As a theonomist/theocrat, nothing is more critical than establishing a Biblical view of ethics. Throughout the Reformation, sermons were preached in Geneva 1 and in other parts of Europe attempting to establish an ethical system that would faithfully represent all of the Bible. In early American history, the Puritans developed a Biblical view of law and applied it to the society they built. If we are to believe that all Scripture is profitable 2 then we are not to deny the richness of ethical case laws in the Older Covenant. It is not my purpose in the days to follow to make an exegetical and theological case for the permanent validity of Biblical Law for modern society, since many in my tradition have already done so, 3rather I want to focus particularly on one case law found in Deuteronomy 21. This case law refers to the incorrigible Son. Here is the text in the English Standard Version: 18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Many evangelicals in both Reformed and non-Reformed camps have assumed that God’s holy and righteous laws bear no significance to our contemporary society. To borrow the words of an evangelical ethicist, “the law of God is irrelevant today.” This attitude enters even into those who are committed to a Reformed approach to life. But if the law of God is irrelevant, then how shall we then live (to quote Schaeffer)? Shall we borrow the ethics of the Book of Mormons or Muslims? Shall we as Christians seek refuge in the nebulous natural law of the philosophers? Or should we as Christians rely on the Scriptures for our guide; as our rule book for faith and practice? I will presuppose that the readers in this series will assume the latter option, for if you deny the centrality of Scriptures in the ethical dimensions of life, then this article will make no sense.
I am well aware that this short article may cause some to feel uncomfortable with the Bible and perhaps even embarrassed in how the Bible treats certain case laws. Nevertheless, I will presuppose that the Bible contains the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is often in the ugly that we learn how to produce the good.
Most opponents of theonomy have used the case law concerning the incorrigible son to mockingly say: “See, how absurd this law is! Therefore, the law of God in its totality cannot be applied.” This attitude is not valid. After all, we worship a God who killed His own Son. 4 Does this sound reasonable to the modern ear? But if we fear Jesus’ words that every jot and tittle of the law is to be taught and applied, then these laws take on greater significance.
For those who are theonomic and do not agree with my conclusions on this short piece, I ask that you at least read through this series. The esteemed John Murray, who I consider a moderate theonomist, did not believe in the application of this case law to modern society. 5 For those who are of a Reformed persuasion, but yet deny the applicability of the case laws, I ask that you at least consider my arguments. Many times, this passage has been poorly treated and given only a quick glance. However, my contention is that a proper study of this passage will enhance our view of the law and see its rightful place in our society.
Theonomy means God’s Law. I believe in it; and because of this conviction, I am led to deal with the most troubling passages and give it the attention it deserves. This paper is a weak, but honest attempt to deal with a difficult and sometimes horrifying text to the modern reader.
This series is based on a paper I wrote for a class on Ethics at Reformed Seminary/Orlando where theonomy is generally despised. I have divided it into four sections because it will give you the opportunity to interact with me bit by bit. When the series is over, please feel free to e-mail me and ask for a copy of the article in word format. As always be attentive to the footnotes. It is there where I place personal notes and helpful reflections and sources for further study. As Gary North has once said, “you gotta footnote them to death!” I always do my best.
Note: Tomorrow I will post the first section of this paper.
- Calvin preached over 200 sermons on Deuteronomy [↩ back]
- II Timothy 3:16 [↩ back]
- Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics is one of the most comprehensive treatment on the Law of God in the 20th century; also R.J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law. Both of these books make up almost 2,000 pages [↩ back]
- Acts 4:27-31 [↩ back]
- See Principles of Biblical Conduct by John Murray [↩ back]