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Theonomy: A Debate Round Three Argument against Theonomy

By Brad Finkbeiner
Published May 2, 2008

Mosaic Formulations?

Rogers planted several straw men throughout his rebuttals. Here is one of the more disturbing ones: “My opponent claims that Paul did not use the Mosaic formulations of the moral law.” That is not what I said. I claimed that Paul’s flocks were not “fed” the formal laws of Moses. I challenge the audience to read through Paul’s epistles with an eye to his mode of ethical exhortation. You will find not only a lack of appeals to the OL as our model of sanctification, but also a preponderance of appeals to Christlike character. This is exactly what we should expect if my thesis is true.

Paul’s Citation of Deuteronomy 25:4

If Paul believed that the Law was abolished, then his citation cannot be taken as implying that it is still binding. We must allow Paul’s clear and extensive teaching about the Law control our understanding of his citations of the Law. So how do we explain 1 Cor 9:9?

Paul had Timothy circumcised. Does that mean Paul considered circumcision binding? We deny that inference because the context reveals this to have been an act of condescension. A similar contextual qualification needs to be made here.

The Corinthian church was notoriously immature—“you are still fleshly” (1 Cor 3:1-3). Paul’s frustration with them is evident throughout the epistle, including the immediate context. He is here vindicating his right to acquire a living from the gospel. Significantly, his initial argument is grounded on principles of common sense. He asks: “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” (7). That Paul could establish this point by common moral sense shows that he did not even need the Law. The Law was brought in merely by way of confirmation. Interestingly, Paul’s ultimate justification was Jesus’ own command (14).

Why Bahnsen?

Rogers took issue with me referencing Greg Bahnsen. But I did so for good reason. I relied on Bahnsen’s argumentation because Rogers did not use his opening to provide me with his own. I chose Bahnsen because he was the most capable defender of Theonomic essentials.1 Yet I can hardly be accused of critiquing Bahnsen’s strand of Theonomy when I have criticized only a few of his influential arguments, arguments that Rogers himself keeps using.

To Bind or Not to Bind: That is Still the Question

In the last round Rogers wrote: “There is no argument between a traditional Reformed view and a Reconstructionist view on whether the ceremonial law is binding today.” This suggestion that both camps consider the ceremonial laws abrogated is simply false. If one does not believe that some laws are binding [“not binding” = “abrogated” or “abolished”] they are not Theonomic.

As did Bahnsen, Rogers says: “The underlying truths of these dietary and ceremonial laws still stand, but the way in which they are fulfilled has changed.” Unlike Rogers, however, Bahnsen argued that these laws were still binding; the alteration did not constitute an abrogation. The strength of Bahnsen’s thesis against the standard Reformed view was his refusal to arbitrarily select which of the laws are still binding. Hence Rogers’ rejection (?) of Bahnsen’s view is subject to the same criticisms leveled against non-Theonomists, i.e., those who insist that only some laws are still binding.

My inability to pin Rogers down stems from the genuinely contradictory nature of his position. He waxes Theonomic in one sentence and Reformed in the next. For example, he says that “Jesus in no way abolished the Law.” But then, only several lines later, he states that “the sacrificial system of the blood animals was abolished” and that “Theonomists teach that there are portions of the Old Testament Law that have been changed or nullified.” “Abolished”? “Nullified”? Rogers needs to make up his mind. Are we bound to every jot and tittle or not?

In his opening, Rogers wrote that because the NT “has rescinded certain aspects of the Mosaic Law we do not want to return to OT Law in its entirety”(italics mine). How can Rogers say this? Shortly thereafter he quotes Jesus’ assertion “one jot and tittle shall in no wise pass from the law…” as proof for Theonomy. But Jesus’ claim meant precisely that the OT law in its entirety was still binding, i.e., in “exhaustive detail,” to use Theonomic parlance.

“Underlying Principles”: The Theonomic Sophism

Do Theonomists literally observe the “exhaustive details” of the Law? Let’s consider the manner of observation required by Jesus’ principle as it applies to the following (cultic? civil?) laws:

(1) “anything that does not have fins and scales you shall not eat.” (Deut 10:10)

(2) “you shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed” (22:9)

(3) “you shall not plow with an ox or a donkey together” (22:10)

(4) “you shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen mixed together” (22:11)

(5) “you shall make for yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself” (22:12).

Taking the first example, Jesus’ “jot and tittle” criterion prohibited an Israelite from picking up an eel, putting it in his mouth, chewing the thing and swallowing it. The other four laws likewise prohibited very definite forms of behavior. But do Theonomists heed them? Well, somehow, someway, Theonomists assure us that they are fulfilling these laws through Christ. To use Bahnsen’s representative terms, we are to “observe” these laws but in a different “way” or “manner.” Through Christ, according to these thinkers, an eel eating Christian fulfills the law against eating fish without scales, but in a different way or manner. But in what way? In what manner? Surely it is not the manner entailed by Christ’s criterion; it is certainly not the exhaustive details they are observing when they eat literal fish without literal scales!

Theonomists try avoiding this conclusion by the mind-numbing claim that we are only obligated to fulfill the “intention” or “underlying principle” of the Law. But what does that mean? Are we to observe the intention of the exhaustive details but not the details themselves, or are we to observe the exhaustive details of every intention of the exhaustive details? The former option would contradict the Theonomic thesis and the latter would perplex the subtlest of thinkers.

I honestly don’t know what Theonomists have in mind when they make these sophistic claims, but had Jesus been thinking of anything other than the literal, detailed requirements of each law, the “every jot and title” phrase would have been the last one He chose!

In saying that we are to observe those requirements in another “way” or “manner,” Theonomist are clearly violating Jesus’ criterion. If they are comfortable with this problem then I can do nothing about it. But they ought not expect a reasonable person to share their contentment.

Natural & Civil Laws

There is simply no way around Paul’s teaching that Gentiles were ignorant of the physical, Mosaic code. The giving of the OL was historically and spatially restricted to the nation of Israel. But since portions of the OL encoded Natural Law (NL), and since the Gentiles knew NL, it follows that they shared in Israel’s moral knowledge.

Theonomists rightly note that the Gentiles are condemned for transgressing God’s moral will. Strangely enough, this fact leads them to conclude that Gentiles were bound to the OL. But this leap in logic ignores Pauline NL. Gentiles are subject to the NL governing all men in every state during every period of history. I am bound by NL to refrain from adultery whether I am in the US or in Mexico—regardless of whether it is legal there. If a state happens to prohibit what NL prohibits, it is not the civil law that ultimately binds me but NL.

Rogers’ discussion of the Pauline doctrine of NL is a bit confused. He was correct to speak of it as an “inherent…sense of good and evil.” But then he made the Stoic\Scholastic point that it was “derived…from the principles of reason.” These are two different theories of natural law. Pauline NL is not a mediate, syllogistic knowledge; it is rather an immediate, intuitive knowledge—i.e., the dictates of conscience. Were it derived from principles of reason—i.e., moral axioms and deductive inferences—then Rogers’ disparagement of it would be justifiable. I never suggested (as Rogers apparently thinks) that we can “take the idea of natural revelation and try to build a system of natural law or a natural theology out of it.” I also reject that (traditional) natural law theory as philosophically unsound.

Rogers claim that “Natural law is further distinguished from natural revelation” is false if he is thinking about Pauline NL; conscience is a form of natural revelation.

Rogers’ statement “Natural revelation” (Romans 1:18-21) does not prohibit pagan societies from participating in perversion” is categorically false. If conscience did not prohibit such behavior, Paul’s argument would have been meaningless. Rogers went on to add: “In pagan societies, bestiality is often the norm and is even part of religious rites. Homosexuality, incest, bestiality, pedophilia, and many other perversions are considered ‘normal’ in non-Biblically based religions.” Rogers sounds like Montaigne and Locke here. From the fact that some men engaged in unusually perverse actions, these philosophers inferred that such men did not believe those actions were wrong. This argument against the reality of a universal conscience is grossly question begging. It ignores the fact that men do what they know ought not be done.

Rogers writes: “If we affirm the natural law view, we hold the idea that all people instinctively know right from wrong. But will the unconverted ever affirm that in the civil realm of life? Of course not! They will suppress the fact that they are immoral and will refuse to stand for God’s Law.” I agree. But if a sodomite is suppressing the testimony of his conscience, he will certainly suppress the OL “civil” prohibitions. Nor will adding a civil prohibition against sodomy enlighten a society to the wickedness of lusting after the same sex.

Rogers stated: “Detractors of Theonomy like to argue that the civil law and its sanctions were limited to Old Covenant Israel. A survey of the Law of Moses disproves this conjecture. [2] The Old Covenant commands that ‘aliens and sojourners’ in Israel, even those who were uncircumcised heathen, were bound to the civil law” (Lev. 24:22). Ouch…Rogers just shot himself in the foot. Yes, aliens and sojourners were bound to Israel’s Law—while “in Israel.” Aliens and sojourners came under the civil jurisdiction of Israel once they stepped within that jurisdiction. This is a commonsensical principle. As long as I am not in Mexico I am not bound to the Mexican civil code, but as soon as I cross her political borders—and Israel had distinct borders—I automatically become subject to her laws.

My Moral Meno Argument

Rogers writes: “My opponent asks a question: ‘If Scripture itself does not provide a sure guide for picking out the moral laws from among the 613 laws to be picked through, then ‘by what standard’ do we pick them out?’” Rogers then notes that scholars have been making such distinctions for eons. But he completely missed the point! I argued that if we can isolate which laws are “moral” (and Rogers insists we can) then we do not need those laws to know what is morally right and wrong! Rogers says: “Sometimes there is a difficulty in that there are both moral and ceremonial laws in a single passage of scripture. Then we must do some serious exegetical study to discern one from another.” Look, men can perform “serious exegetical study” until their faces turn blue, but unless they already know what actions are morally right and wrong, no amount of exegesis will help them to identify what laws require those actions.


[1] Had it not been for his authority—secured primarily in the field of apologetics—Theonomy would have hardly gained the adherents it has.

[2] I already gave a survey disproving Rogers’ conjecture. I strung together numerous texts indicating that Israel’s Law was NOT given to the Gentiles.

ROUND Jay Rogers Brad Finkbeiner
Opening Arguments proopening.htm conopening.htm
Round One pro1.htm con1.htm
Round Two pro2.htm con2.htm
Round Three pro3.htm con3.htm
Round Four pro4.htm con4.htm
Closing Arguments proclosing.htm conclosing.htm


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