Theonomy?

We are not theonomists.

Etymologically, theonomy simply means “God’s law”. However, the phrase was coined by Greg Bahnsen in the 1970s to describe his political philosophy. Thus theonomy has come to mean the belief that the Mosaic laws should be observed by modern nations. More specifically:

Theonomy, as Greg Bahnsen uses the term, is a view of the Bible that argues for the continuing validity of God’s revealed law in every area of life. Bahnsen argues that unless a specific Old Testament law has been abrogated by the New Testament, either by specific revelation or because of an application of a New Testament principle, its authority is still morally and/ or judicially binding. “The methodological point, then, is that we presume our obligation to obey any Old Testament commandment unless the New Testament indicates otherwise. We must assume continuity with the Old Testament rather than discontinuity. This is not to say that there are no changes from Old to New Testament. Indeed, there are — important ones. However, the word of God must be the standard which defines precisely what those changes are for us; we cannot take it upon ourselves to assume such changes or read them into the New Testament.”

What was Bahnsen’s thesis? That the civil and moral laws of the Old Testament are still binding on society in the New Testament era, unless annulled or otherwise transformed by a New Testament teaching, either directly or by implication. In short, there is judicial and moral continuity between the two testaments”

-North’s preface to No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics, x

 

The core teaching of the modern theonomy movement on the law (we will not defend all the side issues) is basic and easy to defend. All the Old Testament laws that are moral in content, that were given as a standard of personal or social ethics, are binding on all men (both Jews and Gentiles) for all time (both the Old and New Covenant administrations). Therefore, not only the Ten Commandments are obligatory but also the moral case laws that are extensions, explanations and applications of the commandments (e.g., homosexuality, incest, bestiality, fornication, fraud, burglary, assault, attempted murder, manslaughter, etc.). In addition, the civil penalties attached to the moral case laws are declared by God Himself to be just and superior to the best laws of the heathen nations and thus are not mere suggestions but are required as well.

Theonomy’s strength is its commitment to presuppositionalism – the belief that political philosophy must be derived from Scripture. Its weakness is its actual exegesis of Scripture.

While Scripture must be the source of our political philosophy, a proper interpretation of Scripture prohibits the conclusion that anyone today is obligated to obey Old Covenant law, which has been abrogated. Theonomy rejects the confessional definition of the threefold division of the law and general equity.

While theonomy presents an appealingly simple answer to the question of political philosophy, we must not presuppose that God must reveal to man every specific civil law and punishment for modern nations. Our presupposition must be Scripture and Scripture presents no such requirement. Political philosophy, like all philosophy, is hard work (see Introduction to Political Philosophy and Political Philosophy: Biblical Answers, for example).

Please stay tuned for our coming Amazon publication of a book length critique of the theonomist position.

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