Bounds of Love: Review, Part 3 – Weaknesses

  1. Bounds of Love – Review, Part 1: Summary
  2. Bounds of Love – Review, Part 2: Strengths
  3. Bounds of Love – Review, Part 3: Weaknesses
  4. Bounds of Love – Review, Part 4: Moving Forward

As discussed in the last post, Bounds of Love has numerous strengths. In this post I want to address some of its weaknesses. The_Bounds_of_Love_Cover_Print_v1_large

1 Tim 1:8-11

First up is McDurmon’s treatment of 1 Tim 1:8-11, which he appealed to in his debate as well (and Bahnsen also appealed to). McDurmon argues that because Paul is quoting from Mosaic civil law, “use the law lawfully” must therefore be referring to civil punishments.

So, what does 1 Timothy 1:3–11 reveal to us? Paul teaches that we should avoid aberrant views of the law, and instead seek to obey the administration of God. This administration involves the lawful use of the law. This lawful use applies outside of the church, includes civil government, and follows the statutes for civil government revealed in Mosaic Law. Finally, this use of the law is in sweet accord with the gospel itself. This is the distinctive teaching of Theonomy in a nutshell. As you can see, it is simply straight, biblical teaching.

But this simply begs the whole question. It’s a fallacious circular argument. Non-theonomists believe that Mosaic civil law explains and elaborates on the decalogue in order to clarify what sin is. The point of debate between theonomists and non-theonomists is whether the penal sanctions in those civil laws are just as eternal as the stipulations. Theonomists assume they are, so McDurmon assumes that when Paul quotes Mosaic civil law, he is necessarily including the penal sanctions – even though Paul says absolutely nothing about the penal sanctions. Thus to argue 1 Tim 1:8-11 proves theonomy because it quotes Mosaic civil laws is a circular argument. In this passage, to “use the law lawfully” is not limited to the civil use of the law, nor is it primarily a reference to it.

Reading Paul’s statement in that way makes no sense of the context. Paul was responding to teachers who used the law to devote themselves to myths, endless genealogies, and speculation. How would a reminder that the law has a civil use rebuke these men? It wouldn’t. That’s much too narrow of a reading. George W. Knight, III explains

The meaning of δίκαιος [righteous] here would seem to be determined in large measure by its place preceding and contrasting with a list of terms concerned with moral behavior. Therefore, the point of this section is to emphasize, against the would-be νομοδιδἀσκαλοι [law-teachers], that the law is given to deal with moral questions and not for speculation. The would-be νομοδιδἀσκαλοι [law-teachers] are not Judaizers like those of Galatians, since the PE [Pastoral Epistles] give no evidence of that, but rather those who deal with God’s law from the perspective of myths, genealogies, and disputes about it (v. 4; see Tit. 3:9). Thus Paul is saying that the law is not given to apply in some mystical way to people who are already “righteous,” i.e., those already seeking to conform to the law. It is, rather, given to deal with people who are specifically violating its sanctions and to warn them against their specific sins (as the list in vv. 9b–10 goes on to do).1

Paul is responding to men who interpreted the law without any reference to morality. Richard C. Barcellos helpfully elaborates:

Paul is referring to the law in an ethical sense, as it defines proper behavior for man. In the sense that the law defines proper behavior and rebukes those not in conformity to it, it is not for “a righteous person,” because that person is already conforming to it… The law, in this sense, is the standard for proper conduct as defined by God for all mankind, Christian or non-Christian. This lawful use of the law points out sin even in the Christian, defining sinful conduct as “contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel.”13 In other words, lawless living is antithetical to sound gospel doctrine…

Having considered Calvin’s three-fold use of the law, it is apparent that all three uses may be present in 1 Tim. 1:9–11. The law points out sin in believers and unbelievers, restrains civil evil and promotes civil righteousness, and functions as the basic rule of life for believers. It should be remembered that these uses of the law are in complete agreement with “sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel” (1 Tim. 1:10b–11).2

The passage is not teaching theonomy. It is establishing the law as a standard of morality. And Paul says not one word about penal sanctions. Barcellos’ paper does a great job of showing Paul’s particular choice of words, rather than being narrowly focused on civli use, is simply following the 10 commandments.

Paul follows both the content and order of the Decalogue from the 1st through the 9th commandments in this list of sinners who are living “contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel.” Knight concludes, and rightly so, “The order of the Decalogue seems, then, to give a satisfactory explanation of Paul’s list from [the ungodly] onward.”

1 Timothy 1:8-11 winds up supporting the non-thenomist view of Mosaic civil law. The general equity of Mosaic civil law is the decalogue. Paul is referencing Mosaic civil laws in order to demonstrate the sinfulness of those actions, rather than to demonstrate any particular point about civil law. In other words, as 2LBC 19.4 says “To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.”

Continuity & Discontinuity

The two common approaches to continuity and discontinuity in Mosaic law are represented by dispensationalists and presbyterians. Dispensationalists (and some New Covenant Theologians) argue that Christians are only obligated to obey the specific laws that are repeated in the New Testament. In contrast, presbyterians (and others) argue that Christians are obligated to obey whatever has not been repealed in the New Testament. McDurmon takes the latter approach.

But those are not the only two options. A more biblical approach is to recognize that the “Old Testament” includes more than just the Old Covenant. In particular, it includes the creation of the entire world with man in the image of God. It also includes other covenants, like the Noahic Covenant and the Adamic Covenant of Works. Thus, looking at continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testament strictly in terms of Mosaic law is flawed. Scripture is clear that the Mosaic (Old) Covenant is obsolete. It has ended. It has been abrogated. It no longer functions. The same is necessarily true of Mosaic law. God delivered various laws to Israel as the heart of the Mosaic Covenant. He did not deliver those laws on Mt. Sinai to the Egyptians or anyone other than the members of the Old Covenant. They functioned as the Old Covenant and when the Old Covenant ended, so did Mosaic law.

But Mt. Sinai is not the only place God delivered law. God also delivered law to Adam, and all mankind, innately within their heart at creation. This law was a reflection of His character, and thus is an eternal standard for all image bearers in every covenant. Therefore we find overlap between law that God delivered as the Old Covenant and law that God gave to all mankind (Romans 2:14-15). But it is overlap, not identity. Old Covenant law is not simply equivalent to the law of creation. It included the law of creation, but it also included various other laws that were particular to members of the Old Covenant. These are known as positive laws. We also find positive laws in the New Covenant, such as baptism, the Lord’s supper, and commands governing the church. They are not unchanging standards reflecting God’s character, but are changeable laws given at God’s pleasure.

So, should we assume that all Old Covenant law remains binding on Christians unless specific ones are repealed? No, because Christians are not under the Old Covenant3 and because the Old Covenant has been abrogated so all Old Covenant law is repealed.4 No one today is under Old Covenant law. Should we therefore assume that no Old Covenant law applies to Christians unless repeated in the New? No, because the New Testament teaches continuity between Old Covenant law and New Covenant law (Matt 5:17; Heb 8:10), rather than starting from scratch. Instead, we should assume both continuity and discontinuity. We should assume the Old Covenant contained law that overlaps with creation (what God wrote in stone with his finger) and law that was unique to the Old Covenant (what Moses wrote).5

Shifting Locus of Authority

A related point is McDurmon’s explanation of the changes to the cherem principle in the New Testament. McDurmon rightly notes that

Cherem is peculiar to the Old Testament administration because it functioned only in the context where God’s presence was in the physical temple/tabernacle, in the altar fire, the land itself was holy and was an agent of sanctions, and the inheritance of God’s covenant promises was through blood descent and external possession of the Holy Land. (50-51)

He then explains

This principle is obviously continued in the New Testament, but with the change in temple, priesthood, and land administration comes a transfer of the seat of judgment from the earthly land to the heavenly throne of Christ. God’s consuming fire is no longer on earth in an altar. It was removed. Thus, the same principle of apostasy can be declared in the New Testament, but the sanction is no longer by earthly civil government, it is from the throne of Christ. In light of the change from shadow to substance (Heb. 10:1), the book of Hebrews makes this change fairly clear:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26–29).

Keep in mind, the author was writing to Hebrews about the change from Old Covenant to New Covenant under Christ. The issue here would have been mass apostasy. The Hebrews who remained in unbelief after Christ would have been committing idolatry (false temple worship) and apostasy (denial that Christ had come in the flesh). Under the Mosaic administration, they would have been devoted to destruction (Ex. 22:20; Deut. 13; 17:2–5) by the civil government. The author of Hebrews acknowledges this. Yet he does not prescribe a cherem death penalty administered by the civil government. He prescribes an even worse judgment that will come from the throne of grace. This judgment fell, in history, in God’s providence, in A.D. 70, when Jerusalem was utterly destroyed in the greatest demonstration of cherem devotion to destruction ever. This was carried out by God Himself in history, not by human civil governments (although Rome was used as God’s providential agent).

With the New Covenant, therefore, the cherem principle is entirely changed. (54-55)

McDurmon’s instincts are in the right direction, but I think his point could use some refinement. I do believe that God judged Israel in A.D. 70, but I do not believe it was a New Covenant judgment. I do not believe it reflected any change in the cherem principle. I believe it was very specifically an Old Covenant judgment. The inhabitants of the land, the members of the Old Covenant, were judged for their unfaithfulness to the terms of the Old Covenant. The fact that Israel’s enemy carried out the judgment, rather than Israel’s civil government punishing itself, is not a suspension of Old Covenant curses and a transfer of the locus of authority, but a continuation of a pattern we saw throughout Israel’s history – this time with finality.

Hebrews 10:26-29 is rather speaking of eternal destruction. Apart from forgiveness found in Christ, Jews could only expect a fury of fire that will consume them forever. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was the ending of the Old Covenant. So while I agree that in the New Covenant the cherem principle is entirely changed, I do not believe Hebrews 10:26-29 demonstrates that. Other texts like 1 Corinthians 5:13 do.

General Equity

In our previous discussions of general equity (see here and here), we have explained that general equity refers to a principle behind particular Old Covenant laws that continues to be obligatory, even though the particular law does not. Richard Barcellos explains:

The equity that an old covenant judicial law might possess does not come from the particular old covenant judicial law itself. It is simply an application of moral/natural/universal law to Israel’s unique, covenantally conditioned national life. So, there may be principles in particular old covenant judicial laws that transcend the old covenant. But the temporary law does not establish what constitutes equity. It is a unique illustration/application of it. Hence, the equity predates and even transcends the old covenant.

In light of this, I previously explained that 1 Cor 5:13, where Paul quotes Deut 22:21 – a Mosaic civil law – and applies it to an ecclesiastical context, is an example of how the general equity of particular Mosaic civil laws continue to be binding for moral use. “The church is now considered holy, rather than any earthly kingdom. Thus unrepentant sin is not tolerated in the church and it must be purged.” Paul discerned an underlying principle behind the particular Mosaic civil law (sin is not permitted in a holy place) and applied that underlying principle to a different context as a New Covenant application of the Old Covenant law. This is exactly what McDurmon believes.

A rebellious, incorrigible son was therefore a threat. His wicked influence and legacy was to be permanently purged “from your midst” (21:21)… While the word cherem is not used here, the principle is the same. The evil son was devoted to destruction to prevent the Holy Land and Holy people from being defiled… With the New Covenant, therefore, the cherem principle is entirely changed. Its locus of authority has been removed from earth to heaven… The word to look for is anathema. This is the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word cherem in the Greek version of the Old Testament… It is clear that Paul is still applying [in 1 Cor 16:22 & Gal 1:8-9] the cherem/anathema principle in relation to First Table offenses, but the only sanction here is ecclesiastical. (55-58)

(Curiously, McDurmon does not mention 1 Cor 5:13 even though he said “purge the evil from your midst” is the same principle as cherem. I would certainly love to see McDurmon offer his thoughts on the passage with regards to the cherem principle in a blog post.)

So McDurmon agrees that Paul takes a principle found in Old Covenant civil law and applies it in a non-civil context in the New Covenant. But he doesn’t want to refer to that as general equity.

The “general equity” is not a spiritualized ecclesiastical application of judicial law, but rather that part of the law that reveals standards of righteousness, love, and justice not particular to Israel only, but generally applicable to all of mankind—including the civil state and civil justice. The Confession was written, however, as a compromise on this point, and its vagueness is therefore unhelpful to understanding it. (68)

Since McDurmon affirms that there is a spiritualized ecclesiastical application of judicial law, his refusal to accurately refer to it as general equity is disappointing. He is clearly motivated by a desire to insist that general equity still has relevance to civil law. But such a motivation does not require the insistence that general equity only has relevance to civil law. That would be just as wrong as saying it only has relevance to ecclesiastical application. General equity is of broadly “moral use” (2LBC 19.4) including both civil and ecclesiastical. His appeal to the language of “particular equity” is insufficient, as we have addressed previously. As is his comment that “The Confession was written, however, as a compromise on this point, and its vagueness is therefore unhelpful to understanding it” is incorrect. WCF 19.4 was not a compromise. It was stating a principle of interpretation that had been common for more than 100 years.

McDurmon is clearly motivated to counter Calvin’s argument that the general equity of Mosaic law allows magistrates to enforce whatever penal sanctions seem most fit to them in their particular context. Such an argument does not require one to reject the truth that general equity is a principle behind the law. Rather, it would just require showing that the principle behind various civil laws is lex talionis, and therefore does not permit arbitrary sanctions.

Lex Talionis

I really enjoyed McDurmon’s discussion of lex talionis (eye for an eye). “The lex talionis says essentially one thing: the punishment must fit the crime—no more, no less… This is not just one more law among others, but rather is a principle of law that runs through all the others, much the same as the principle of love summarizes the whole of the law.” (75)

However, he runs into an interesting dilemma at this point. In explaining the cherem principle, McDurmon says “there was a special case already operative, and temporary, for those special commands that God applied under the cherem principle: some laws were just based upon the eye-for-an-eye rule (as we shall see); others were just based upon God’s immediate judgment under cherem.” (52) But later he says “He has given us a principle by which justice can be done in any case, and this principle is directly revealed in the law and reflected in every single law He revealed.” (73) So which is it? Is lex talionis the basis of only some laws, or of all the laws?

The problem is exacerbated when we look at his appeal to Heb 2:1-2.

He has given us a principle by which justice can be done in any case, and this principle is directly revealed in the law and reflected in every single law He revealed… The lex talionis, then, is the moral element that exists in and throughout the civil penal sanctions. It is the principle of justice. But this means that the principle is eternal and thus abiding for today. It also means that God’s penal sanctions, begin perfectly just, must also abide today. (71, 76)

If the cherem principle penal sanctions were based on lex talionis, then they are eternal and they abide today for modern governments. If they were not based on lex talionis, then they were not just. Which is it? I believe McDurmon’s earlier recognition that laws were just on different basis is correct: “some laws were just based upon the eye-for-an-eye rule (as we shall see); others were just based upon God’s immediate judgment under cherem.” However, I don’t think the distinction is that some were based on proportionality (lex talionis) while others were not. Instead, I think the difference is found in the offended party/victim. Some laws concerned crimes against God (thus suffer immediate judgment under cherem). Others concerned crimes against men (and thus are not “devoted to destruction”).

Ironing out this inconsistency helps iron out other inconsistencies we find in McDurmon’s proposed application for modern governments. He argues for various enforcements of God’s law without sufficient basis in Mosaic law. “I have revised my earlier published views that adultery and homosexual sodomy are punishable by the death penalty. There are still, however, sanctions that can be imposed.” (65) Upon what basis may we still impose sanctions if the biblical warrant from Mosaic law does not apply? Is he reasoning autonomously with regards to these penal sanctions? Additionally, he says open disgrace and defiance would be punished. Traitors and revolutionaries would be banished or executed. Children who attack their parents would be exiled (instead of executed per Moses). “These laws protect the social order itself.” Rather than arguing on the basis of proportionality, he instead makes utilitarian arguments for milder enforcement of these cherem sanctions.

A much more consistent approach would be to recognize that the penal sanctions resulting from crimes against God (they were violations of the holiness of God’s presence) resulted in immediate judgment under the cherem principle. These punishments were proportional because man, a mere worm, defied the God of all creation (which is inversely proportionate to why Christ’s single death sufficed to save all the church). The sanctions were unique to the Old Covenant and have been abrogated along with the Old Covenant.

Crimes against other men are what continue to receive proportionate retribution today. Which are these? Recognizing that the whole Old Covenant was fundamentally typological, we can gain perspective by looking outside of the Old Covenant for guidance. When we look to the Noahic Covenant, we find an important penal sanction.

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

(Genesis 9:5-6 ESV)

This is the epitome of lex talionis. When a man initiates physical violence against another man and kills him, justice commands proportionate retribution in the form of physical violence against the murderer. If we cross reference this penal sanction to see how the Old Covenant deals with it, we are given some insight into what aspects of the Old Covenant civil law are merely a continuation of this man-to-man justice common to all nations, and what is unique to Israel’s civil law.

“Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death.
(Leviticus 24:17-21 ESV)

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 ESV)

The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
(Deuteronomy 19:18-21 ESV)

Lo and behold the Old Covenant repetitions of Gen 9:6 are the very texts that define lex talionis. Notice what they all have in common: physical violence/harm. As we apply this consistently we see that the proportionate retribution to theft (taking of property by physical force) is not execution, but the taking of the same amount of property from the thief by force (civil government is force), plus what was stolen returned (restoration) – as McDurmon argues. Lex talionis, when applied to crimes against men, is limited to instances of physical aggression. In other words, the non-aggression principle (make sure to read this too).

McDurmon has previously claimed A.W. Pink was a theonomist because he affirmed the abiding validity of lex talionis. Note what Pink limits the principle to: “The words, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (v. 38), occur three times in the Pentateuch… If the principle of this statute—the infliction of corporal punishment on those convicted of crimes of violence—was universally and strictly enforced today, it would make this world a much safer place to live in.”

Physical force (remember, every law of civil government is a use of force) is not an appropriate response to a variety sins, like adultery for example. The proportionate retribution for adultery would seem to be to commit adultery against the adulterer – which is ridiculous. Responding to adultery with physical force would not be proportionate (and would therefore be unjust). As Jesus said in Matt 5, lex talionis does not require retribution for every sin/offense between men. Pharisees were misapplying it to personal offenses.

In light of this, we see that Thomas Granger’s hanging in Massachusetts was unjust. What was just in Israel would not be just today because it was punished in Israel as a crime against God’s holiness but it is not a crime of physical violence against men and therefore may not be punished with force today. Since McDurmon believes Granger’s sin no longer warrants death, he needs to be willing to call it unjust. I believe his inconsistencies regarding lex talionis may give him reservations for saying so clearly. Perhaps he can clarify for us in a future post.

  1. Bounds of Love – Review, Part 1: Summary
  2. Bounds of Love – Review, Part 2: Strengths
  3. Bounds of Love – Review, Part 3: Weaknesses
  4. Bounds of Love – Review, Part 4: Moving Forward

  1. The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992, 1996), p. 83 

  2. First Timothy 1:8-11 And The Utility Of The Decalogue; Reformed Baptist Theological Review 01:1 (Jan 2004)  

  3. Hearty agreement must be given when New Covenant theologians argue for the abolition of the Old Covenant. This is clearly the teaching of the Old and New Testaments (see Jeremiah 31:31-32; Second Corinthians 3; Galatians 3, 4; Ephesians 2:14-15; Hebrews 8-10). The whole law of Moses, as it functioned under the Old Covenant, has been abolished, including the Ten Commandments. Not one jot or tittle of the law of Moses functions as Old Covenant law anymore and to act as if it does constitutes redemptive-historical retreat and neo-Judaizing. However, to acknowledge that the law of Moses no longer functions as Old Covenant law is not to accept that it no longer functions; it simply no longer functions as Old Covenant law. This can be seen by the fact that the New Testament teaches both the abrogation of the law of the Old Covenant and its abiding moral validity under the New Covenant. In Defense of the Decalogue, 61. See also JOHN OWEN AND NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY: Owen on the Old and New Covenants and the Functions of the Decalogue in Redemptive History in Historical and Contemporary Perspective 

  4. Owen: “Wherefore the whole law of Moses, as given unto the Jews, whether as used or abused by them, was repugnant unto and inconsistent with the gospel, and the mediation of Christ, especially his priestly office, therein declared; neither did God either design, appoint, or direct that they should be co-existent… It is not, therefore, the peculiar command for the institution of the legal priesthood that is intended, but the whole system of Mosaical institutions. For the apostle having already proved that the priesthood was to be abolished, he proceeds on that ground and from thence to prove that the whole law was also to be in like manner abolished and removed. And indeed it was of such a nature and constitution, that pull one pin out of the fabric, and the whole must fall unto the ground; for the sanction of it being, that “he was cursed who continued not in all things written in the law to do them,” the change of any one thing must needs overthrow the whole law… And the whole of this system of laws is called a “command,” because it consisted in “arbitrary commands” and precepts, regulated by that maxim, “The man that doeth these things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5. And therefore the law, as a command, is opposed unto the gospel, as a promise of righteousness by Jesus Christ, Galatians 3:11, 12. Nor is it the whole ceremonial law only that is intended by “the command” in this place, but the moral law also, so far as it was compacted with the other into one body of precepts for the same end; for with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered… By all these ways was the church of the Hebrews forewarned that the time would come when the whole Mosaical law, as to its legal or covenant efficacy, should be disannulled, unto the unspeakable advantage of the church… It is therefore plainly declared, that the law is “abrogated,” “abolished… disannulled.” Exposition of Hebrews 7:12, 18-19 

  5. For more on this, see 1689 Federalism Response to Wellum’s “Progressive Covenantalism and the Doing of Ethics” 

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