Theonomy and Straw Men

The most strident criticism of Theonomy is based on straw men and erroneous readings of the Old Testament.

Theonomy has been mischaracterized in modern evangelicalism, mostly because people accept short retorts as truth.  Actually, if you want to see the compassion and mercy of God, the Old Testament is a better place to go than observing what is going on in America today under the laws of Secular Pluralism.  I’ll take God’s law any day. 

 

The most strident criticism of Theonomy is based on straw men (erroneous readings of the Old Testament). This is the problem with Rev. Dewey Roberts as he lists three objections to the Old Testament law in his article A Reply to “A Rejoinder to Theonomy, Bahnsen, and the Federal Vision.”

Note first that the writer to the Hebrews had no problem with God’s law and God’s penalties in the Old Testament when he said that “every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty (Heb. 2:2).”  In order to discredit the Old Testament civil law, false scenarios are created that prejudice the argument without further study of the context.

For example, we hear that God demanded the stoning of children who simply cursed their parents (Ex. 21:17).  This would be horrible indeed if it were true.  However, it is not true.  In Deut. 21: 18-21, we are given details.  The child is an adult who is a drunkard, a glutton, and guilty of contumacy.  He is a danger to every woman and child in his community.  It is interesting to note that Jesus affirmed this law and its penalty in Mt. 15:4 as an argument against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Contrary to popular rumor, theonomists do not promote the stoning of children by their parents.

It is mentioned that masters who kill their slaves are exempt from capital punishment.  Again, the text (Ex. 21: 20-21) says nothing of the sort.  “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.”  The penalty against the slave owner is referred to as “vengeance” in verse 21.  Most likely the law of lex telionis would be applied here.

For anyone who spends much time in the Old Testament, it is obvious from many Old Testament texts that in God’s administration of his law, all the circumstances surrounding an incident must first be considered. This is clear in regard to the death penalty for gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Ex 35.2).  Further study of the Old Testament reveals in Numbers 15:32-36 that in an actual case, the Israelites did not immediately execute the guilty party.  They put him “in custody” until Moses could make a judgment after considering all the evidence relating to the offense.  This person was not some innocent Israelite who just made a mistake or misjudgment.  Most likely he was defiant and insubordinate. He waved his fist in the face of God and desecrated the sign of the covenant (Ex. 31:16).  If he did not die, then his hatred might spread to all of Israel and the whole nation would be destroyed.  “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Gal 5:9).

Theonomy has been mischaracterized in modern evangelicalism, mostly because people accept short retorts as truth.  Actually, if you want to see the compassion and mercy of God, the Old Testament is a better place to go than observing what is going on in America today under the laws of Secular Pluralism.  I’ll take God’s law any day.

Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.