Archive for the ‘GreenBaggins’ Category

Were the Deuterocanonical Universally Accepted?

March 9, 2011

Some Roman apologists like to try to claim that Rome’s canon of Scripture is very ancient and well-settled. They are mistaken. Here’s one example

Now the story had a dramatic change, as the Pope stepped in to settle the matter. In concurrence with the opinion of St. Augustine, and being prompted by the Holy Spirit, Pope St. Damasus I, at the Council of Rome in 382, issued a decree appropriately called, “The Decree of Damasus”, in which he listed the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments. He then asked St. Jerome to use this canon and to write a new Bible translation which included an Old Testament of 46 books, which were all in the Septuagint, and a New Testament of 27 books.


This kind of idea is exploded by the facts of history. I was discussing these facts of history with a Roman advocate (not sure if he would consider himself an apologist) over at the GreenBaggins blog. Since I took the time to provide some detailed answers to his comments, I thought it might be good to post them in sections here. To provide some context, I think it is important to provide some quotations that had been brought up in the original post and in the comment box.

First, a piece of the original post:

Gregory the Great [in] his commentary on Job, Book 19, chapter 34, … says that it is not irregular to quote for the church’s edification the books of the Apocrypha, as long as it is understood that they are not canonical. He then immediately retells the story from 1 Macc. 6:42-47 … . Gregory’s exact words are these: “De qua re non inordinate agimus, si ex libris, licet non canonicis, tamen ad aedificationem ecclesiae editis, testimonium proferamus” (emphasis added). The translation already linked renders it: “With reference to which particular we are not acting irregularly, if from the books, though not Canonical, yet brought out for the edifying of the Church, we bring forward testimony.” What immediately follows is from [First] Maccabees.

Next, here are two other patristic quotations that were provided to confirm, among other things, that Gregory the Great was not alone in his view of the non-canonical status of First Maccabees.

Amphilochius of Iconium (373-394 A.D.) on the OT Canon: Besides this, it is most important that you know this also: not everything is to be considered certain which offers itself as venerable Scripture. For there are those written by false men—as is sometimes done. As regards books, there are several which are intermediate and near to the doctrine of truth, so to speak but there are others, however, which are spurious and extremely dangerous, like false seals and spurious coins, which do indeed have the inscription of the king, but which are counterfeit, and made out of base material. On account of this, then, I shall enumerate for you the individual books inspired by the Holy Spirit, and in order that you may know the thing clearly, I will begin with the books of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch contains Genesis, then Exodus, Leviticus, which is the middle book, after that Numbers and finally Deuteronomy. To these add Joshua and Judges; after these Ruth and the four books of Kings, Paralipomenon equal to one book; following these first and second Esdras. Next I will recall to you five books: the book of Job, crowned by the struggles of various calamities; also the book of Psalms, the musical remedy of the soul; the three books of the Wisdom of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and the Canticle of Canticles. I add to these the twelve prophets, first Hosea, then Amos, and after that Michah, Joel, Abdiah, and Jonah, the type of the three days of the Passion, after these Nahum, Habacuc, then the ninth Sophonias, Haggai and Zachariah and the angel with two names, Malachi. After these, know the other prophets thus far to be four: the great and undaunted Isaiah, Jeremiah, inclined to mercy, and the mystic Ezechiel, and Daniel, most wise in the happenings of the Last Things, and some add Esther to these. Translation by Catherine Kavanaugh, University of Notre Dame in William Webster, Holy Scripture, the Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Vol. 2 (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources Inc., 2001), p. 353.

Greek text: Πλὴν ἀλλʼ ἐκεῖνο προμαθεῖν μάλιστά σοι Προσῆκον· οὐχ ἅπασα βίβλος ἀσφαλὴς ἡ σεμνὸν ὄνομα τῆς γραφῆς κεκτημένη. εἰσὶν γάρ, εἰσὶν ἔσθʼ ὅτε ψευδώνυμοι βίβλοι· τινὲς μὲν ἔμμεσοι καὶ γείτονες, ὡς ἄν τις εἴποι, τῶν ἀληθείας λόγων. αἱ δ’ αὖ νόθοι τε καὶ λίαν ἐπισφαλεῖς ὥσπερ παράσημα καὶ νόθα νομίσματα, ἃ βασιλέως μὲν τὴν ἐπιγραφὴν ἔχει, κίβδηλα δ’ ἐστί, ταῖς ὕλαις δολούμενα. Τούτων χάριν σοι τῶν θεοπνεύστων ἐρῶ βίβλων ἑκάστην· ὡς δ’ ἂν εὐκρινῶς μάθῃς, Τὰς τῆς Παλαιᾶς πρῶτα διαθήκης ἐρῶ. Ἡ Πεντάτευχος τὴν Κτίσιν, εἶτʼ Ἔξοδον, Λευιτικὸν δὲ τὴν μέσην βίβλον ἔχει, μεθʼ ἣν Ἀριθμούς, εἶτα Δευτερονόμιον. Τούτοις Ἰησοῦν προστίθει καὶ τοὺς Κριτάς, Ἔπειτα τὴν Ῥοὺθ βασιλειῶν τε τέσσαρας βίβλους, παραλειπομένων δέ γε ξυνωρίδα. Ἔσδρας ἐπ’ αὐταῖς πρῶτος, εἶθ’ ὁ δεύτερος. ἑξῆς στιχηρὰς πέντε σοι βίβλους ἐρῶ· στεφθέντος ἄθλοις ποικίλων παθῶν Ἰὼβ ψαλμῶν τε βίβλον, ἐμμελὲς ψυχῶν ἄκος, τρεῖς δ’ αὖ Σολομῶντος τοῦ σοφοῦ, παροιμίας, ἐκκλησιαστὴν ᾆσμά τε τῶν ᾀσμάτων. ταύταις προφήτας προστίθει τοὺς δώδεκα, Ὠσηὲ πρῶτον, εἶτʼ Ἀμὼς τὸν δεύτερον, Μιχαίαν, Ἰωήλ, Ἀβδίαν καὶ τὸν τύπον Ἰωνᾶν αὐτοῦ τοῦ τριημέρου πάθους, Ναοὺμ μετʼ αὐτούς, Ἀββακούμ, εἶτʼ εἴνατον Σοφονίαν, Ἀγγαῖόν τε καὶ Ζαχαρίαν διώνυμόν τε ἄγγελον Μαλαχίαν. Μεθʼ οὓς προφήτας μάνθανε τοὺς τέσσαρας, παρρησιαστὴν τὸν μέγαν Ἠσαίαν Ἱερεμίαν τε συμπαθῆ, καὶ μυστικὸν Ἰεζεκιήλ, ἔσχατον δὲ Δανιήλ, τὸν αὐτὸν ἔργοις καὶ λόγοις σοφώτατον. τούτοις προσεγκρίνουσι τὴν Ἐσθήρ τινες. Iambi ad Seleucum, PG 37:1594-1595. (This is found among the corpus of Gregory of Nazianzus in Migne).

And the second is like it:

Gregory of Nazianzus (329/330-389) on the OT Canon: Let not your mind be deceived about extraneous books (for many false ascriptions are making the rounds), but you should hold to this legitimate number from me, dear reader. Receive the number and names of the holy books. First the twelve historical books in order: first is Genesis, then Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and the testament of the law repeated again; Joshua, Judges and Ruth the Moabitess follow these; after this the famous deeds of Kings holds the ninth and tenth place; the Chronicles comes in the eleventh place, and Ezra is last. There are also five poetic books, first of which is Job, the one next to it is King David’s, and three of Solomon, namely Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and his Song. After these come five books of the holy prophets, of which twelve are contained in one volume: Hosea, Amos, and Micah the third, then Joel, next Jonah, Obadiah, Nahum also, Habakkuk also, and Zephaniah, Haggai, next Zechariah, Malachai, these are in the first book; the second contains Isaiah. After these is Jeremiah, called from his mother’s womb, then Ezekiel, strength of the Lord, and Daniel last. These twenty-two books of the Old Testament are counted according to the twenty-two letters of the Jews. Translation by Dr. Michael Woodward, Associate Library Director, Archbishop Vehr Tehological Library in William Webster, Holy Scripture, the Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Vol. 2 (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources Inc., 2001), pp. 351-352. Cf. also William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 42.

Greek text: Ὄφρα δὲ μὴ ξείνῃσι νόον κλέπτοιο βίβλοισι, (Πολλαὶ γὰρ τελέθουσι παρέγγραπτοι κακότητες), Δέχνυσο τοῦτον ἐμεῖο τὸν ἔγκριτον, ὦ φίλʼ, ἀριθμόν. Ἱστορικαὶ μὲν ἔασι βίβλοι δυοκαίδεκα πᾶσαι Τῆς ἀρχαιοτέρης Ἑβραϊκῆς σοφίης. 473 Πρωτίστη, Γένεσις, εἶτʼ Ἔξοδος, Λευιτικόν τε. Ἔπειτʼ Ἀριθμοί. Εἶτα Δεύτερος Νόμος. Ἔπειτʼ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ Κριταί. Ῥοὺθ ὀγδόη. Ἡ δ’ ἐνάτη δεκάτη τε βίβλοι, Πράξεις βασιλήων, Καὶ Παραλειπόμεναι. Ἔσχατον Ἔσδραν ἔχεις. Αἱ δὲ στιχηραὶ πέντε, ὧν πρῶτός γ’ Ἰώβ· Ἔπειτα Δαυΐδ· εἶτα τρεῖς Σολομωντίαι· Ἐκκλησιαστὴς, Ἄσμα καὶ Παροιμίαι. Καὶ πένθ’ ὁμοίως Πνεύματος προφητικοῦ. Μίαν μέν εἰσιν ἐς γραφὴν οἱ δώδεκα· Ὠσηὲ κ’ Ἀμὼς, καὶ Μιχαίας ὁ τρίτος· Ἔπειτʼ Ἰωὴλ, εἶτʼ Ἰωνᾶς, Ἀβδίας, Ναούμ τε, Ἀββακούμ τε, καὶ Σοφονίας, Ἀγγαῖος, εἶτα Ζαχαρίας, Μαλαχίας. Μία μὲν οἵδε. Δευτέρα δ’ Ἡσαΐας. Ἔπειθʼ ὁ κληθεὶς Ἱερεμίας ἐκ βρέφους. Εἶτʼ Ἰεζεκιὴλ, καὶ Δανιήλου χάρις. Ἀρχαίας μὲν ἔθηκα δύω καὶ εἴκοσι βίβλους, Τοῖς τῶν Ἑβραίων γράμμασιν ἀντιθέτους. Carmina dogmatica, Liber I, Section I, Carmen XII, PG 37:471-474.

The quotations above demonstrate that Maccabees not only wasn’t accepted universally before Hippo and Damasus, but it wasn’t accepted by Gregory the Great after that.

Perhaps Pope Gregory I (c. 540 – 12 March 604) was simply forgetful of this two hundred year old tradition of accepting the book as canonical. So, as a mere private theologian, he made a mistake. Never mind that he is one of the few bishops of Rome that is considered a church father.

He was probably also just amnesic when he denied, in effect, the later novelty of the immaculate conception, as documented here (link), but I digress.

Responding to me and the opening post, the Roman advocate (using the nick “dgor”) wrote: “However, after careful scrutiny of your arguments and quotes, something highly important jumped out at me: Most protestants use the word ‘Apocrypha’ with a capital A.”

Yes, that’s correct.

“This is deceiving because in all of your quotes of the early church fathers, when they are speaking of apocrypha, they mean it with a lowercase a.”

Some of the fathers simply say that the book is not canonical. We use the label “apocrypha” for non-canonical books, and “Apocrypha” usually for the group of books that Rome calls “deuterocanonical.”

“To elaborate, the connotation that Apocrypha carries today is the books in the Catholic bible that are not in the Protestant bible. Namely:Tobit Judith Wisdom Ecclesiasticus Baruch First and Second Maccabees and Additions to Esther and Daniel.”

Yes. Also, some additional books are also frequently included in the apocrypha, such as Psalm 151, 3rd and 4th Maccabees, and what are called “3rd and 4th Esdras” in the Latin tradition or Esdras A and G in the Greek tradition (1st and 2nd Esdras in the KJV).

“However, when early church fathers speak of apocrypha, they are not referring to these books as apocrypha, since these books were already accepted at Hippo.”

The first part of your sentence may be correct, in that we shouldn’t automatically assume that “apocrypha” refers to the Apocrypha, since it sometimes refers to the New Testament apocrypha, such as the Gnostic gospels. The latter part about Hippo is nearly completely irrelevant outside of North Africa from the 5th century to the 6th century, and is certainly totally irrelevant before the 5th century (since Hippo didn’t meet until about the turn of the 5th century).

Moreover, as noted above, Gregory the Great obviously rejected Maccabees after Hippo, so despite some people later adopting the canon of Hippo, it is clear that it was not universally accepted.

“Instead they refer to the word apocrypha in its original Greek meaning of hidden or esoteric. There are a great many books that fall into this ‘esoteric,’ denotative, ‘lowercase a’ category which claim to contain hidden knowledge for man’s salvation (Gospel of Thomas, Nicodemus, 1,2 Esdras…)”

a) In general, right – see above.

b) Actually Hippo accepted Esdras A and B (1st, 2nd and 3rd Esdras according to the Latin enumeration). We (Reformed) accept Esdras B (1st and 2nd Esdras) and reject Esdras A (3rd Esdras) as Old Testament apocrypha, although we can see evidence that the North Africans (particularly Augustine) accepted it.

c) What the KJV labels 1 & 2 Esdras would not typically be what the ECFs had in mind regarding the term “apocrypha” (the few who used that term), and – as noted above – it appears that Hippo accepted as “2nd Esdras” what the KJV calls “1 Esdras” and what came to be known in the Latin Bible as 3rd Esdras.

“These clearly contradict other biblical teaching and were thus rejected from being called inspired at Hippo.”

There are a lot of reasons that the apocrypha were rejected, not simply contradiction. But there were reasons. Hippo didn’t just write down some oral tradition that Paul had given the Thessalonians.

“These are the books that the early fathers are referring to when they speak of apocrypha, because they use the word apocrypha in its denotative sense.”

Yes, they may typically refer to the New Testament apocrypha (if I recall correctly, it’s not like there is an abundance of usages of that term). I haven’t done a statistical study to confirm this, but it sounds about right as far as typical usage goes. The typical usage would decide the denotative sense, not vice versa.

“It is a little word trick that you use when you say that the fathers reject the capital A Apocrypha, because they accepted the capital A apocrypha at Hippo.”

a) That seems like a false accusation (like your initial claim that “This is deceiving”). We haven’t quoted a father saying “apocrypha” and told you it means “Apocrypha.” The opening post used the term “Apocrypha,” but not as part of a quotation from Gregory the Great.

b) You put far too much weight on Hippo, as though it were a universal council. It was not. It was a regional council.

c) They only accepted part of the “Apocrypha” at Hippo. They didn’t accept 3rd and 4th Maccabbees, for example.

“Since these were in the canon already, it is obvious that they would not be referring to these books as apocryphal and stating that they had no place in the canon.”

I’ve mostly addressed this above. Some of the fathers I’ve quoted to you came before Hippo. None of the one’s I’ve quoted to you use the word “apocrypha,” and Gregory clearly rejects Hippo’s judgment (whether or not he even had heard of it), although he comes after Hippo.

“In short, what the early church fathers called apocrypha and what you call Apocrypha are two completely different things.”

Which is irrelevant to the point we’re making, as noted above.

“Whereas the early fathers overwhelmingly accepted Tobit Judith Wisdom Ecclesiasticus Baruch First and Second Maccabees and Additions to Esther and Daniel, and did not and would NOT have classified them as apocryphal, you have named all the books that you reject Apocrypha and have managed to call two completely separate concepts by the same name and assign new and unintended meaning to church father writing.”

a) Again, this is a false accusation. Look above. Did we quote any father using the word “apocrypha” and then told you it means “Apocrypha”? No.

b) We have given you concrete examples of fathers who did not view those other books as canonical. You can make statistical claims, but you and I both know you don’t have any polls of 4th century fathers to determine what they accepted and did not accept.

I could add to the list above another father who recognizes that the canon of the Old Testament was 22 Hebrew books (one for each letter of the alphabet):

There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

Athanasius (293-373), 39th Festal Letter (dated to A.D. 367)

You’ll notice that while Athanasius accepts apocryphal additions to Jeremiah (aka “Baruch” and “the epistle”), he rejects the apocryphal books of Judith, Tobit, and Maccabees. Perhaps you don’t think it’s enough for him to simply leave them out. Well, later on in the same letter, you’ll find this:

7. But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.


Now notice that this is the first time I’ve quoted a father using the term “apocrypha,” and here he is using that book for other books that Judith and Tobit. Moreover, notice that he has erroneously left out Esther from the Hebrew canon, and placed it among the non-inspired works.

Nevertheless, despite using the word “apocrypha” in a way that is just as you said, Athanasius still manages to reject the books of the Apocrypha (although presumably not the additions to the canonical books).

“They would have rejected the gospel of Thomas and Esras 1,2 (books such as these were what were called apocrypha); most certainly not Maccabees or Baruch.”

Baruch was viewed as a part of Jeremiah. We have evidence of the rejection of Maccabees by a number of prominent fathers already, including Athanasius (before Hippo) and Gregory the Great (after Hippo). The comment about “Esras 1,2” seems to be confused, but that’s already been addressed above.

(to be continued in part 2)


GreenBaggins on Theonomy – A Response

April 6, 2009

Lane Keister at GreenBaggins has a post in which he argues that “Theonomy is Biblically-Theologically Wrong” (link). I can summarize it thus: “redemptive-historical theology removes the O.T. civil laws while natural law replaces them.”

1) Limited Agreement on the Church-State Distinction

I agree that the church and state are not one and the same thing in the New Testament.

a) However, I should note that Mr. Keister (because of his Redemptive-Historical framework) has failed to notice that church and state were not one and the same thing in the Old Testament. A redemptive-historical approach is so focused on the earthly ministry of Christ that it tends to lose sight of the original context of Old Testament passages. While there are redemptive-historical themes and a significant amount of typology in Scripture, we must never permit these themes to prevent us from understanding the literal sense of Scripture.

b) Additionally, I should note that Mr. Keister has failed to notice that even in the New Testament the civil government (whether that be king, governor, or whatever) is considered a “minister of God” (just as in the Old Testament, see Exodus 24:13 and Romans 13:4). In fairness, Mr. Keister does mention Romans 13 (and even mentions that the magistrate is ordained by God), but argues that there is nothing in Romans 13 that cannot be argued on the basis of natural law, which brings us to the second point of limited agreement.

2) Limited Agreement on the Natural Law

I agree that God has provided information about himself through the created order and especially through the conscience, which we can refer to as “Natural Law” and that we must not go contrary to Natural Law any more than to any other divine revelation.

a) However, Mr. Keister overlooks that the Natural Law is necessarily universally applicable. That is to say, God’s revelation of himself through Nature and Conscience was also applicable to Old Testament Israel.

b) Additionally, Mr. Keister overlooks that the Natural Law tends not to be propositional. Thus, for example, Natural Law can tell us that crime must be punished, but it may not be able to tell us whether theft should be a capital offense. This actually brings us to a point of disagreement with Mr. Keister.

3) Mr. Keister’s Arguments Against Capital Punishment for Violation of Second-Table Commandments are Unsupported and Unsupportable Either from Scripture or Natural Law

Mr. Keister states:

However, it is not the civil magistrate’s job to execute a boy for cursing his parents (as was true in the Old Testament civil laws). It is the church’s job to instruct and to exercise church discipline.

There are two problems with this claim:

a) Mr. Keister is arguing for church discipline to handle the affairs of civil government. Although he doubtless does not intend to do so, Mr. Keister is violating the two-kingdoms principle that civil affairs are within the authority of the civil magistrate: attempting to take this away from the civil magistrate and give it to the church. However, the church is not charged with punishing crime: that is not within its sphere of authority.

b) The issue of insubordination of children to parents is an issue of civil law, as is recognized by the Old Testament and in the Natural Law. The Old Testament explicitly ordains the death penalty for cursers of parents and places it, contextually in this list:

i) Regulation of Slavery (Exodus 21:1-11);
ii) Capital Punishment for Premeditated Murder and Relief for Accidental Homicide (Exodus 21:12-14);
iii) Capital Punishment for Battery of Parents (Exodus 21:15);
iv) Capital Punishment for Kidnap (Exodus 21:16);
v) Capital Punishment for Cursing of Parents (Exodus 21:17);
vi) Restitution for Battery (Exodus 21:18-19);
vii) Application of (ii) and (vi) in the case of slaves (Exodus 21:20-21);
viii) Punishment for Battery of Pregnant Woman (Exodus 21:22-25);
ix) Further application of (vi) in the case of slaves (Exodus 21:26-27);
x) Punishment of Homicide by Chattels (Exodus 21:28-32);
xi) Punishment for Damage to Chattels by Pit-digging (Exodus 21:33-34); and
xii) Punishment for Damage of Chattels on Chattels (Exodus 21:35-46).

Within that context it should be fairly clear that cursing one’s parents is part of the civil code of Israel, and it is the responsibility of the civil magistrate (the “judges” mentioned, for example, in Exodus 21:6) to address these issues. It is not a matter governed through the church (i.e. through the priests) and it is not a matter connected with the ceremonial law or with an issue unique to the nation of Israel (as, for example, the land of Canaan).

c) It is worth noting that, in this instance, Mr. Keister has gone beyond even many fairly radical non-theonomists in suggesting that a second table offense should not be governed by the civil government.

d) Mr. Keister does not provide any real argument from the Natural Law in support of his contention that the Natural Law does not suggest such a penalty. On the contrary, Natural Law teaches that men must obey their parents, that parents deserve a special dignity, and that the greater the dignity of the offended party the worse the punishment should be on the offender. In short, while someone might argue that the specific punishment of death for cursers of parents cannot be gleaned from the Natural Law (given the inspecific nature of Natural Law), nevertheless the Old Testament civil law provides an example well within the bounds of Natural Law and fully consistent with it and certainly Mr. Keister’s opinion that death penalty is inappropriate cannot be supported by natural law, even if the natural law does not clearly require such a penalty.

4) Mr. Keister’s Situation-Specific Dismissal Is Too Unspecific

Mr. Keister asserted: “Now, the theonomist will probably reply that the civil law of Old Testament Israel is of a piece with and is the outworking of the moral law given in the Ten Commandments. True, it is. But it is an outworking of the Ten Commandments for a particular place and people.” (emphasis in original)

I certainly agree that it was for a particular place and people. That’s a very true statement, and yet it does not follow that therefore the civil law of Israel would not be a good law for other places or peoples. There’s nothing in the Bible or in the Natural Law to suggest that the hearts of post-Pentecost men are less hard than the hearts of the Jews from the time of Moses to the time of Pentecost (or till A.D. 70 or whenever it is alleged that the civil law of Israel ceased to have effect by those who reject what they refer to as “theonomy”). Furthermore, the Bible does tell us that the civil laws of Israel were given good laws:

Nehemiah 9:13 Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:

In fact, they are set forth in Scripture as the paragon of all laws for governing nations:

Deuteronomy 4:8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

In principle, I agree that where the judgments are specific to Israel they are naturally not applicable to us – but judgments like those on honoring one’s father and mother are not specific to Israel.

5) Mr. Keister Overstates His Point in Abandoning Old Testament Principles

Mr. Keister stated:

In other words, Jesus Christ is the apex of the trajectory of Old Testament Israel, and the church is in Christ. Therefore, it does not make sense to say that modern-day governments should run themselves according to principles that were given to Old Testament Israel as Old Testament Israel.

Surely, Mr. Keister is right that Jesus Christ is the focal point of the Bible. It does not follow, however, that the good laws given to Old Testament Israel are not based on principles that must be followed by any government that wishes to follow the law of God.

Mr. Keister has plainly overstated his point here, since Mr. Keister acknowledges the role of Natural Law. Nevertheless, since God cannot be inconsistent with Himself, and since the Natural Law is a Creation ordinance (at the latest, upon the Fall and the obtaining of the knowledge of good and evil), therefore the “principles” of the civil law of Israel must be the same principles found in the Natural Law (otherwise the civil law of Israel would not be good laws).

6) Mr. Keister’s Redemptive-Historical Framework Causes Him to Conflate Categories

We see a conflation of categories in Mr. Keister’s comment:

And yet the principles in the New Testament for church government say nothing of the sword. Instead, the weapons are spiritual, for we fight not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual enemies. Ephesians 6, by the way, is one reason why I believe the application of Old Testament Israel’s holy wars draws a straight line to spiritual warfare today in the church.

(emphasis in original, link omitted)

Mr. Keister is right in one way: the church (either of the Old or New Testament) was not entrusted with the sword. That’s the duty of the civil magistrate – the king, governor, judges, etc. depending on the applicable form of government. On the other hand, in both the Old and New Testament the civil magistrate does bear the power of the sword (See Romans 13:4).

The roles and duties of the church and the state are different, just as the roles and duties of the parents and the state are different and the roles and duties of the parents and the church are different (although there are various overlaps at pints).

This leads me to the final point (prior to the conclusion).

7) Mr. Keister’s Conflation Actually Undermines the Proper Two(or Five) Kingdoms Distinctives

Elsewhere I’ve discussed how there are not just two, but actually five, kingdoms (link). Each has its own proper sphere of authority, and the existence of one sphere of authority does not negate or invalidate the other spheres. Mr. Keister’s emphasis on the duties of the church with respect to sin (i.e. church discipline) seem to suggest that because the church has some responsibilities with respect to sin “X” that therefore the civil government does not also, and in parallel, have responsibilities.

Specifically (so the argument seems to go), because the church is called on to excommunicate those who curse their parents, the civil government has no responsibility to put such villains to death. This flawed reasoning would seem to destroy the proper multiple kingdoms distinctives and cause the church to usurp the roles of the other spheres, especially the civil sphere.

Let me give some illustrative counter-examples.

Example 1: Man commits adultery, two witnesses observe this, and the offended wife brings the matter before the judges.

Reaction by State: It would be appropriate for the state to punish this man for his crime. I see no reason (notwithstanding the Pericope Adulterae) why that punishment must not be death.

Reaction by Church: Discipline, up to and perhaps including excommunication (upon following the appropriate protocols).

Reaction by the Adulterer’s Father: Condemnation of his son’s misdeed, and exhortation to repentance.

Reaction by the Adulterer’s Spouse: In this case, the offense has destroyed this particular sphere of authority. Thus, the woman is not required to “submit” to the adultery, although she ought to seek to forgive this man who has sinned against her.

Reaction by the Adulterer’s Employer: Condemnation of his employee’s misdeed, and exhortation to repentance.

Example 2: Man (out of hate) kills someone who works for him, two witnesses observe, and the family of the deceased brings it before the judges.

Reaction by State: Death for the murderer.

Reaction by the Church: Discipline, up to and perhaps including excommunication (upon following the appropriate protocols).

Reaction by the Murderer’s Father: Condemnation of his son’s misdeed, and exhortation to Repentance.

Reaction by the Murderer’s Spouse (if applicable): Exhortation to Repentance.

Reaction by the Murderer’s Employees: Exhortation to repentance.

We could go on and on with other examples. The point of these examples would simply be to show that each sphere of authority generally can react to any given sin. That reaction may be different in one sphere of authority or another. Thus, the fact that the state is going to execute the death penalty for murder does not preclude the church from acting to discipline the man, perhaps even excommunicating him if the circumstances warrant. Likewise, a father need not remain silent when his son does something wrong, but can condemn him for his sin and exhort him to repentance.

In some spheres, the ability to exhort to repentance may be limited: for example, one may be able to exhort one’s employer or husband to a godly life of repentance largely through example. Nevertheless, each violation of God’s law should provoke the appropriate reaction from each of the sphere’s of authority.


Accordingly, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Keister’s contention regarding theonomy (in general – as opposed to a specific flavor of theonomy) being Biblically and/or Theologically Wrong. I must, of course, qualify that disagreement. If theonomy causes one to lose sight of the preeminent role of Jesus in the Bible, then theonomy (in that instance) is wrong. If one is so focused on the duties of the civil magistrate that one commits the opposite error from that identified above, and places all the responsibility for reacting to sin in the hands of the state, then that species of theonomy is wrong.

But a true, Biblical theonomy embraces the multiple (two, five, or however many) kingdoms and the ministers of each of those kingdoms: the father has his duties, as does the parent, the spouse, the employer/employee, the elder/deacon/layman, and the king/subject. One does not trump the other, and one does not usurp or supplant the other. The King must be honored, so must the master, the father, the husband, and the elder. Each is to be honored and obeyed and each has certain responsibilities. God has given these spheres of authority, and each should be governed according to the word and law of God, as revealed both in Nature and Conscience but also in Scripture.


Death Penalty for Idolatry?

October 28, 2008

Lane Keister, at GreenBaggins has posed a question:

I know that I have at least two theonomists who regularly read my blog, and so this is a question addressed to them. The sin of idolatry, in the Old Testament, was punishable by death. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Hindus, and many other religions practice idolatry. One can even make the case that Muslims and Jews are idolaters, since they do not worship Jesus Christ as God.

America was founded on a principle of liberty of religion. The issues get complicated in a hurry, of course, but my question is this: if Christian Reconstruction were to win out in America, does that mean that the members of these other religions should be executed? Or is the principle of death for idolatry changed in the NT, according to theonomists?

I answer:
a) I’m not sure if Lane had me in mind – in fact I wouldn’t flatter myself to suppose he had thought of me. Nevertheless, since I self-identify as a theonomist, and since I regularly read his blog, I’ll take up his question.
b) Lane states, “The sin of idolatry, in the Old Testament, was punishable by death.” I had previously (link) discussed the issue of how we know justice. Also, I had previously (link) addressed the issue of what crimes in the Old Testament were subject to capital punishment. I didn’t come across the death sentence for idolatry, as such. I wonder if Lane could point me to it.
c) Lane states, “Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Hindus, and many other religions practice idolatry.” In order to discover whether this is the case, we’d need to see the specific prohibition on idolatry accompanied by the death penalty that Lane has found. Once we see it, we can confirm or deny this claim. I was a bit surprised that Lane omitted Romanists from his list, but perhaps it was just an oversight.
d) Lane states, “One can even make the case that Muslims and Jews are idolaters, since they do not worship Jesus Christ as God.” Muslims and at least traditional Jews are (like Christians) aniconic in their religion: they do not make graven images or likenesses of their god. Thus, they would not be guilty of idolatry within the proper sense of the term. However, perhaps the passage Lane has in mind that prescribes death for idolatry uses the broad sense.
e) Lane states, “America was founded on a principle of liberty of religion.” No, it wasn’t. Rhode Island was, but not “America.” I’m not sure it makes a world of difference, though, to the theonomic question.
f) Lane asks, “The issues get complicated in a hurry, of course, but my question is this: if Christian Reconstruction were to win out in America, does that mean that the members of these other religions should be executed?” Of course, while I consider myself a theonomist, I don’t consider myself a reconstructionist. The answer, unless there is Biblical mandate that I have overlooked, would be no. There was a special genocidal command to the Israelites to destroy the nations of Canaan, but that was (i) a specific judgment on the Canaanites and (ii) a means to fulfilling a land promise to Abraham that is fulfilled for us in heaven. If that is all Lane has in mind, then the answer would be a resounding, “no.”
g) Lane asks, “Or is the principle of death for idolatry changed in the NT, according to theonomists?” I guess this would depend on the specific command, which apparently I have overlooked. Once Lane points it out, I’ll update.


Defending Turretin from the Federal Vision

August 2, 2008

GreenBaggins has provided a defense of Turretin to misuse by Federal Visionist Mark Horne (link to Greenbaggins). This fits nicely with two previous posts I provided on this blog, one relating to McMahon’s defense of Turretin from FV abuse and another talking about Turretin’s view of the covenant in the garden (which connects to the issue of merit that GreenBaggins addresses). (link to my blog post regarding McMahon defending Turretin) (link to my post noting Turretin vs. Goodwin on the Garden Covenant)


Sam Duncan’s Comment

February 11, 2008

It seems Sam Duncan has created no small stir by pointing out the obvious fact that the PCA’s SJC has already been considering the facts of the case of Wilkins’ promotion of, and the LAP’s failure to prosecute Wilkins for, Federal Visionism.

Apparently he made the mistake of using the phrase that no one in the LAP could expect to have a “fair trial” before the SJC. The Federal Vision advocates leaped on this:

Example 1
Example 2

Even Doug Wilson, who seems to have known better, partly jumps on it.

GreenBaggins sets the record straight.


UPDATE: Reformed Musings provides some context (link).

The Real Turretin: on Justification

January 23, 2008

GreenBaggins has posted an article that provides a small piece of Turretin’s writings on Justification (link). The article complains about the lack of free availability of Turretin in electronic form. It’s worth noting that Turretin’s magnum opus is freely available (link), but there is a catch: it’s in the original Latin.

For more (in English) of Turretin on Justification:

Justification, Forensic or Moral? (answer: Forensic) (link) (second link) (third link)


Federal Vision – Heresy not anti-Paedo-Baptistic Reductio

January 19, 2008

In this recent post from GreenBaggins, one can almost see froth on the fingertips of James B. Jordan, a profane pastor some have started calling the “godfather” of the Federal Vision movement (link) (update, apparently Jordan has apologized in part). Meanwhile, well-meaning but misinformed Reformed Baptists over in the comment thread of Centuri0n’s blog have the gumption to view the Federal Vision problem as a reductio ad aburdum of Presbyterianism! (link) (hosting page) (yikes!)

Frankly, while I appreciate the need for the PCA to act in an orderly manner, the sooner the matter of closing this open scandal of Federal Vision within the PCA is concluded, the better.


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