Friday, August 26, 2011

A Biblical Defense of Theonomy: Part 3

by Steve C. Halbrook

(posts in this series: part 1part 2, part 3)

(This series is based on Appendix A of God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws)

We now turn to 1 Timothy 1:8-11, which reads:

But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust (NKJV).

Many hold that this text speaks of the civil use of the law, since it mentions sins that are considered crimes in the Mosaic law: murder (Ex. 20:13; 21:14), manslaying (Ex. 21:22–25), fornication (Deut. 22:29), sodomy (Lev. 20:13), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), and perjury (Deut. 19:15–21).  (One commentator writes that murder of father and mother might not be in view, but striking father or mother, which is also a crime [Ex. 21:15].)[1] Also, the text mentions the sin of lying.  While this is not always a civil crime, it can be.  Lying can be perjury, and, as Gary North writes, “Lying is not a crime unless it accompanies fraud or slander, where an identifiable injury to a third party takes place. Fraud in general is prohibited by the law prohibiting false weights and measures (Lev. 19:35–36).” [2]

The terms that precede these, “lawless,” “insubordinate,” “the ungodly,” and “sinners,” might be understood as the general character of criminals.[3]  Gary North considers the terms “unholy and profane” as the general category of crimes, that is, “sins that are lawfully punished by the imposition of civil sanctions on convicted perpetrators.”[4]  “An unholy person has violated a moral boundary. A profane person has violated sacred space or sacred property. This would include murder: destroying the image of God in men (Gen. 9:6). Certain crimes represent unholy behavior.”[5]

Alternatively, some terms that precede murder, kidnapping, etc., might describe offenses against the first table of the law.  For James R. Willson, while “The lawless and insubordinate” could be a general statement about those who need to be restrained by the law’s civil penalties,[6]

By “the ungodly and sinners the unholy and profane,” he [the Apostle Paul] evidently designates profane swearers and Sabbath breakers. He who takes the name of the Lord in vain, is a profane man, and he is an unholy man who does not remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Can any man doubt that the Apostle considered Sabbath violation, ungodly, sinful, unholy and profane? For it, then, the penal laws were enacted. That by “the ungodly, sinners, unholy and profane,” he does not intend those who violate the second table is certain, for these he enumerates in the subsequent clauses.[7]

Finally, we see a presumption of continuity with the O.T. in Paul’s statement, “and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.”  Given this presumption, one might understand Paul to be urging the reader to presume the abiding validity of all other moral civil laws in the O.T. not mentioned (besides any particular O.T. civil law that might be abrogated elsewhere in the N.T.). 

One part of the text in 1 Timothy is similar to the Romans 13 discourse on the duties of magistrates.  Compare “the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate,” with For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (Rom. 13:3a).  In each case, the use of the law is not for righteous behavior, but for wicked behavior.      

Some believe that another use of the law is in view in 1 Timothy 1:8-11 other than the civil use.  For instance, some might hold that the use of the law in view is the pedagogic use, where, “By providing conviction of sin and creating a sense of spiritual need in the sinner, the law was a tutor which brought him to Christ.”[8]  Or, some might hold that the use of the law in view is the didactic use, where “the law supplies a rule for life to believers.”[9] 

Daniel F.N. Ritchie, however, argues that since the use of the law discussed in 1 Timothy 1 is restricted to the unrighteous (“the law is not made for a righteous person”), these two uses of the law are ruled out.  This is because in both the pedagogic and didactic uses of the law, the law is of use to the righteous.  As such 1 Tim. 1 can’t refer to the pedagogic use, since, while the law can be used in evangelizing the unrighteous to show them their need for Christ, “the law still shows believers their need of Christ.”[10] Neither can 1 Tim. 1 refer to the didactic use, since “the law is still of use to the righteous [Christians] as their way of life.”[11] “Thus it must refer to the political use of the law—the law's function in restraining the wicked.”[12] 

However, even if it is the case that some other use of the law is in view other than the civil use, it seems the civil use of the law is at least implied.  First, even if the text is focused on a non-civil use of the law, no one would dispute that the text lists sins (e.g., murder, kidnapping) that were crimes in the O.T.  And, keeping this in mind,

If the crime is still a sin [e.g., if kidnapping, which was a civil crime, is still sinful-S.H.], you have a major argument eliminated for annulling the sanction. For example, if it were still disgraceful not to serve as a kinsman-redeemer, you would assume that wearing only one shoe would still be a sanction. We say that the sanction doesn't apply today because the violation is no longer a violation.[13]

In short, the requirement of one who refuses to serve as a kinsman-redeemer to wear one shoe is annulled since the O.T. requirement to be a kinsman-redeemer itself is annulled.  Such refusal is not a sin, and thus it cannot be a crime. (Assuming, of course, that the kinsman redeemer law is abrogated; we are currently undecided on this matter.) But by that same token, the civil sanction against convicted kidnappers is not annulled since the O.T. law against kidnapping remains in force.  As 1 Timothy 1:10 indicates, kidnapping is still a sin, and thus it seems it would still be a crime as well.  And so since the several acts mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:8-11 are still considered to be sins in the New Covenant era, then it seems the O.T. criminal sanctions against those sins should be considered crimes in the New Covenant era as well. 

Second, after listing several specific sins, the Apostle Paul writes, “and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.”  “Sound doctrine” cannot be limited to doctrine explicitly stated in the New Testament, since “sound doctrine” has in view the law itself; the phrase is mentioned in light of the law.  That is, prior to mentioning “sound doctrine,” the sentence reads (v. 8), “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully …”  Thus O.T. law is still lawful to use.  And so even if 1 Timothy 1:8-11 directly has in view another use of the law than the civil use, it would still seem to indirectly affirm the law’s civil use, since the civil law is part of O.T. law. The text’s upholding of O.T. law in general would uphold O.T. civil law in particular. 

So, for example, if the text has in mind the didactic use (which provides the standard for Christian obedience), then the text would imply that O.T. civil law (along with any N.T. modifications to it that there might be) is God’s standard of obedience for Christian civil rulers.

Or, if the text has in mind the pedagogic use, that is, showing someone his need for Christ due to his falling short of perfectly following the law, then the laws pertaining to civil crimes could be understood as a means to show someone his violation of these laws by his denial of these laws as the proper standard of civil government.  Or, if he is or was a civil ruler, then the laws pertaining to civil crimes could be understood as a means to show him his violation of these laws by his refusal to strive to have these laws enforced.  In short, it would be to show him his falling short of God’s perfect standard of civil justice.  Since sin is the transgression of the law (1 Jn. 3:4), it is just as much a sin to violate a civil law (which includes rejecting its use in the civil sphere) as it is to violate laws related to the individual, family, or church.  The civil laws do not merely dictate the actions of civil government; along with all of God’s laws, they are God’s perfect, holy standard of righteousness which show man his need for Christ. 

But our major point is this:  if in fact 1 Timothy 1:8-11 does not have the O.T. civil code directly in mind, the text’s presumption of continuity nevertheless seems to uphold the code. 

Second Timothy 3:16, 17 continues Paul’s theme of presumption of continuity with the O.T.: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for  correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  Note how it says “All Scripture” is relevant to “every good work”—Scripture is relevant for every area of life.  This means then that good laws for societies must be based on the civil laws of Scripture.  Hence to deny the abiding validity of the O.T. civil code is to deny the force of this passage. 

One might object and argue that since we no longer are required to make animal sacrifices and obey the dietary laws, then we can’t really know for sure that this text upholds the Bible’s civil code either.  But the only way to non-arbitrarily interpret the text is to assume all scriptures are binding except those that the Bible itself abrogates.  (And the Bible abrogates the sacrificial system and the dietary laws, but not the civil code.)  Otherwise, everyone could arbitrarily decide for themselves what “all Scripture” means by picking and choosing those laws in the Bible that they desire to obey.  Such a reading would destroy any objective meaning of the text.

We move on to Hebrews 2:2-3a (NASB), which reads: For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”  This is an a fortiori argument (from the lesser to the greater) establishing the abiding validity of the O.T. civil code.

The greater, apostasy (“if we neglect so great a salvation”), justly deserves eternal punishment (hell), with no hope of this punishment being set aside (“how will we escape”).  This builds on the foundation of the lesser—the violation of O.T. civil sanctions (“every transgression and disobedience”), which justly deserves temporal punishment (“received a just penalty”), with no hope of this punishment being set aside (“if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable”). 

In short, the argument for the unalterable, just punishment for the greater offense (apostasy) grounds itself on the unalterable, just punishment for the lesser offense (violation of the civil sanctions); since the justice of the civil sanctions are unalterable, how much more unalterable is the justice for committing apostasy.[14]  Therefore, the justice and abiding validity of the O.T. civil sanctions remain in force. 

To deny the abiding validity of the civil sanctions (the lesser) is to destroy the foundation that the greater builds itself on.  This is because if the sanctions no longer apply, then they have no abiding justice.  If they have no abiding justice, then the justice for apostasy (hell) may likewise be mitigated—which is an unacceptable interpretation, in light of the full counsel of God.[15] 

Similar to Hebrews 2:2-3a, Hebrews 10:28, 29 is also an a fortiori argument establishing the abiding validity of the O.T. civil code:

Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

The greater, apostasy (“the one who has spurned the Son of God …”), justly deserves eternal punishment, with no hope of escaping it (“How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved”).  This builds on the foundation of the lesser—the violation of O.T. civil sanctions (“Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses”) justly deserves temporal punishment, with no hope of escape (“dies without mercy”).   And so here again, the lesser-to-the-greater argument demands the O.T. civil code’s abiding validity. [16]

Indeed, consider the statement “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God.”  Since all who apostatize deserve “much worse punishment” than for violating the law of Moses, then logically all who violate the law of Moses deserve to be punished as well. 

After all, that something deserves less punishment than another doesn’t mean that the lesser punishment should not be enforced—it simply means it deserves less punishment relative to the greater punishment.  A man who commits theft deserves to be punished, only to a lesser degree than a man who commits murder.  We could say that if a thief deserves to be punished, how much more does a murderer.
Indeed, since Hebrews 10:28, 29 applies to all who apostatize, then it applies to Jew and Gentile alike—which means the O. T. civil code as well applies to Jew and Gentile alike, since, again, the justice for all who apostasize assumes the validity of the lesser justice for all who reject the O. T. civil code.  Not only this, but the word “dies” indicates the O.T. civil code’s validity in the New Covenant-era:

For our present purpose, the integrity of the Law and its continuance … seems to be underscored by the use of the present tense: “Anyone who has rejected Moses’s law … dies.” Dies here is apothneskei, which is a present indicative verb and of which Vincent writes: “Lit. dieth. According to the ordinance as it now stands in the law.”  Westcott notes of this verb: “The Law is valid and effective.” The clear impression here is that the writer considers the Law still binding (even if not capable of enforcement under Rome).[17]

The Apostle Paul takes for granted the abiding validity of non-ceremonial judicial laws when he states in 1 Corinthians 9:9a: “For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’”  This in and of itself logically implies that the moral judicial law for civil government remains in force. 

Moreover, why would judicial laws for the occupation of farmers (such as in 1 Cor. 9:9) remain in effect but not judicial laws for the occupation of civil rulers?  Just as farming is still a legitimate occupation, so is being a civil ruler. Moreover, unlike the occupation of priest (which was tied to the ceremonial law), the occupation of civil ruler has not been abrogated in the New Covenant era (Rom. 13:1-7).

As a church, Christians are obligated to uphold the O.T. civil laws, because the church is Israel (Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6-8; Phil. 3:3; Gal. 3:7; 28, 29; 4:24-29; 6:16; cf. Eph. 2:14, 15).  “This Church is one with the Jewish forefathers, being grafted into the Abrahamic root and partaking of its sap (Rom. 11:17-18).”[18]

The N.T. church is under a new covenant, but a new covenant is not the same as a new law.  The following Scripture, looking forward to the New Covenant era, states, But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33; cf. Ezek. 11:19, 20).  Given that this was written in O.T. times, the moral law revealed to the Israelites is the law that would be internalized by Christians in the New Covenant era (“I will put my law within them”).  This includes the moral civil laws, which are part of the moral law in general.  Thus the church must uphold the O.T. civil code by teaching its abiding validity and holding the state accountable for enforcing it. 

Finally, Christians are required to be holy in all their conduct (1 Peter 1:15), since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:16).  This New Testament passage quotes from Leviticus, where similar terminology is used in the context of citing laws that include civil laws (Lev. 19:2; 20:7; 26).  Thus if Christians want to be holy in all their conduct, then Christian civil rulers need a holy standard of conduct, and, as the book of Leviticus demonstrates, the O.T. civil code provides that standard.  

     [1]But I think the original does not necessarily imply the murder of a father or of a mother; patralwav comes from patera, a father, and aloiaw, to strike, and may mean simply beating or striking a father or mother: this is horrible enough; but to murder a parent out-herods Herod.” Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary.  Retrieved July 28, 2010, from [Disclaimer: we reject Clarke's Arminian theology.]
     [2] Gary North, Hierarchy and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on First Timothy (Harrisonburg, VA: Dominion Educational Ministries, Inc., 2006), 43.
     [3] Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.,, e-mail message to author, March 29, 2008.  
     [4] North, Hierarchy and Dominion, 43.
     [5] Ibid. 
     [6] James R. Willson, The Sabbath: A Discourse on the Duty of Civil Government in Relation to the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day (Newburgh: Parmenter and Spalding, 1829).  Retrieved April 19, 2010, from [Disclaimer: we reject the Steelite doctrine promoted by the RPC, which runs this website.]
     [7] Ibid.
     [8] Bahnsen, By This Standard, 202.
     [9] Ibid.
     [10] Daniel F. N. Ritchie, e-mail message to author, July 26, 2009.
     [11] Ibid.
     [12] Ibid.
     [13] Michael H. Warren, Jr., e-mail message to author, April 3, 2010.  
     [14] An a fortiori argument in Hebrews that most explicitly shows the lesser existing alongside the greater is found in Hebrews 12:25, 26, which reads, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’”  Notice how the greater, the warning from heaven (“but also the heavens”) exists alongside the lesser, the warning on earth (“not only the earth’). 
     In Matthew 12:11, 12, Christ argues from the lesser to the greater to show how much more valuable people are than animals: “He said to them, ‘Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’”  That animals are less valuable than people does not mean animals should be neglected, but only that people are to be given greater priority than animals. 
     [15] One might argue that since the a fortiori argument in Hebrews 9:13, 14 deals with replacing animal sacrifices, then the a fortiori arguments in Heb. 2 and 10 deals with replacing the O.T. civil code.  We deal with this argument in Appendix B.
     [16] For more on how the a fortiori arguments in Hebrews demonstrate the O. T. civil code’s abiding validity, see Greg L. Bahnsen, No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991) 179, 180.
     [17] Gentry, “Church Sanctions,” in Theonomy: An Informed Response, ed. Gary North, 185, 186.  Citations from Vincent, Word Studies, 4:504, and Westcott, Hebrews, 332.
     [18] Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., House Divided: The Break-up of Dispensational Theology (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1997), 169.
     This is not to deny that God has a plan for the Jewish people, but the plan is neither a different plan of salvation, nor a reconstitution of the sacrificial system.  The plan is for the Jewish people to someday be (re)grafted into the church.  See Romans 11:11-24.  

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