The alternative to theonomy is to humbly seek to understand how the Bible reveals to us we are to engage the world. The four sections reviewed above will be re-examined to see a better way of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. Allowing a system to drive us to a conclusion is likely to lead us away from the intended meaning in Scripture, as God Himself cannot be fully described or comprehended by a theological system contrived by man.
A proper view of Israel.
Scripture reveals two peoples identified as Israel, one people based on an ethnic identity forged by God and another people based on a spiritual identity forged by God. Here’s how YHWH describes ethnic Israel: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8, NKJV) Here’s His description of spiritual Israel: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22, NKJV) Ethnic Israel was redeemed from Egypt and Pharoah’s rule; spiritual Israel was redeemed from sin and Satan’s rule; the former is the type, the latter is the anti-type. They are not the same.
A proper view of law.
God gave different laws to different people in different covenants. He gave His “universal law” to mankind in conjunction with the Fall; He gave Noah and all mankind specific laws within that covenant (Genesis 9:1-16); and He gave ethnic Israel law within the covenant He made with them on Mt. Sinai (Deuteronomy 5:1-5). Lastly, and most important, God gave a new law, a spiritual law to the spiritual people He is gathering into the New Covenant (Hebrews 7:12). It is overly simplistic to think God – who is, in Himself, unchanging – has given the same law, in type or detail, to all people. Carnal people need detailed laws and punishments to corral them and allow authorities to punish them. Spiritual people have a new heart and the God-given ability to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:12 – 16). This does not do away with our need for all the Scriptures, for they are for us, to edify and build us up as the body of Christ (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
First, we should seek to understand the purpose and design of the Mosaic Law. David Dorsey provides an overview:
The corpus was designed to regulate the lives of a people living in the distinctive geographical and climatic conditions found in the southern Levant, and many of the regulations are inapplicable, unintelligible, or even nonsensical outside that regime.
The corpus was designed by God to regulate the lives of a people whose cultural milieu was that of the ancient Near East.
The Mosaic corpus was intended to regulate the lives of people whose religious milieu was that of the ancient Near Eastern world (particularly Canaan) and would be more or less inapplicable outside that world.
The code of laws was issued by God to lay the detailed groundwork for and regulate the various affairs of an actual politically- and geographically-defined nation.
The corpus was formulated to establish and maintain a cultic regime that has been discontinued with the Church (cf. Heb 8:18; etc.).
Secondly, we should seek to understand how the Mosaic Law is to be applied to the saints in the New Covenant:
I would suggest the following theocentric hermeneutical procedure for applying any of the OT laws, whether the law be deemed ceremonial, judicial, or moral:
Remind yourself that this law is not my law, that I am not legally bound by it, that it is one of the laws God issued to ancient Israel as part of his covenant with them.
Determine the original meaning, significance and purpose of the law.
Determine the theological significance of the law.
Determine the practical implications of the theological insights gained from this law for your own NT circumstances.
What theological insights come from this law? The Person who issued this law is obviously concerned about the physical and emotional well-being of the poor. Moreover he apparently wants his people to have a similar sensitivity toward the poor, to be willing to help the needy sacrificially.
Another brother helps us understand a critical aspect of this discussion: what is a law? Here he is discussing a written, codified law; not a principle.
To be “law” there needs to be the following:
From a recognised and respected authority (even if it is imposed).
Publicly announced – so that its subjects know what they have to obey.
Adequately administered, with visible/audible ‘reminders, and necessary policing.
Enforced with due penalties for infringement.
“Commandments” do not need to have the last two items noted for “law” – commandments are “bare commands” which rest on the authority of the one giving them. This is the nature of Christ’s commands. The teaching of how to live in submission to Him are not “law” as a codified list of demands and sanctions, but instruction.
To be antinomian is to be against law. This is the term some people use to describe those who do not see the Mosaic Law as binding as law on the saints. They assume if you don’t subscribe to the rule of Mosaic Law you must be against law. This is the fallacy of the excluded middle; there is a position between these two extremes. This “middle position” is the teaching we find in the New Covenant Scriptures, explicitly taught in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where Paul distinguishes between Mosaic Law and the Law of God, or Christ’s Law and the apostle declares his obligation to obey the latter, not the former. This is the reality of being in the New Covenant.
Further, the believer is dead to the law and free from the law (Romans 7); not under the law (Galatians 5:18). How can the Mosaic be the rule of life for those who are dead to it, have been set free from it, and are not under it? The law of the Spirit of life has set us free from law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). And it must be noted: the law of sin and the law of the Spirit are not codified lists, they are principles, as sure as gravity on this planet.
General equity is claimed by Reformers as the means to have the Decalogue as a rule of life for the world and the saints. In the legal world, equity addresses topics and cases that law doesn’t satisfactorily address; equity is outside the law and can be at work when there is no law. I see no support, in the legal system or theologically, to use general equity to impose the capstone of Mosaic Law to those outside that covenantal community. Biblical history reveals no nation other than Israel being bound by those commands. Yes, the pagan nations were judged by God for their sin, breaking that universal law given man when Adam fell.
Paul’s inclusion of some Mosaic Law in his teaching shows a continuity of the moral principles in Scriptures with a discontinuity of the implementation of the specific laws and punishments of the Mosaic Law. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul uses several allusions to Mosaic Law (verses 2, 5, 7 – 9, 11 – 13) yet he departs from the penalty of death found in the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 18:11, 20:11) and commands the unrepentant saint be disfellowshipped instead. This is a New Covenant use of Old Covenant law – not “general equity” but redemptive as applied to Christians in the assembly of saints.
Are theonomists correct in applying Mosaic Law to nations? I find not one example of Moses or Jesus and His apostles working to or advocating for the deployment of Mosaic Law in any nation other than ethnic Israel. Jesus, Paul, and Peter each write about our obligation to render unto Caesar what is his, but none imply that the state must be under the Law of Moses in order to reward those who do good and punish those who do evil (Romans 13) or in order that we might live tranquil, peaceful lives (1 Timothy 2) and live free as God’s slaves (2 Peter 2). The rules to be employed by the state to render these circumstances are not given in Scripture.
“Surely Paul would not object to a legal code that resembles some of the second table of the Decalogue, but he would do so not because civil magistrates are beholden to the Decalogue per se but because some of the Decalogue resembles natural law. … he never applies the law of Moses to the civil government but instead expects civil magistrates to protect and uphold a basic standard of justice and goodness, which accords with natural law and the created order … But the standard of justice and goodness to which those laws should conform is one distinct from the covenantal legislation at Sinai.”
So many errors creep in when we fail to comprehend how the New Covenant Scriptures convey and apply Old Covenant principles. It is helpful to recognize that much of what we call the New Testament is describing life under the Mosaic Covenant. Much of the gospels reveal the time of transition as the Son was teaching about His kingdom. It is shown later that the kingdom Jesus was introducing is comprised of people who have been given new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26-27) indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Timothy 1:14; Romans 8:11); a new priesthood based on the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7:15-17) which brings a new law by which to lead the saints (Hebrews 7:11-12).
Those who love to keep lists of their accomplishments have a difficult time accepting the fact that the Law of Christ, which is engrafted onto the souls of the saints, is not a detailed list of “do this and don’t do that” with corresponding lists of rewards and punishments for compliance or non-compliance. All of the New Covenant teaching of how we are to love one another as Christ has loved us are teaching us how to fulfill this spiritual law, based on the two great commandments. We bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Romans 12 is a wonderful class on this idea, something we need to pay close attention to because our old nature was addicted to list keeping; man is hard-wired for works righteousness. But grace cannot be grace if we add our work to it.
Law-keeping is list-keeping; one must keep a list of how well he and others are doing in keeping the law. Love keeps no record of wrongdoing (1 Corinthians 13:5. In the phrase “thinks no evil” in the NKJV, the word “thinks” (logizomai) means “to take inventory.” Hence the idea that love keeps no record, no inventory, of kakos – bad, ugly, wrong, worthless, wicked actions and words.
Listen to Paul as he explains this to those who desired to live under the Mosaic Law. Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” (Galatians 3:3, 10-12, NKJV) The Jerusalem council in Acts 15 addressed a twofold problem: some were saying a person must be circumcised to be justified (Acts 15:1) and live according to the Law of Moses as a rule of life. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5, NKJV). Peter called this a heavy yoke that man could not bear (verse 10). The resolution reads like 1 Corinthians 8, with a touch of the Noahic Covenant, as the saints were told to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. (verse 20, NKJV) The commands of Christ are worked out in myriad passages which sometimes refer to Mosaic Law but are not bringing that law in as rule of life – they are subordinate to His teaching us to love rightly.
In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul calls himself and the saints ministers of the New Covenant (verse 6) and he said the minds of Israelites have a veil over them when the Old Covenant is read (verse 14). The Old Covenant is identified with the Decalogue, which is styled the ministry of death (verse 7) and is said to being brought to an end (verse 11) at the time Paul wrote this letter. Unless the Decalogue can be shown from Scripture to have authority outside the Mosaic Covenant, it has no authority as law for anyone since that covenant is no longer in force.
The idea of progressive revelation ought to give us pause as we consider how the laws God has given man over the centuries ought to be applied to life today; both within the body of Christ and in the world at large. We do not need to “unhitch” the Old Testament from our faith, we need to properly understand how it applies to those within and without the household of faith. Ethnic Israel (the type) has given way to spiritual Israel (the anti-type). We have a new priesthood and that requires a new law.