Jay Rogers
Jay Rogers

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A Question from a Reader about Theonomy

Mr. Rogers,

First of all, I wanted to thank-you for the blessing that your ministry at The Forerunner website has been. I was very pleased to find that website a few weeks ago and I’ve been since learning through your ministry and enjoying the articles. I know this is rather presumptuous, but when I had some questions regarding theonomy, you immediately came to mind. If you’re too busy to answer that’s completely understandable. I hope I’m not out of line by asking.

I guess my main question is: What is the primary difference between the theonomic view and the typical evangelical understanding of the law? All evangelicals are agreed that the ceremonial law was abolished with the fulfillment of the “types and shadows” in Christ’s atoning work. When it comes to the moral law, however, I confess I don’t see that theonomists have much disagreement with typical evangelicals. I don’t see any Christians claiming that they are no longer under an obligation to keep the Ten Commandments, that it is morally permissible to commit adultery, murder, steal, etc. However, if the main difference between the theonomic and traditional camps is on the matter of the civil law, then why is it that we find most of the defenses of theonomy directed against those who would claim that the moral law is no longer in effect? I haven’t found anything that argues specifically for the current application of the Old Testament civil laws.

Also, I’ve heard it said by many theonomists that the Old Testament civil law is not to be imposed from the top down; rather the establishment of a theonomic government will come about through revival, and changed hearts, as the majority of people willingly submit themselves to God’s law. Is the theonomic view of the civil law that it is a type or shadow of what will be established in Christ’s Kingdom? Just as the ceremonial law was a shadow of Christ’s work? Also, would you consider it to be wrong to try to enforce those laws now, from the top down? Again, thank-you so much for your ministry at The Forerunner; it’s truly been a blessing to me. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read this email. Have a blessed day!

In Christ’s Name,

- Q.P.

Dear Q.P.,

Many evangelicals are operational theonomists. They want to ban abortion, homosexual marriage, allow school prayer and promote family friendly policies because this is in accord biblical law.

It’s the issue of biblical sanctions that separate the two groups.

What do we do about abortionists and the parents who kill their children? Should they be executed as murderers or should hey be regulated by a government agency in the same way that the FDA regulates the sale of beef.

That is just one difference.

Theonomists ought to teach that we cannot advance Christ’s kingdom through law. This needs to happen through conversion. We cannot emphasize that enough.

But let’s say that the majority of voters were converted. Let’s say that situation were true today. (For example, there are supposedly 65 million evangelicals in the United States and less than that number voted for Obama in the last election.) Then the question becomes: Whose law should we legislate? God’s or man’s? If we won’t enforce God’s law because it no longer applies, then where does man’s law derive it’s authority?

The homosexual wants marriage rights. We would deny that, but on what basis do we have the authority to deny it?

Someone’s law has to rule. Should it be man’s law or God’s law? Or some combination of the two?

All Christians ought to agree that God’s law — even the capital case laws — in the Old Testament were put in place by a just and loving God. There is not one God of the Old Testament and another God of the New Testament. There is only one God. However, most evangelicals believe that the laws governing Israel were put to rest under the New Covenant.

The question remains: Whose laws ought we to have on the books?

I personally believe that God’s moral law and the sanctions found in the Bible ought to be the basis for our civil code. Judges would have the right to show mercy in capital cases with the exception of premeditated murder. Another thing we can imitate is that ancient Israel had no prisons. The prison system ought to be abolished in favor of a system of double restitution paid to victims of non-violent crimes.

It is important to remember that this has nothing to do with bringing about the salvation of the criminal. We cannot be saved by law. We cannot bring about revival by legislating righteousness. However, revival ought to result in righteousness and the righteous ought to stand for God’s morality in every sphere of society — family, school, business, church, civil government, art, science, etc.

At most, the Law of God acts as a tutor to show us where we have sinned (and in civil cases, where we have become criminals) and it can lead people to Christ by showing His eternal standard of righteousness and our need for grace and forgiveness. Civil judges can model the mercy and compassion of Christ to criminals who are truly repentant and willing to make restitution for their crimes.

But the fact remains, all law is an attempt to impose someone’s morality from the top-down. If we are a Christian people, whose law do we want? Do we want Barney Frank imposing laws that govern our economic system and whether homosexuals should have the right to marry?

Someone has to rule and these rulers will decide which laws will be the standard.

See also: God’s Law and Society


Your comments are welcome!

Regarding your reference to gay marriage: you make the common error of unconsciously changing the subject. The discussion isn't properly about whether same-sex couples should get married, but rather should the government approve the marriages of same-sex couples. Now, the discussion should start with where the scriptures give the state any jurisdiction whatsoever over marriage. I know of no place in the Bible where a government official (except as bride or groom) is in any way involved with marriage.

Posted by ChrisNC on 01/25/2015 07:14 AM #

Not exactly. The view of most western countries is derived from the biblical view of marriage.

Two people marry each other. They are not married by a third party. The contract is made between the man and the woman (or the two families) and the civil authorities recognize it as legally binding as they would any other contract.

In Ruth 4 it shows that the elders of the city ratified the contract of marriage:

"And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said ... 'Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day.'”

In ancient Israel, the usual way a marriage was performed was through betrothal. This had the legally binding status of a marriage. The contract was usually made between two families or between the man and the father of the woman. After betrothal, all the man had to do to legally marry the woman was to take her into his household. Spiritually, marriage takes place when the two become one flesh -- in the act of sexual consummation.

Although our culture and customs have changed, the same law applies. The civil authorities or church elders witness the legal covenant. Then the couple "marries" each other by consumating the relationship.

Biblically speaking, when a man joins with a woman sexually outside of marriage, he is spiritually married to that woman although the relationship is sinful, unlawful and illegitimate.

Homosexuality is an abomination before God because it is never possible for a man to marry another man through sodomy in any spiritual or legal sense. The same is true for two women of course. Marriage is the spiritual, legal and sexual union of a man and a woman.

What is strange is that most Christians think of the "sacrament of marriage" as described in the office of the pastor. Of course, this is mentioned nowhere in scripture, although Christians in a "covenant" can use the witness of the elders of a church in place of the civil authorities.

If we want to view marriage as a "sacrament" then it is problematic because all sacraments were given because of sin. But marriage existed prior to sin coning into the world. I would say marriage is a covenant that has a sacramental nature between two Christians.

In the beginning, there was no need for witnesses because there was no sin.

The civil institution of marriage came about precisely because as sinners, we are covenant breakers by nature, and there needs to be a sanction when someone breaks the contract.

The civil institution of marriage came about for three reasons.

1. To protect women so that they would not be left to raise children without a responsible father.

2. To protect the inheritance rights of women.

3. To protect the inheritance rights of children.

Homosexual marriage is not marriage at all because a union between two men or two women cannot produce children and there is no need to protect inheritance rights even if adoption was allowed (which it should not be on moral grounds -- I would allow for adoption by single parents only if they are people of good moral character).

The reason we have homosexual marriage today has nothing to do with inheritance rights. Such contracts can be drawn up as a will.

We have homosexual marriage first because our courts have declared anti-sodomy laws to be unconstitutional.

Second, we have homosexual marriage because of federal and sate mandated social entitlements. Many cultures in the world have had lax attitudes about homosexuality, however, none until the socialist 20th century have ahd gay marriage becasue there was never any socialist financial benefit in being married.

Posted by Jay Rogers on 01/25/2015 07:14 AM #

Boaz was a prominent, propertied member of the community, calling on his peers to witness his marriage. In addition, it wasn't a standard marriage. As you quote, he was acting in his role as kinsman-redeemer, on behalf of Ruth's deceased first husband. Both factors weigh against your presumption that his actions were common, much less normative, in the absence of additional evidence.

Posted by ChrisNC on 01/25/2015 07:14 AM #

In a standard marriage, who acted as witnesses?

Was it the families only, or would the tribal elders have some type of record that a betrothal took place? What if one of the families wanted to renege on the betrothal, or what if a betrothed woman was found not to be a virgin (in violation of the law) -- who would arbitrate in the case? If it would be the elders, how would they know that the betrothal was in fact binding and that this is not a false accusation against a woman who was not betrothed?

Posted by Jay Rogers on 01/25/2015 07:14 AM #

Boaz wasn't calling on his peers, he was calling on the tribal elders to witness a marriage.

Posted by Jay Rogers on 01/25/2015 07:14 AM #

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