Monday, June 28, 2010

The Westminster Standards are Theonomic: Part 2

The Westminster Assembly

Posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2,
Part 3
Part 4

The WCF 19:4, after giving the Matt. 5 prooftexts to affirm Older Testament civil law, goes on to cite 1 Cor. 9:8-10, which upholds the abiding validity of non-ceremonial judicial law:
"Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.' Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop."
This citation sheds some light on what the Wesminster divines meant by "general equity."  Greg Bahnsen writes,
"When the Westminster theologians spoke of the "general equity of" the judicial laws, they referred to the underlying moral principle which is illustrated by the particular cases mentioned in the judicial laws. Thus in Confessional context we find that they offered as a proof text the example of 1 Cor. 9:8-10 -- which applies the illustration of the muzzled ox (via the underlying principle) to the case of the unpaid pastor. This same kind of treatment is found throughout the Larger Catechism's exposition of the Ten Commandments -- where Old Testament case laws are readily cited as authoritative, although given modern application (e.g., #135 regarding rooftop railings)." 

Greg Bahnsen, "The Westminster Assembly and the Equity of the Judicial Law," Penpoint Vol. IV:7 (October, 1993) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938.

[Disclaimer: Covenant Media today promotes the Federal Vision heresy, although Bahnsen himself would have rejected it.]

Like the Westminster divines, modern theonomists--at least the careful ones--affirm Israel had certain judicial laws unique to its culture that can't necessarily apply to all nations--for instance, the law requiring a railing on one's rooftop (Deut. 22:8), since not all cultures entertain guests on their rooftops. 

However, the principle, or general equity, might require one to put a fence around his swimming pool so children won't wander into the yard and drown--just as the Bible applies the principle of 1 Cor. 9 to a different circumstance.

General equity however does not mean that all of Israel's civil laws apply differently today.  For instance, there is generally nothing culturally unique about the capital punishments of Israel.  (Although the punishment for a priest's daughter who commits prostitution [Lev. 21:9] can't apply today.  The ceremonial laws were unique to Israel and are now abrogated, and consequently there are no more Levitical priests.)  That is, the sins of blasphemy, idolatry, murder, adultery, and other capital crimes against the moral law according to Israel's civil code occur in all cultures; no culture is immune to such sins.

And so Westminster divine George Gillespie writes:
"If God would have the moral law transmitted from the Jewish people to the Christian people; then he would also have the judicial laws transmitted from the Jewish Magistrate to the Christian Magistrate: there being the same reason of immutability in the punishments, which is in the offenses. Idolatry and adultery displease God now as much as then; and theft displeases God now no more than before."

George Gillespie, Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty, © 1997 Naphtali Press.

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