Standard Bearer) gave an exegetical, historical analysis of the Confession to provide a theonomic answer to it. Critique him if he's wrong but he must be given credit, along with Schwertely and others, for going back to the Confession and seeing what it says. It appears that modern Reformed people read their own 21st century, pluralistic understanding of civil law back into the theocratic puritanism of the 17th century.
:applause:
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Let's go back to something Reverend Winzer said. He said, if I may paraphrase, that it is time to drop the debate and theonomists need to realize they have more friends than they thought.

I agree, but...

I agree that we probably need to drop the debate. While theonomists were probably blackballed from Reformed institutions, and no one ever had the guts to face Bahnsen in a public debate, and while theonomy will never win the day in Reformed circles, I have reason as a theonomist to rejoice.

If someone started reading the old Knoxian views of civil govt, then we are doing well. In America at least many people are tired of the old Republican establishment status quo. Just look at the excitement that Ron Paul's campaign generated on the issue of decentralized government (see Wine's The Hebrew Republic) sound money, critique of statism (a major thoenomic theme) and individual liberty. Secondly, most Christians are theonomists when they go vote. They vote (usually ignorantly and naievely, but the principle's the same) for the guy with strong morals, oppsoed to abortion, or whatever lie Republicans tell Evangelicals (I have in mind "]Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's[/URL] description of Ralph Reed).

But I seriously doubt the mainstream Reformed world wants to be friends with theonomists. Anyone can PM me for personal examples.

And there are some critics of theonomy who have an unhealthy obsession with it. I don't talk about it too much, except to defend it from hatchet jobs.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
Let's go back to something Reverend Winzer said. He said, if I may paraphrase, that it is time to drop the debate and theonomists need to realize they have more friends than they thought.

I agree, but...

I agree that we probably need to drop the debate. While theonomists were probably blackballed from Reformed institutions, and no one ever had the guts to face Bahnsen in a public debate, and while theonomy will never win the day in Reformed circles, I have reason as a theonomist to rejoice.

If someone started reading the old Knoxian views of civil govt, then we are doing well. In America at least many people are tired of the old Republican establishment status quo. Just look at the excitement that Ron Paul's campaign generated on the issue of decentralized government (see Wine's The Hebrew Republic) sound money, critique of statism (a major thoenomic theme) and individual liberty. Secondly, most Christians are theonomists when they go vote. They vote (usually ignorantly and naievely, but the principle's the same) for the guy with strong morals, oppsoed to abortion, or whatever lie Republicans tell Evangelicals (I have in mind "]Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's[/URL] description of Ralph Reed).

But I seriously doubt the mainstream Reformed world wants to be friends with theonomists. Anyone can PM me for personal examples.

And there are some critics of theonomy who have an unhealthy obsession with it. I don't talk about it too much, except to defend it from hatchet jobs.
I do remember Rev Morecraft saying that he was surprised at how many unbelieving supporters he had during his political campaign. (I don't remember for which office) I think the general equity of Biblical law rings true for many people. I think it is the theonomist's penal sanctions that scare people away. :2cents:
 

timmopussycat

Puritan Board Junior
I think that I just reached an Ah ha!! moment in this discussion. Any critique would be helpful.

The confession assumes both discontinuity and continuity. The discontinuity in all (any?) of the particular laws given in the OT (judicials) and a continuity in the moral principles (Moral Law).
Give the man 3/4 of a cigar! He's almost got it. The confession assumes continuity of the Moral Law/Decalogue and both discontinuity and a measure of continuity in the judicials. The discontinuity is due to two factors: first all the judicials are no longer covenantally valid, but have "expired" but those judicials that remain valid today are valid for a different reason; they are morallyvalid. Second, not all of the judicials remain valid; the only laws remaining valid are those that "general equity may require" in the new covenantal circumstances.

In opposition to this, Theonomists assume a continuity in both, while allowing for the NT to reveal various changes.
That's how Theonomists define matters. But the problem is that Bahnsen provided extended exegesis of Matt. 5:18 which correctly demonstrates that no change to the law whatsoever is legitimate during the time it is in force. When Bahnsen defined the terminus ad quem of the law as the end of the church age, and contra Bahnsen's opinion that Christ's apparently absolute statment admits of qualification, the necessary consequence is that no change to the law in the church age can be legitimate. This gives Theonomists an unpalatable choice: they may keep either Bahnsen's exegeisis or his view that some NT change is legitimate but they cannot have both.

A confessional person/leader would be allowed to implement any law that held to the spirit/moral principles of the law, while changing the particular penalty for a certain crime. A Theonomist would probably balk, however, if one could not put forward a NT justification for a change in the exact penalty.
Not quite: a confessional person may also decriminalize Mosaic crimes or penalties (Calvin and Gillespie did one each). And you are correct; a Theonomist would balk if no NT change could be put forward authorizing these specific changes.

n the majority of cases, the confessional position and Theonomy, look strikingly similar but a the end of the day, the confessional position would give a leader a great deal more flexibility in "upholding the moral law" before someone could reasonable object that one is breaking the moral law or be called an antinomian.

That being said, if a Theonomist was made dictator for a year of the United States, then one could not object very much on Biblical grounds (perhaps that one should establish a church, which very few Theonomists have advocated?) without in fact calling OT Israel an unjust soceity, but instead could object some on practical grounds.
If said Theonomist dictator instituted Mosaic judicials whose general equity did not apply to the new covenant situation, it would be very easy to question such laws on both biblical and confessional grounds. Take idolatry as an example: was the death penalty for idolatry under Sinai due to the fact that God was the head of state and covenantally obliged to curse Israel should they abandon him and thus idolatry is not only rebellion against the sovereign but treason against the state? If yes, does the death penalty remain just when God is no longer the head of state and no longer covenantally obliged to impose covenant curses for rebellion? The dictator would have to provide a clear rationale justifying such laws under the NT covenantal circumstances before confessional types would accept it as just.
 
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