Monday, June 28, 2010

The Westminster Standards are Theonomic: Part 1

The Westminster Assembly
Posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2,
Part 3
Part 4
Those who hold that the Westminster Standards are not theonomic like to point to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), Chapter 19, part 4, which reads:
"To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people, not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require."
They insist that the phrase "which expired together with the State of that people" means that the Westminster divines believed that the O.T. civil laws are abrogated.  But this could only be the case if the divines didn't include the subsequent qualifying phrase, which reads, "not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require."

So the general equity is mandatory--the O.T. judicial law, in its general equity, must be enforced.  The judicial laws are not obliging any further than the general equity requires.  (We plan to discuss the meaning of general equity later, but at this point we will note that the context clearly implies that "general equity" presupposes the validity of O.T. civil law.)  And so the question is not whether the divines believed the O.T. civil code is mandatory--the only question is how does it apply in its general equity.

As such, whatever the WCF means by saying that "sundry judicial laws ... expired together with the State of that people," it cannot mean that the O.T. civil code is abrogated.  Greg Bahnsen gives the following analogy to reconcile the meaning of "expire " with subsequent wording that the general equity is required:
"Although Israel as a political body has expired--and along with it its judicial law as a constitution--the general equity of those judicial laws is still required (Westminster Confession XIX.4). Similarly, when a public library goes out of business (and your library card thus expires), the truth of what was written in its books is not abolished or changed."

Greg Bahnsen, "What is 'Theonomy'?" New Horizons (April, 1994) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938.

[Disclaimer: Covenant Media today promotes the Federal Vision heresy, although Bahnsen himself would have rejected it.]
A prooftext the WCF uses to support the general equity is Matthew 5:17, where Christ says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."  

This is one of the reasons that modern theonomists hold that O.T. civil law is valid today.  And apparently, this was a reason for the Westminster divines to uphold O.T. civil law as well.  Thus modern theonomists and Westminster divines alike arrived at the view that O.T. civil law has abiding validity in the same way: because Christ didn't come to abolish the moral law along with its civil expressions in the judicial case laws.

Also cited to support the general equity is Matt. 5:38, 39, which touches on the lex talionis.  Interestingly, the Westminster Divine George Gillespie, in Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty, made the following theonomic statements about Matthew 5:17 and 5:38:
(2.) Christ’s words (Matt. 5:17), Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill, are comprehensive of the judicial law, it being a part of the law of Moses. Now he could not fulfill the judicial law, except either by his practice, or by teaching others still to observe it; not by his own practice, for he would not condemn the adulteress (Jn. 8:11), nor divide the inheritance (Luke 12:13-14). Therefore it must be by his doctrine for our observing it.

(3.) If Christ in his sermon (Matt. 5), would teach that the moral law belongs to us Christians, in so much as he vindicates it from the false glosses of the scribes and Pharisees; then he meant to hold forth the judicial law concerning moral trespasses as belonging unto us also; for he vindicates and interprets the judicial law, as well as the moral (Matt. 5:38), An eye for an eye, etc.
George Gillespie, Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty, © 1997 Naphtali Press.

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