Part 2: A Refutation of the arguments in favor of Theonomy
In my last post I offered positive biblical reasons for doubting Theonomy, so I thought it would be only fair to look at the biblical reasons that theonomist use to support their position and then to refute the theonomic view of those biblical texts.
In the next post I will deal with some theological arguments that theonomists give.
I will start with the most popular argument given by theonomists from Matthew 5:17, it reads:
"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.
Explanation: The theonomists wants to translated the Greek word *pleroo* as uphold or establish. Thus, the reading of this text would look something like this: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to uphold (pleroo) them. Thus, from this text the theonomists establishes the principle that we are to bring over the Mosaic laws unless they are abrogated in the New Covenant. The problem with this is that this Greek word throughout Matthews Gospel is not used in this way. In fact throughout Matthews Gospel "pleroo" consistently means brought to true meaning in the redemptive historical sense or prophetic fulfillment of some kind (Matt. 1:22;2:15;3:15;5:17;13:35;21:4;21:22). The theonomists has one good response to this sort of objection, they say that the word abolish followed by a "but" suggests a antithesis or a definite contrast and thus the only contrast to abolish is uphold or establish. The problem with this is that Jesus could not necessarily be saying something the opposite but merely something different. For example, If I say I did not come to eat dinner with you but I came to tell you a quick joke. Here we see that a "but" does not mean necessarily complete opposites, but rather indicating that you are simply doing something different (Thanks to Professor Steven M. Baugh for this Point). Jesus in Matthew 5:17 is doing something different than abolishing the law rather Jesus is bringing the law to eschatological completion, or to put it more simply: Jesus is fulfilling the law by bringing out it's true purpose and meaning. Thus, given the context of Matthews Gospel and a few other clarifications we see that there is no reason why we should take this passage the way the theonomists takes it especially when it contradicts clearer scripture (Heb. 8:13; 2 Cor. 3).
Hebrews 2:2-3 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard,
Explanation: Theonomists try to say that the argument being made here is that the Mosaic Law gave just punishments to the people under it then how much worse is the just punishment going to be if we disobey the New Covenant. The theonomists believes that if the non-theonomic view point were true then it would have to make nonsense out of the text in this specific fashion: The Mosaic covenant was only just for a little while and then it became abolished and failed to be just so then the punishment we will receive from the new covenant for disobeying it will also be abolished and fail to be just. The reason they think this is because they believe that the author is making an argument from the lesser to the greater. A argument like this looks something like this: If a lesser x is true then how much more is the greater y true. I want to start off saying that I agree with the theonomists that this verse is arguing from the lesser from the greater like Hebrews 10:26-30. However, I do believe that a non-theonomists can affirm this argument that the author of Hebrews is making without believing in theonomy. In the situation of the Mosaic covenant it was just to execute people for committing adultery and I think given those circumstances it will always be just. However, since we are in a different ethical circumstances of the new covenant our moral obligations are different. But that is fundamentally different from saying that the Mosaic covenant that God established in those circumstances were unjust. Rather what the non-theonomists ought to affirm is that they will always be just in those circumstances, but those circumstances will never obtain again because we are now under a new covenant and the old is faded away (Heb. 8:13).
Matthew 15:4-6: For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' 5 But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, 6 he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
Explanation: The theonomists wants to say that Jesus here is affirming the death penalty from a part of the Mosaic law. Even if this were true this would not prove the entire thesis of theonomy; which is that there is a presumed continuity between the new covenant and the Mosaic covenant. But suppose we were to forget about those two points, does this passage teach that Jesus is bringing over a part of the Mosaic law, specifically a law that says we ought to execute our children if they disobey us? All Jesus seems to be doing here is showing how the religious leaders are hypocritical and inconsistent with the Mosaic law they say they follow. Far from this being an endorsement of executing disobedient children this is more a condemnation on the religious leadership in Jesus' day.
Romans 3:31 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Explanation: Theonomists see this as support for Matthew 5:17 as being another reference to the idea that there is a presumed continuity between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant. However, the Greek word nomos does not mean the Mosaic law here since that is clearly abolished elsewhere in Paul (Rom. 6:14;2 Cor. 3). Rather, this verse in context is talking about how we as Christians should not just forget about following the law of God revealed in the New covenant because we have been justified by faith so now we should obey the law. This obedience to the law of God is a rule for sanctification that is produced by gratitude for what Christ has done for us. In Reformed theology this use of the law is called the third use. Paul is teaching the third use of the law rather than bringing the covenant of Moses into the covenant earned by Christ.
Romans 13:1-4 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.
Explanation: Theonomists see this passage as suggesting that there ought to be state laws that are right and wrong in order for the secular authorities to have been instituted by God and able to justly punish guilty individuals. They argue that the non-theonomists cannot offer a objective standard of right or wrong in the realm of the state so we therefore have to go to the law of Moses as our standard for how a state ought to function. The problem with this argument is that the non-theonomists do have a standard by which they can determine wrong or right state laws, this law is called natural law. Natural law is taught twice in the book of Romans (1:32;2:14). Natural law is the general law revealed to all humanity that enables them to know the difference between right or wrong. With this understanding of natural law we see that the theonomists has no argument to offer with this verse.
We have seen that the biblical arguments given for theonomy are altogether unconvincing and unreasonable. However, there are more theological arguments that theonomist offer that I will deal with in the next post.