Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Refuting anti-Theonomy Straw Men: Part 2: Taking Dominion over Man

by Steve C. Halbrook

One anti-theonomy straw man says that theonomists want to subjugate others by "taking dominion over men."

Where they came up with that one, I’m not sure. But then, there seems to be no shortage of misrepresentations of theonomy.  God’s law offends our sinful nature.    
Here’s the irony: when one rejects theonomy, one has, by the nature of the case, advocated taking dominion over man--specifically by the state.

In 1 Samuel 8, the Israelites rejected the rule of God (v. 7) for the rule of man (v. 5; 20). They rejected a theonomic government for a non-theonomic government—in this case, a form of government like the pagan nations (vv. 5, 20).  John W. Robbins writes:
Notice that the people of Israel demanded a change in the form of their government because of corruption among Samuel’s sons, whom Samuel had unwisely installed as judges. Rather than eliminating the corrupt officials, as they ought to have done, they blamed the system of government itself and exchanged their unique republic for the pagan system of monarchy.[1]
First Samuel 8 lists the tyranny that would come from rejecting theonomy.  It included the following non-theonomic policies:

1)       compulsory military service (v. 11)
2)       enslavement (v. 12)
3)       socialism (vv. 14, 15)
4)       high taxes (vv. 15, 17)
5)       seizure of property (v. 16)

(Sounds pretty similar to anti-theonomic America.)

As the text reads:
10So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.
And so as we have said, non-theonomy and taking dominion over one’s fellow man goes hand-in-hand.  Again, Robbins:
In addition to their children, land, and capital, he will take their servants, their servants’ children, and even their farm animals “and put them to his work.” When this massive program of compulsory labor and taxation is finally in place, God continues, “You will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” The kind of government that God had created for ancient Israel, a government in which the governors were the servants of the governed, would be changed into a pagan form of government in which the rulers would exercise dominion over the people.[2]
Robbins also notes:
There is an echo of 1 Samuel in the New Testament:
But there was also rivalry among them [Christ’s disciples] as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves” [Luke 22:24-26].
The American notion that government ought to be the servant of the people, not exercise dominion over them, may be traced directly to 1Samuel 8 and Luke 22.[3]
However, there is much more to this than what form of government a nation chooses. Serving the people is secondary to serving God. To the extent rulers don't serve God by enforcing His civil laws, they attempt to be gods themselves, and thereby subjugate the people as if they had sovereign control.

Thus, the main issue was that the Israelites had rejected God Himself. Although rejecting God includes rejecting God's law. (In applying this to our topic, this principle is not restricted to rejecting a biblical form of government, but other biblical civil laws as well.) As Jesus said,  
"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).
In short, when a people reject God’s rule over the state, they naturally reject God’s law over the state (theonomy).  In its place, they embrace the tyrannical laws of pagan nations.  This is exactly what theonomy critics are asking for, whether they realize it or not.  In asking for the tyrannical laws of pagan nations, theonomy critics are asking for the state to take dominion over man. 

It is not theonomy then that advocates taking dominion over man.  It is non-theonomy. When the state rejects the rule of God, it attempts to be its own god and foist its sovereign claims over the people. The result: you shall be his slaves” (1 Samuel 8:17b).

(posts in this series: part 1, part 2)

  [1] John W. Robbins, “The Sine Qua Non of Enduring Freedom,” The Trinity Review, no. 295 (July-August 2010): 4. Retrieved March 4, 2011, from
     [2] Ibid., 5.
     [3] Ibid., 4.

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