A First Look at Theonomy and the Bible

Patriarchy stands on the shoulders of theonomy. I propose here to show that patriarchy is not biblical because theonomy is not biblical. Let’s go straight to God’s Word to find out.

John 8:31-32 “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’”

Jesus is saying that we can know the truth by abiding in Jesus‘ word, and that the truth of His word will make us free.

Whenever we look at what Scripture has to say about a subject, we should strive, it at all possible, to use both biblical terms and biblical definitions. While we all know that the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible, we understand clearly that the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly laid out there, so we use a word that is not from Scripture. However, when the Bible does use certain terms, we ought to use them also. When we looked at patriarchy’s position on theonomy, we used their definitions. One theonomist has a favorite saying, “He who defines, wins.” Since we are in favor of the Bible winning on its own terms, let’s let our terms and definitions come from Scripture itself.

The first word we want to look at is “covenant.” Now, they did not use this word in the movie, “In Defense of God’s Law,” but remember that we are going to use the Biblical terms here. Some readers here have questioned patriarchy’s various uses of the word “covenant,” such as when it was used in conjunction with Jamestown earlier this year. Let’s go to Scripture first. The first time God uses the word “covenant” is in Genesis 6, when God establishes a covenant first with Noah and his family, and subsequently with all of creation, that He will preserve the earth from being destroyed by a flood. This is commonly called the Noahic covenant and it applies to all people and every living creature and only God promises to do something here. The sign for this covenant was the rainbow. God clearly tells us that the rainbow is the sign of the covenant and that the sign is there to remember this covenant.

The next covenant we see in Scripture is that which God made with Abram, beginning in Genesis 15 and fleshed out in chapter 17. God promises Abram that he will make his name great, that he will give him a descendant from whom a great nation would arise, and give them a certain portion of land for their own. Abram was not required to do anything in this covenant and it applied to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribes of Israel. In both of these covenants, God is the One making promises unconditionally. The sign of this covenant was circumcision. I’ll bet that sign reminded them often of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants.

The next covenant we see with God is in Exodus 19 after God has graciously redeemed Israel from being slaves to the Egyptians and He takes them to Mt. Sinai to give them His covenant. The Lord begins this covenant with an if/then construct: “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people.” This covenant is a conditional covenant requiring obedience. They had to work for the blessing, although they never fulfilled their part. And who was this covenant with?

Deut. 5:1-3 “And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb [Sinai]. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.

Over and over again, the Bible makes it clear that this covenant was made with Israel and no one else. As such, this covenant with Israel had a specific beginning point: at Mt. Sinai.

A covenant is a legal agreement whereby both parties agree to something, with the terms of the covenant often being written down. Such is the case with the Mosaic covenant. This legal covenant was made between the Lord and the nation of Israel. How do we know it was legal? It not only contained laws (some say 613 of them), as we all agree, but there were penalties, which made it legally enforceable. If the speed limit sign on the freeway said “65 mph,” but there were no penalties if you drove over the speed limit, then it would not be legally binding on you. It would not really be a law anymore, but just a good suggestion. The Mosaic covenant, that covenant God made with Israel, was legally binding on them in that not only were they promised blessings if they obeyed, but they were promised curses if they disobeyed as well.

Deut. 28:1-2 “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:” and he lists a whole bunch of blessings that they will receive if they obey.

Deut. 28:15 “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:” and he lists a ton of curses that will come upon if they don’t obey.

Obey and be blessed and live. Disobey and be cursed and die. Those were the terms of the covenant God made with Israel, a works-based, legal covenant. They would have to work hard for those blessings, but in reality, they could never work hard enough. Their side of the covenant was impossible to fulfill.

But what exactly was that covenant? Again, let’s let the Bible spell it out for us.

Ex. 34:27-28 “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are the words of the Mosaic covenant? Let’s check some more Scripture to make sure.

Deut. 4:13 “So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.”

The Ten Commandments are the essence of the covenant of Moses, that covenant given only to Israel. The term “Ten Commandments” is only used three times in all of Scripture and they are ALWAYS to be thought of both as a whole unit and as having a very intimate connection with the Mosaic covenant as a whole. They are the terms that represent the whole covenant. These two tablets of stone were the legally binding document of the whole Law, but they couldn’t be separated from the Law of Moses. Here’s the the third reference to the Ten Commandments:

Deut. 10:4 “He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me.”

Are the Ten Commandments then the sign of the Mosaic covenant? No. They are representative of the covenant. Let’s look at the sign of the Mosaic covenant:

Ex. 31:12-17 “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’”

The sign of the Mosaic covenant was the Sabbath. Every seventh day, the children of Israel were reminded of the covenant they had made with God. Notice here that these verses clearly indicate that the Sabbath was a sign between God and the children of Israel. It was not a sign between God and Adam, nor between God and the church.

The Mosaic covenant was also called the First Covenant:

Heb. 8:7 “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.”

How do we know what that first covenant is in this passage? The context tells us a few verses later:

Heb. 9:1-4 “Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant;”

Heb. 9:18-20 “Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.”

This covenant, however, was commonly known as “the Law” or “this Law.” Unless specifically designated otherwise (such as “the law of kindness”), “the law” or “this law,” as used nearly 400 times throughout Scripture, always refers to the whole Law of Moses, the First Covenant. Sometimes it is referred to as “this book of the law,” “the law of Moses” or “the law of God” as well. What we don’t find anywhere are “the moral law,” “the civil law,” or “the ceremonial law.” It is always one unified code of law — the law. Look at this passage of Scripture which gives several different names for the Law, the one unified code of Law — the Mosaic covenant:

Neh. 8 “and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel.
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding…
and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, …
Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; …
So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; …
For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.
Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law.
And they found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, …
Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God.”

Being inseparable from the Law of Moses, as the words of the covenant, we should also look at the other terms the Bible uses for the Ten Commandments:

Ex. 24:12 “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.”

Ex. 25:16 “And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you.”

Ex. 31:18 “And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.”
Ex. 34:28 “And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”

Deut. 9:9-11 “When I went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. Then the LORD delivered to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly. And it came to pass, at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.”

It is fascinating to me that God uses several varying terms for both the Mosaic covenant and the Ten Commandments, but “moral law,” “civil law” and “ceremonial law” are not any of those terms. We only find one unified code of law — the whole law of Moses — and the Ten Commandments, inextricably linked.

Now that we understand some of the various terms for the Mosaic covenant, the law of Moses given to the children of Israel, we can see that this covenant was not given to the Gentiles:

Rom. 2:14 “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves,

What was the purpose of the Law of Moses, that first covenant?

Rom. 5:13, 20 “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. … Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound.”

Gal. 3:19, 24 “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, … Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

I Tim. 1:9, 10 “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,”

Notice first the use of the term “the law” in all these passages, which clearly indicates the Law of Moses, one unified code of law. The purpose of the Law of Moses was not for moral reasons, but to show us how wicked we are, that we cannot possibly keep the Law and that we have need of a Savior — to bring us to Christ. The Law did not show us God’s grace; it showed us our desperate need of God’s grace.

Let’s go on to the next major covenant that we need to cover — the New Covenant, the covenant of grace. It was first predicted:

Jer. 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—”

And then fulfilled:

Heb. 8:8, 13 “He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—’ … In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete.”

We will look at the terms a bit later, but let’s look at the sign of this covenant:

I Cor. 11:23-26 “that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”

Although this passage does not use the word “sign,” we can see that the objective of the sign is present: to remember the covenant. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it is to remind us of the New Covenant, that covenant of grace.

Although this is intended to be just a very brief overview of what God says about the Law, I think it would be best for me to stop here now and continue in a day or two. Consider the terms the Bible uses so far and in the next article, we will see what happened to the old covenant in comparison to the New Covenant.

(Thanks to Mike for teaching me these things. Anything I mess up is entirely my own fault!)

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12 Responses to “A First Look at Theonomy and the Bible”

  1. Lin Says:

    “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’

    Can you imagine the shock they must have felt when He announced the NEW Covenant. The one they had read about in the scriptures and had been waiting for?

    Your post made me think of this verse:

    2 Corinthians 3

    5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

  2. Mark Epstein Says:

    Jen,

    In 1 Timothy 1:10 we see this delineation: “…for liars, for perjurers…”

    This makes it very clear that even if one subscribes to the belief that the First Covenant (the Ten Commandments) is currently applicable, the Ninth Commandment covers perjury only (testifying falsely in court). Thus, theonomists’ assertion that defamation is a violation of the Law is obviously far fetched.

    Yes, this contradicts the Westminster Confession and Calvin’s writings on the subject, but when we read the Word of God we find that the man-made Confession and Calvin don’t pass muster.

    Great job on allowing God’s perfect Word to speak for itself!

  3. Hutch Says:

    Lin-

    Excellent verse and point made. The language in 2 Corinthians 3:6 indicates that through Christ, God made us adequate or competent to serve as ministers of a new covenant. The context of the surrounding scriptures and the structure of verse 6 tells us that those who adheres to Old Covenant Law-Keeping can not even serve God as they are still inadequate or incompetent. The Old Covenant was not evil or bad, the New Covenant as scripture testifies is just far better!

    Hutch

  4. Morgan Farmer Says:

    In the OT the Law (ceremonial/sacrificial/moral/tort) was the mediator between God and man, in the New covenant, Jesus is the mediator between God and man.

    Its not rocket science. It is what is is…people have made such a mess out of something so simple.

  5. Cindy Kunsman Says:

    Mark Epstein wrote: This makes it very clear that even if one subscribes to the belief that the First Covenant (the Ten Commandments) is currently applicable, the Ninth Commandment covers perjury only (testifying falsely in court). Thus, theonomists’ assertion that defamation is a violation of the Law is obviously far fetched.

    Yes, this contradicts the Westminster Confession and Calvin’s writings on the subject, but when we read the Word of God we find that the man-made Confession and Calvin don’t pass muster.

    As I’ve recently been charged with vile gossip concerning similar matters, I’ve discussed this at some length with several this week. Two themes emerged repeatedly: INTENT and TRUTH

    In discussing heresy, Harold Brown (who mentions Howard Phillips in the acknowledgements, BTW) says that the intent of the person plays a significant role in the development of heresy. For instance, in regard to the Trinity, Iranaeus was grounded in his commitment to the historical Christ in the Scripture in formulating his doctrine of God. His strong Christology (that about which we know most) may not have provided definitive answers about the specifics of the relationships within the co-eternal Persons, but it surely kept him from heresy as he was devoted to what we know definitively.

    Can we say the same thing about discussing pertinent information about clergy or teachers, those who are held to the highest standard within the body of Christ? If our intent is to point out facts about the critical deficiencies in a minister or ideology and not done out of some carnal desire, does the declaration of such information constitute false witness or gossip?

    False information is rarely conveyed in a public or an “equal access” forum. It’s whispered in private and the people that knowingly twist truth don’t generally take responsibility for the information. This seems to me to demonstrate honesty, and at the very least, accountability. People tend not to make themselves accountable when they lie.

    Also, for instance, consider a pastor interprets I Tim 2 with all litigiousness, demanding rigid interpretations concerning women, but then fails to personally own up to the same level of interpretation concerning elders and deacons in I Tim 3. Is that gossip if is a matter of ecclesial standard? What about a pastor who operates like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, declaring that people “will pay” over matters of personal choice versus his sarcedotalism? Not all exposure is a personal matter but a matter of demonstrating the character of those in question. That is an eccesial matter.

    The other factor that plays into this is truth. If the information is not false or misrepresented, is that a false wittness or gossip? For the person under scrutiny, it may seem to be a matter of gossip, but to the person who is currently struggling or the subject of deception and legalism, it is God’s working of deliverance.

    Calumny is a separate issue from bearing false witness when that which appears to be calumny is true. The writings of men, hopefully demonstrating the full counsel of the Word, want to stress concerns about speaking that which is good to the use of edifying to the whole body. I don’t think that any of these men would support spiritual abuse, however.

  6. Cindy Kunsman Says:

    I’m haunted by Lin’s citation of II Cor 3:6: The letter brings death and the Spirit imparts life.

    What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, Christ did for us. Through the Spirit, in Christ, the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us.

    This is why I am so confused over all this obsession with the law. Then there are pockets of people who are obsessed with Adam, as if the goal of regeneration is to get back to Adam’s pre-sin state by means of the Second One. All we get out of the Adam and the law and the pursuits of the law for justification is death. Why not follow the Spirit and see the fulfillment of the law by walking after the Spirit.

    The law can only bring us to death, but the Spirit imparts life and peace. Praise Him that He offers of life and peace, by the laying down of his own life, condemning sin in the flesh that we might know the righteousness of God in Christ.

  7. Lin Says:

    “Also, for instance, consider a pastor interprets I Tim 2 with all litigiousness, demanding rigid interpretations concerning women, but then fails to personally own up to the same level of interpretation concerning elders and deacons in I Tim 3. Is that gossip if is a matter of ecclesial standard?”

    In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about orderly worship. One thing he says is this:

    29Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

    “Let the others wiegh what is said”.

    I read this over and over and wonder where we got our tradition of ONE man preaching. Error and/or hypocrisy would have been easier to catch and deal with quickly in this environment.

    Does anyone else have these thoughts, but me???

  8. Jen Says:

    Lin, I will have to say that one of the things I liked most about my church was the discussion of the men after the sermon. It was designed specifically to “weigh” what had just been presented. For the first four years, that one-hour discussion time was truly questioning the sermon and lining it up with Scripture. However, as the congregation grew smaller and more oriented toward Patriarchy’s vision, that discussion time devolved into a “pat each other on the back” time. But, originally, I felt that was an excellent way to handle the issue.

    There is another church whose sermons I listen to on my iPod and they take questions all throughout the sermon, making sure they never lose anyone along the way. (It seems to be a very conservative church, but they let women ask questions, too!)

  9. Cindy Kunsman Says:

    OOoohh!
    I forgot this:

    Jen wrote: Theonomists have a favorite saying, “He who defines, wins.” Since we are in favor of the Bible winning on its own terms, let’s let our terms and definitions come from Scripture itself.

    He who defines, wins? Is that to say he who “redefines” wins? Is that the purpose of all the modifiers of Biblical this and that?

    Federal Vision redefined justification, sanctification and imputation, but it ultimately didn’t help them.

  10. Jo Says:

    Hey Jen,
    Thanks for posting! It really made me stop and think…
    I really like your straight-forward manner of writing. It makes for easy reading and comprehension. May Christ be with you as you and your family recover from your ordeal. Above all, please allow me to encourage you as a fellow sister in Christ, that God hand-picked you for this trial, and is using you mightily!
    Peace,
    – Jo
    http://followtheroadlesstraveled.blogspot.com

  11. sadparent Says:

    This was good. Thank you.

  12. David M Zuniga, PE Says:

    Thanks, Mike, for another excellent teaching.

    Thanks, Jen, for transmitting it to a larger part of the body.


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