Monday, June 8, 2009

A Refutation of Theonomy Part 3

A Refutation of the Theological Arguments used to support Theonomy

This is my third post on refuting theonomy. In this post I plan to take a look at one of the strongest arguments in favor of the theonomic position. This argument is more of a systematic/philosophical argument than a textual argument. I believe if this line of argumentation were valid and sound then we would have good reason for accepting theonomy. However, I will argue that this line of argumentation is not sound and thus we have no good reason for accepting it.

The argument goes something like this:

P1: If theonomic principle were false then we could not know that an action x is ethically wrong.

P2: Action x is ethically wrong

C: Hence, the theonomic principle is true

The theonomic principle used in this argument is this: We ought to assume that all of the laws in the Mosaic covenant carry over into the New Covenant of Grace unless it is abrogated or done away with in the New Covenant. The essence of the argumentation here is that the new covenant laws alone are insufficient given a reasonable Christian conception of ethics. The example that Greg L. Bahnsen, the champion of theonomy, famously gave was this: If theonomy were false then you could not ethically condemn bestiality (inappropriate sexual relations with a animal), but Christians seem to know that bestiality is wrong, therefore, theonomy is the way we know bestiality is ethically wrong attesting to the fact that theonomy is true.

In response to this argument: I would suggest that the person who does not embrace theonomy ought to reject premise 1. We can know that actions are wrong apart from the written moral law and the Bible attests to this fact (Rom. 1:32; 2:14-15). In Christian theology, the view point that we can know moral truths apart from the written word is called natural law. In natural law we can simply see which actions are morally right and which actions are morally wrong. We may at times suppress this intuition, but we know it nonetheless.

The Biblical support for this view point as I have mentioned previously is Romans 2:14-15:

Romans 2:14-15 "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them."

The Gentiles who do not have the Law of Moses like the Jews still know what actions are right or wrong, as this passage teaches clearly.

Therefore, the new covenant Christian can say that he knows that bestiality is wrong on the basis of the natural law and this need not be affirmed explicitly in the New Testament but rather implicitly through the new testaments teaching on natural law. The inference pattern would look like this:

P1: I can only know a moral action x is wrong by what the Bible teaches either explicitly or implicitly through necessary inference

P2: The Bible teaches that we can know moral truths apart from the Bible through the revealed law given to the conscious of men

P3: It has been revealed to my conscious that an action x is wrong

C: Hence, I know that an action x is ethically wrong.

Natural Law gets us out of this theonomic argument. However, it seems to me that natural law itself can also give us an argument against theonomy. This argument in a sense turns the tables on the argument used to support theonomy. The thing that motivates the first argument is the rejection of natural law, but I will argue this theonomic rejection of natural law leads the theonomist to the position that they cannot know certain ethically wrong actions. The argument goes like this:

P1: A rejection of natural law entails that one cannot know that an action x is ethically wrong

P2: We know that an action x is ethically wrong

P3: A position that entails a rejection of natural law is false (from 2)

P4: The Theonomic position rejects natural law

C: Hence, the Theonomic position is false (from 2, 3, and 4)

One of the essential tenets of theonomic position is a rejection of natural law and so this argument proves that natural law has to be true in order for us to know certain moral truths. This entails that the theonomic position is then false because of it’s rejection of natural law. The sort of moral truths that we know through natural law but do not appear on the pages of scripture are things like inappropriate sexual relations with inanimate objects and having impure sexual thoughts about cartoon pornography. These things are obvious moral abominations, but we do not find them referenced as ethically wrong in the Bible. You could say that we know them through the Bible through a necessary inference from natural law (which is taught in the Bible). But you cannot find them referenced as morally wrong actions in the Old and New Testament. Therefore, on the theonomic principle you could not know that it is wrong to look at cartoon pornography or having inappropriate sexual relations with inanimate objects. And clearly this is absurd because these sorts of actions are clearly wrong in the eyes of God.


I will conclude that the main theological argument that theonomy offers is not sound given a robust understanding of natural law as revealed in God’s word and if this theological argument was consistently pursued by the theonomy it would also disprove theonomy.


  1. How do you refute the person practicing bestiality who says, "It has been revealed to my consciousness that bestiality is morally right" on the basis of natural law?

  2. Hello Ed,

    Good question. If someone has a basic assumption that is obvious false there is really nothing you can do apart from saying that you think they are wrong and that you disagree with them. What do you do with the guy who thinks that murdering babies for no reason is morally praiseworhty? You could say: take him to the Bible but whenever you do he reads the text thou shalt not murder as this: Murder as many babies for no reason as you possible can. You can also appeal to natural law as well, but if the person is stubborn, dishonest, or insane there is simply nothing you can do. It is like dealing with a crazy person that think that 1+1=46 and that every time he see's a glass of wine he insists that the glass of wine is really a giant angry tiger. How do you refute such a person? It's hard to see--all you can say is "you need help" or "look and see how such and such is not the case". All this to say if a person does not share in fundamental assumptions and a sufficiently similar common ground no arguments or refutation can ever be made. In fact some people do not even believe in arguments or reasons to come to truth in which case you would not be able to argue with them. We know they are lying and crazy because all men know God and know what is right and wrong (Rom. 1:18-25, 32) but if they are truly sinful and darkened beyond the point of reason there is really nothing you can do but pray and hope for them. Thank you for your insightful question.

    God Bless,