THEONOMY, A REFORMED BAPTIST ASSESSMENT
by Sam Waldron
Section 1: Introductory Considerations
I. A General Description of "Theonomy"
A. Major Sources
1. Rousas J. Rushdoony
Theonomy, or as it is also called, Christian Reconstruction, has for its father R. J. Rushdoony and his prolific pen. Among his many books the ones which are most important here are first and foremost, The Institutes of Biblical Law, and his brief treatment entitled, The Meaning of Postmillennialism: God's Plan for Victory. Rushdoony ascribes to Cornelius Van Til the greatest influence by far upon his thinking.(1) Rushdoony is the master influence in three Theonomic organs: The Chalcedon Foundation, "The Journal of Reconstruction," and a newsletter entitled "The Chalcedon Report."
2. Greg Bahnsen
It is probably due to Mr. Bahnsen that
Christian Reconstructionism owes the name, Theonomy. His Theonomy in Christian Ethics
with a foreword by Rushdoony is perhaps the single most influential and controversial of
the Theonomic literature. He is also well-known for his book, Homosexuality: A
Biblical View. This book illustrates what is best in the Theonomic perspective. Mr.
Bahnsen is now an Orthodox Presbyterian Church minister in California. He is a graduate of
Westminster Theological Seminary and formerly the Professor of Apologetics at Reformed
Theological Seminary (RTS) in Jackson, Mississippi. Though a fine apologete in the
presuppositional school of thought, he was dismissed from RTS in a dispute over Theonomy.
The Covenant Tape Ministry distributes tapes of his teaching.
3. Gary North
Gary North was formerly editor of the
"Journal of Christian Reconstruction." He is the editor of numerous works
including, The Theology of Christian Resistance, The Tactics of Christian
Resistance. He is the author of a popularization of Christian Reconstruction
entitled, Unconditional Surrender: God's Program for Victory, as well as Backward
Christian Soldiersand volume 1 of an economic commentary on the Bible entitled The
Dominion Covenant: Genesis. He also contributed to The Failure of the American
Baptist Culture edited by James B. Jordan.
B. Major Tenets
The Christian Reconstructionists have
themselves defined the major tenets of their system. They are presuppositional
apologetics, predestination, their view of the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive
detail, and postmillennialism. North writes,
Mr. Clapp lists three key doctrines of the
Reconstructionists: presuppositional apologetics, biblical law, and postmillennialism. He
left out one crucial doctrine: predestination. These were the four that David Chilton and
I listed in our essay. "Apologetics and Strategy" in Christianity and
Civilization 3 (1983).(2)
As we come to a preliminary assessment of
Theonomy, we will comment further on these self-confessed distinctives of Christian
II. A Preliminary Assessment of Theonomy
A. The Necessity of Honesty
There is a peculiar danger of caricaturing
Christian Reconstructionism. This is aptly illustrated by the recent article in
"Christianity Today" by Rodney Clapp and the rebuttal written by Gary North.
They are entitled respectively "Democracy as Heresy" and "Honest Reporting
as Heresy: My Response to Christianity Today."(3)
A number of misconceptions of the teaching
of Christian Reconstructionism do exist and the Theonomic perspective seems unusually
susceptible to misunderstanding. Some of these misconceptions are:
-- Theonomists do not believe in the separation of church and state.
-- Theonomists want to impose Christian government on the U. S. by force and revolution.
-- Theonomists are seeking a one-world Christian government.
-- Theonomists believe that the Mosaic Law should be the constitution of every nation.
-- Theonomists believe that we are saved by the law.
-- Theonomists believe that a terrible
crisis will usher in the millennial period in the next few years.
Compare for other misconceptions Bahnsen's
Preface to the Second Edition of Theonomy.(4)Each
of these ideas is at best a half-truth. None are warranted by a fair assessment of the
Why is Theonomy so susceptible to misunderstanding? Two reasons may be given. First, the Theonomists themselves are frequently guilty of violent or extreme rhetoric in their writings which gives unnecessary occasion for misunderstanding. Father Rushdoony set the course in this regard by charging Calvin with "heretical nonsense,"(5) the Westminster Confession with "confusion" and "nonsense,"(6) and those tainted with Pietism with being "nothing people, pious poops."(7) North also illustrates this tendency by calling Meredith C. Kline and millions of other Christians "full-time Christian antinomians."(8) He also offends by such descriptions as these of the Third World when he writes,
He is correct when he cites me as saying
that the poverty of the Third World stems from its commitment to socialism and outright
demonism. I have said that these societies are cursed. I would now add that the
depopulation of central Africa from AIDS is a direct judgment of God on the universal
promiscuity of these nations. God will not be mocked.(9)
James B. Jordan is known as a Theonomist,
but in a letter to me he states, "I do not consider myself a Theonomist." Later
he describes as a "borderline C[hristian] R[econstructionists]". Jordan states
in the same letter, "I agree with you regarding the extreme rhetoric of many
Christian Reconstructionists, and I have criticized it in print."(10)
The second reason which may be given for the
frequent misrepresentation of Theonomy is that the position they are advocating runs
completely against the grain of 20th century American thinking. Though it is no doubt true
that they throw around the charge of "antinomianism" with undue frequency, the
fact is that most American and evangelical thinking in our day is grossly sub-Biblical in
its view of the law. Frequently one's reaction to those seeking to refute Theonomy is to
feel more sympathy for the Theonomists than those attempting to refute their supposed
heresies. Even at those points where one is disposed to disagree with them, for instance
in their advocacy of civil punishment for public blasphemy or idolatry, the fact is that
revered fathers in the Reformed faith agree with them and not the modern consensus.
Further, the modern consensus against such things--no matter how much we may agree with it
in practice--is often defended or based on ways of thinking that undermine basic truths of
B. The Problem of Diversity
One major difficulty in critiquing Theonomy is the diversity of thought within the ranks of Christian Reconstructionists. One must be careful not to treat some particular application of the Mosaic Law, for instance, as standard among all Theonomists. There is substantial difference of opinion among "Theonomists" as to the specific application of Old Testament laws. Bahnsen makes this point in the Preface to the Second Edition of his Theonomy.
Our outline of the Theonomic perspective
indicates that it pertains to fundamental, underlying ethical principles and is not, as
such, committed to distinctive interpretations and applications of the Old Testament moral
directives. In the nature of the case, these principles leave plenty of room for
disagreements in Biblical exegesis (for prescriptive premises), observation of the world
(for factual premises), and reasoning (for logically drawing an application). Thus
Theonomists will not necessarily agree with each other's every interpretation and ethical
conclusion. For instance, many (like myself) do not affirm R. J. Rushdoony's view of the
dietary laws, Gary North's view of home mortgages, James Jordan's stance on automatic
infant communion (without sessional examination), or David Chilton's attitudes toward
bribery and "ripping off" the unbeliever. Nevertheless, all share the basic
perspective reflected in the above ten propositions.(11)
North distances himself from certain of
So far as I know, all of the younger
Reconstructionists reject Mr. Rushdoony's Armenian (note not Arminian) view of the
patriarchal family (p. 19). This is a major area of disagreement within the
Reconstructionist camp. The "Tyler Group," as well as Greg Bahnsen, holds to the
biblical nuclear family, where the departure of sons and daughters to set up new
covenantal family units (Gen. 2:24) establishes a clear covenantal break with parents. No
man will tolerate living in his father's household with his wife and children unless
forced to by custom or economics. Another Armenian church practice that the article refers
to is the practice of sacrificing animals at the door of the church, which Rushdoony
discusses in The Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 782-3. Unquestionably, we in
Tyler would utterly reject such a practice as heretical throwback to Old Testament
"shadows" that were completely fulfilled by the death and resurrection of
Christ. It is our rejection of Christ. It is our rejection of what Mr. Clapp correctly
identifies as Rushdoony's "Armenian Connection" that ultimately led to the split
in the Reconstructionist camp: Tyler vs. Vallecito.(12)
It is also well-known that Bahnsen as a
believer in the Christian Sabbath(13) disagrees
with North's vitriolic attack on this doctrine.(14)
In fairness, therefore, to Theonomy one must distinguish their basic perspectives and
their necessary applications from the particular applications or aberrations of individual
C. The Difficulty of Volume
One cannot but be impressed by the enormous
volume of literature that Christian Reconstructionism is spawning and much of it composed
of technical theological writings. To make concrete the monumental size of the task, let
it be noted that simply to read Rushdoony's Institutes and Bahnsen's Theonomy
would mean reading well in excess of 1500 pages of technical theology. The sheer volume of
literature is another difficulty standing in the way of accurate assessment.
D. The Urgency of the Study
One cannot, however, ignore the Christian
Reconstructionists in the hope that they will go away. There is every indication that they
are commanding more and more support and allegiance, or at least are having a formative
impact on many prominent Christian leaders. Two prominent leaders who have felt their
impact are, in fact, Pat Robertson and D. James Kennedy. In most, if not all of the
conservative Presbyterian and Reformed denominations Theonomy is a very live issue.
Bahnsen elaborately documents the debate stirred by his book alone in his Preface to the
Second Edition of Theonomy.(15)
E. The Danger of Over-reaction
The clear and present danger of
over-reacting to Theonomy has already been clearly illustrated in Calvinistic Baptist
circles. Carl W. Bogue writing in the "Covenanter Witness" reminds us of this
At the 1980 Council of Baptist Theology,
Ronald McKinney, Jon Zens, and others known as Reformed Baptists charted a new course,
denying their previously held commitment to covenant theology. McKinney and Zens told me
privately what McKinney repeated in his opening address, namely, their conviction that
covenant theology would of necessity lead to the doctrines of infant baptism and Theonomy.
Since they were convinced these were wrong, they repudiated covenant theology.(16)
It is important that one face the issue of
Theonomy now, before it is faced in the crucible of the pastorate. When one sees it
creating division and disaster in the church or danger for the individual sheep, as it has
in many cases, it is easy under the pressure of the pastorate to over-react theologically.
If, however, we over-react to Theonomy, we may well throw out several babies with the bath
water. While there is still much which one cannot accept and which on a practical level is
of great concern, I personally have been surprised with how much agreement I had on the
theoretical level with many Theonomic perspectives.
F. The Expression of Appreciation
It would be imbalanced and out of due
perspective, if it were not noted that at a number of points those who embrace a
"Theonomic" perspective are to be commended. As the previous delineation of the
major tenets of Theonomy make clear, there is much with which one can find agreement in
their writings. We wholeheartedly embrace both the Reformed doctrine of predestination and
the consistently Reformed apologetic known as presuppositionalism. Furthermore, one cannot
but appreciate the high supernaturalist, inerrancy view of Scripture so straightforwardly
embraced and exemplified in their writings, especially when it is contrasted with that
found in Neo-orthodox and Neo-evangelical writings. By way of contrast books like
Bahnsen's Theonomy are a breath of fresh air. Further, no one with a Reformed
bone in their body can fail to appreciate the consistent emphasis on the sovereign
prerogatives of God and His Word over every area of human life whether it be civil,
economic, or some other area.
Other areas of appreciation and agreement
will be enunciated later. Though these points of agreement do not alleviate our deep
concern over the points with which we differ, they do put into perspective the critique in
which we are about to engage.
G. The Areas of Criticism
Having warned the student of the various
pitfalls surrounding an evaluation of Theonomy and placed the present critique into
perspective, it is now necessary to articulate two areas which are to be addressed
critically in this assessment of Theonomy. Speaking very generally those areas are their
postmillennialism and their view of biblical law. In the remaining two major sections of
this assessment these two areas will be addressed under the headings:
Section 2: Theonomic Postmillennialism
Section 3: Theonomy, Theocracy, and Society
Section 2: Theonomic Postmillennialism
In the interest of fairness and clarity, it
is well to begin by permitting Christian Reconstructionists to speak for themselves.
Having permitted both Rushdoony and North to describe in their own terms the nature of
their postmillennialism, we will conclude this presentation by observing three features of
Rushdoony in his popular booklet entitled The
Meaning of Postmillennialism: God's Plan for Victory presents his eschatology in stark
contrast to all defeatist eschatologies whether premillennial or amillennial. Speaking of
these other eschatologies, he says,
In theory, the amillennial position holds that there is a parallel development of good and evil, of God's Kingdom and Satan's Kingdom. In reality, amillennialism holds that the major area of growth and power is in Satan's Kingdom, because the world is seen as progressively falling away to Satan, the church's trials and tribulations increasing, and the end of the world finding the church lonely and sorely beset. There is no such thing as a millennium or a triumph of Christ and His Kingdom in history. The role of the saints is at best to grin and bear it, and more likely to be victims and martyrs. The world will go from bad to worse in the pessimistic viewpoint. The Christian must retreat from the world of action in the realization that there is no hope for this world, no world-wide victory of Christ's cause, nor world peace and righteousness. The law of God is irrelevant, because there is no plan of conquest, no plan of triumph in Christ's name and power. At best, God's law is a plan for private morality, not for men and nations in their every aspect. Not surprisingly, amillennialism produces a retreating and crabbed outlook, a church in which men have no thought of victory but only of endless nit-picking about trifles. It produces a phariseeism of men who believe they are the elect in a world headed for hell, a select elite who must withdraw from the futility of the world around them. It produces what can be called an Orthodox Pharisees Church, wherein failure is a mark of election. Lest this seem an exaggeration, one small denomination has a habit of regarding pastors who produce growth in their congregations with some suspicion, because it is openly held by many pastors that growth is a mark of compromise, whereas incompetence and failure are marks of election! Amillennial pastors within this church regularly insist that success surely means compromise, and their failures are a mark of purity and election. Not surprisingly, postmillennials cannot long remain in this basically and almost exclusively amillennial church.
Let us now examine some common traits of
amillennialism and premillennialism. First, both regard attempts to build a Christian
society or to further Christian reconstruction as either futile or wrong. If God has
decreed that the world's future is one of downward spiral, then indeed Christian
reconstruction is futile. As a prominent premillennial pastor and radio preacher, the Rev.
J. Vernon McGee declared in the early 1950's, "You don't polish brass on a sinking
ship." If the world is a sinking ship, then efforts to eliminate prostitution, crime,
or any kind of social evil, and to expect the Christian conquest of the social order, are
He concludes this booklet with a summary of
his own eschatology,
Post-millennialism is the faith that Christ will through His people accomplish and put into force the glorious prophecies of Isaiah and all the Scriptures, that He shall overcome all His enemies through His covenant people, and that He shall exercise His power and Kingdom in all the world and over all men and nations, so that, whether in faith or in defeat, every knee shall bow to Him and every tongue shall confess God (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:11). . . .
How is Christ's Kingdom to come? Scripture is again very definite and explicit. The glorious peace and prosperity of Christ's reign will be brought about ONLY as people obey the covenant law. In Lev. 26, Deut. 28, and all of Scripture, this is plainly stated. There will be peace and prosperity in the land, the enemy will be destroyed, and men will be free of evils only "If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them (Lev. 26:3). The obedience of faith to the law of God produces IRRESISTIBLE BLESSINGS. "And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God" (Deut. 28:2). On the other hand, disobedience leads to IRRESISTIBLE CURSES. . . .
God's determination of history is thus plainly described in His law. If we believe and obey, then we are blessed and we prosper in Him; if we deny Him and disobey His law, we are cursed and confounded. . . .
. . . Antinomian postmillennials deny the God-given way to God's Kingdom when they by-pass the law. In effect, they posit without reference to it, a rapture! How else is the world going to move from its present depravity into God's order? Are we going to float in on vague prayers and "higher-life" spirituality? The antinomian postmillennials have no answer.
The charge is often raised that the
postmillennialism of colonial and 19th century Calvinism led to the Social Gospel of the
20th century. No one has documented this charge, which is obviously false. The Hodges,
Warfield, Machen, and others were not the source of the Social Gospel, and were hostile to
it. The roots of that movement are in Arminianism, and, very directly, in that notable
humanist-revivalist, C. G. Finney.(18)
North in his popularization of Theonomy
gives this summary of his eschatological outlook,
But it isn't enough to proclaim the foundations of a godly society, nor is it sufficient to describe some of the institutional arrangements of such a society. What is needed is a dynamic, a psychologically motivating impulse to give godly men confidence that their efforts are not in vain, and that their work for the kingdom of God will have meaning in the future, not just in heaven, but in time and on earth. We need a goal to sacrifice for, a standard of performance that is at the same time a legitimate quest. What is needed is confidence that all this talk about the marvels of the kingdom of God becomes more than mere talk. What is needed is a view of history that guarantees to Christians external, visible victory, in time and on earth, as a prelude, a down payment, to the absolute and eternal victory which Christians are confident awaits them after the day of judgment. . . .
. . . What if the following scenario were the case? First, God saves men through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, these men respond in faith to God's dominion assignment, given to us through our fathers, Adam, Noah, and Christ in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Third, these regenerate men begin to study the law of God, subduing their own hearts, lives, and areas of responsibility in terms of God's comprehensive law-order. Fourth, the blessings of God begin to flow toward these who are acting in His name and in terms of His law. Fifth, the stewardship principle of "service as a road to leadership" begins to be acknowledged by those who call themselves Christian, in every sphere of life: family, institutional church, schools, civil government, economy. This leads to step six, the rise to prominence of Christians in every sphere of life, as Satanists become increasingly impotent to handle the crises that their world-and-life view has created. Seventh, the law of God is imposed progressively across the face of each society which has declared commitment to Christ. Eighth, this provokes foreign nations to jealousy, and they begin to imitate the Christian social order, in order to receive the external blessings. Ninth, even the Jews are provoked to jealousy, and they convert to Christ. Tenth, the conversion of the Jews leads to an unparalleled explosion of conversions, followed by even greater external blessings. Eleventh, the kingdom of God becomes worldwide in scope, serving as a down payment by God to His people on the restoration which will come beyond the day of judgment. Twelfth, the forces of Satan have something to provoke them to rebellion, after generations of subservience outwardly to the benefits-producing law of God. Thirteenth, this rebellion by Satan is immediately smashed by Christ in His final return in glory and judgment. Fourteenth, Satan, his troops of angels, and his human followers are judged, and then condemned to the lake of fire. And finally, fifteenth, God sets up His new heaven and new earth, for regenerate men to serve in throughout all eternity. . . .
. . .If men really believed that this
scenario is possible--indeed, inevitable--would they not redouble their efforts to begin
to subdue the earth?(19)
Later in the same book North elaborates upon this summary.(20)
Three features of this eschatological
outlook must now be underscored. The first is its ethical rationale or, at least its
intimate ethical association. Theonomic postmillennialists believe their system is
demanded or, at least strongly commended by its power to motivate men to keep God's law in
every worldly sphere of life. This is a thread which runs throughout Rushdoony's The
Meaning of Postmillennialism.(21) North's
description of his eschatological outlook as "dynamic, a psychologically motivating
impulse" makes this explicit. Theonomists reason that since the dominion mandate of
Genesis 1 demands that we subdue every area of life to God by means of His law, then that
eschatology which most encourages us to do so must be the best and most Biblical
The second feature which emerges from these
quotations is the self-conscious peculiarity of Theonomic postmillennialism. Though they
can cite those like Jonathan Edwards whom they call "pietistic
postmillennialists" when it suits them,(22)
the quote from Rushdoony above evinces a self-conscious distance from those whom Rushdoony
calls "antinomian postmillennialists." North in another work identifies Jonathan
Edwards himself with such pietistic, antinomian postmillennialists. Chilton writes in his
book, Days of Vengeance,
The great defect with the postmillennial
revival inaugurated by Jonathan Edwards and his followers in the eighteenth century was
their neglect of biblical law. They expected to see the blessings of God come as a result
of merely soteriological preaching. Look at Edwards' Treatise on the Religious
Affections. There is nothing on the law of God on culture. Page after page is filled
with the words "sweet" and "sweetness." a diabetic reader is almost
risking a relapse by reading this book in one sitting. The words sometimes appear four or
five times on a page. And while Edwards was preaching the sweetness of God, Arminian
semi-literates were "hot-gospeling" the Holy Commonwealth of Connecticut into
political antinomianism. Where sweetness and emotional hot flashes are concerned,
Calvinistic preaching is no match for antinomian sermons. The hoped-for revival of the
1700s became the Arminian revivals of the early 1800s, leaving emotionally burned-over
districts, cults, and the abolitionist movement as their devastating legacy. Because the
postmillennial preaching of the Edwardians was culturally antinomian and pietistic, it
crippled the remnants of Calvinistic political order in the New England colonies, helping
to produce a vacuum that Arminianism and then Unitarianism filled.(23)
It is clear that one peculiarity of Theonomic postmillennialism is its emphasis on the application of Biblical law to every area of human life as the means of bringing about millennial blessing. As North is fond of reminding us, the law is man's instrument or "tool of dominion."(24)
This feature of Theonomic postmillennialism will be taken up in Section 3 of this assessment where we deal with the subject of the "Theocracy." As the quote from Rushdoony makes clear the full, present applicability of the blessings described in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28 (and there promised to the obedience of Israel, the Theocratic nation), is the crucial link which connects obedience to the law with millennial blessing. North seconds Rushdoony's point.
God established His covenant with Adam, and again with Noah. It was a dominion covenant. It was man's authorization to subdue the earth, but under God's overall authority and under His law. God also covenanted with Abram, changing his name to Abraham, and instituting the sign of His covenant, circumcision. He covenanted with Jacob, Abraham's grandson, changing his name to Israel, promising to bless Jacob's efforts (Genesis 32:24-30). God covenanted with Moses and the children of Israel, promising to bless them if they conformed to His laws, but curse them if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 8:28). The covenant was a treaty, and it involved mutual obligations and promises. The ruler, God, offers the peace treaty to a man or selection of men, and they in turn accept its terms of surrender. The treaty spells out mutual obligations: protection and blessings from the King, and obedience on the part of the servants. It also spells out the term of judgement: cursings from the King in case of rebellion on the part of the servants.
This same covenant is extended to the church to day. It covers the institutional church, and it also applies to nations that agree to conform their laws to God's standards . . . .
The law of God also provides us with a tool of external dominion. God promises blessings for that society which surrenders unconditionally to Him, and then adopts the terms of His peace treaty (Deuteronomy 8 and 28).
Fourth, the blessings of God begin to flow
in the direction of His people. "A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's:
and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just" (Proverbs 13:22). As Benjamin
Franklin said, honesty is the best policy. Capital flows to those who will bear
responsibility, predict the future accurately, plan to meet the needs of consumers with a
minimum of waste, and deal honestly with both suppliers and customers. Again, Deuteronomy
8 and 28 show us the nature of this wealth-transfer process. This wealth-transfer program
is through market completion and conformity to God's law. Satan's kingdom is progressively
This use of Deut. 28 and parallel passages
is a critical linchpin in the Theonomic argument for postmillennialism.
The third feature of Theonomic
postmillennialism which must be underscored, though implicit in the above quotations, is
not explicit. It is their rejection of what Chilton calls "Chiliastic
Postmillennialism."(26) Rather, they argue
for the historical continuity of the present age until the return of Christ after their
golden age. They reject the idea that the millennium or at least the future millennial
blessings are to be brought in by a single catastrophic event. Chilton in his commentary
on the Book of Revelation writing on Rev. 20 asserts,
Millennarianism can take two general forms. It can be either Premillennarianism (with the Second Coming as the cataclysm that ushers in the Millennium), or Postmillennarianism (with the Social Revolution as the cataclysm). Examples of the first branch of Chiliasm would be, of course, the Ebionite movement of the Early Church period, and the modern Dispensationalism of the Scofield-Ryrie school. Examples of the Postmillennarian heresy would be easy to name as well: the Munster Revolt of 1534, Nazism, and Marxism (whether "Christian" or otherwise). Orthodox Christianity rejects both forms of the Millennarian heresy. Christianity opposes the notion of any new redemptive cataclysm occurring before the Last Judgment. Christianity is anti-revolutionary. Thus, while Christians have always looked forward to the salvation of the world, believing that Christ died and rose again for that purpose, they have also seen the Kingdom's work as leavening influence, gradually transforming the world into the image of God. The definitive cataclysm has already taken place, in the finished work of Christ. Depending on the specific question being asked, therefore, orthodox Christianity can be considered either amillennial or postmillennial because, in reality, it is both. . . .
With the rise of divergent eschatologies over the last two centuries, the traditional evangelical optimism of the Church was tagged with the term "postmillennialism," whether the so-called "postmillennialists" liked it or not. This has had positive results. On the plus side, it is (as we have seen) a technically accurate description of orthodoxy; and it carries the connotation of optimism. On the minus side, it can too often be confused with heretical millennarianism. And, while, "amillennialism" rightly expresses the orthodox abhorrence of apocalyptic revolution, it carries (both by name and by historic association) a strong connotation of defeatism. The present writer therefore calls himself a "postmillennialist," but also seeks to be sensitive to the inadequacies of current theological terminology. . . .
Some have sought to remedy this by styling
themselves "optimistic amillennialists," a term that has nothing wrong with it
except a mouthful of syllables (the term "non-chiliastic postmillennialist"
suffers from the same problem.)(27)
North likewise argues from the parables of
If we are to take the parables seriously,
then we have to begin to think about the continuity of history in between Pentecost and
the final judgment. If there is no great break coming which will divide this period into
two or more segments, then whatever happens to the world, the flesh, the devil, and the
church (institutional) must happen without direct, cataclysmic intervention, either from
God or Satan. The process will be one of growth or decay. The process may be an ebb and
flow, heading for victory for the church or defeat for the church, in time and on earth.
But what cannot possibly be true is that the church's victory process or defeat process
will be interrupted and reversed by the direct, visible physical intervention of Jesus
Christ and His angels. No discontinuity of history which overcomes the very processes of
history in one cataclysmic break will take place. Christians must not base their hopes for
collective or personal victory on an historically unprecedented event in history which is
in fact the destruction of history. They will sink or swim, win or lose, in time and on
earth, by means of the same sorts of processes as we see today, although the speed will
increase or decrease in response to man's ethical conformity to God's law, or his
rebellion against that law.(28)
The Theonomic writers we have quoted are to
be commended for avoiding a clearly unbiblical extremism and their attempt to embrace a
Biblical perspective essentially alien to their own in certain respects.
The time has come to critique the
eschatological outlook outlined above. It is unnecessary to delve into the obscure details
of biblical prophecy in order to secure an evaluative basis for this critique. We shall
limit this critique to examining three fundamental structures in Biblical Eschatology.
With this data several aspects of Theonomic postmillennialism may be challenged.
A. Postmillennialism and the Two-Age
Structure of Redemptive History
A thorough examination of this vital aspect
of Eschatology must await the formal treatment it is given in the Eschatology Course in
Systematic Theology. Here the relevant features of it for the issue at hand may be more
briefly presented. Those features will be presented by way of an introduction and four
The terminology under discussion, "this
age and the age to come," was in all probability developed by Jewish Scribes of the
Inter-testamental period in order to give systematic structure to their view of OT
Prophecy. They noticed that again and again the present order of sin and distress was
contrasted with a future order variously described as the era of Israel's redemption, the
age of salvation, or the Kingdom of God. This contrast they called the distinction between
this age and the age to come.
Its earliest usage in the extant evidence
is, however, by Jesus. Clearly, Jesus and after Him His Apostles adopted this terminology
and thereby sealed it with the divine imprimatur as the correct scheme of OT Prophecy.
This terminology or parts of it are used 18 times in the NT. Parallel phraseology adds
many more occurrences to this list. This terminology is, therefore, pervasive in the NT
and structural to its eschatological perspective.
The key word in this terminology is the
Greek word . It combines the two ideas, age and world. That is to say, it is at one and
the same time both a spatial and temporal designation (Gal. 1:4; Lk. 20:35). This in
itself is intensely significant. For by using the phrase, "the age to come," of
the eternal state the Bible clearly designates it as a temporal and spatial existence.
Gary North repeatedly avails himself of the
phraseology, "in time and on earth," to speak of and insist upon the coming of
millennial blessing in this age.(29) Though one
does not need to assume that North believes that the eternal state is a non-time and
non-earth existence purely on the basis of his repeated usage of this phraseology,
nonetheless it is symptomatic of a tendency among postmillennialists to refuse to allow
the eternal state to count with reference to the fulfillment of the dominion mandate or
the coming of kingdom blessings. More shall be said about this later, but let it suffice
to say here that spatial and temporal existence in the new and redeemed earth does count
in the Bible for the fulfillment of the dominion mandate and the historical culmination of
God's Kingdom. We agree with North that we need an eschatology of victory in time and on
earth.(30) This, however, does not mean that we
This being said, we come to the first
1. This age and the age to come taken
together exhaust all time, including the endless time of the eternal state. (Mt. 12:32,
cf. Mk. 3:29; 10:30, parallel, Lk. 18:30, I Tim. 6:17-19).
There is a subordinate question that needs
to be answered here. When did "this age" begin? I have assumed that this age
began with the beginning of human history in the above statement. How do I know this to be
Let me state clearly, first of all, what I
believe the Bible teaches. "This age" begins at the beginning of human history
in the creation-fall complex, (i.e., that complex of events we read about in Gen. 1-3). My
point is that "this age" did not begin at the time of Christ's first advent, but
was in existence even from the beginning.
1) The origin of this terminology proves
this. "This age and the age to come" was a terminology which systematized the
Old Testament contrast between the present existing state of things and the future
Old Testament - Present Order Redeemed Order
Rabbis - This Age The Age to come
This means that "this age" already
was in existence in the Old Testament period.
2) The use of this terminology in the New
Testament proves this. Jesus and the Apostles never teach that this present age is of
recent origin. From the very beginning Jesus assumes that this age is already in
existence. (Cf. Mt. 12:32; Mk. 10:30.)
3) The character of this age points to the
conclusion that it originated in the complex of creation-fall recorded in Gen. 1-3. It is
the natural order of Creation, "the sons of this age marry." "Those who are
rich in this age." It is the evil order produced by the Fall. It is a "present,
evil age," with Satan as its "god." Note the parallel with the Old
Creation--New Creation terminology.
Let me pause to summarize what the first
statement teaches us. "This age and the age to come" originated at the beginning
of human history and exhaust all periods of human existence to all eternity. Note Mt.
12:32 with Mk. 10:30. If the two ages exhaust all possible time, there is no possibility
of a state intermediate between them. There is no period of human history before
"this age." There is no period between "this age and the age to come."
There is no period after "the age to come." It is eternal. Vos confirms this.
We have already seen that the distinction
between "this age" and "the age to come" lies in the line of
successiveness. Where, and as soon as, the one ceases, the other begins, or at least is at
the point of beginning. The very name "coming aion" is not merely expressive of
futurity, but also carries within itself the element of direct successiveness.(31)
2. This age and the age to come are
qualitatively different states of human existence and qualitatively different periods in
the history of the world.
This age does not evolve through natural or
gradual process into the age to come. The difference is that between the natural and the
supernatural order. The crucial passage here is Luke 20:27-40. What are the differences
between this age and the age to come according to this passage?
This AgeThe Age to Come
1. Marriage and giving 1. No marriage or giving
in marriage in marriage
2. Death and dying 2. No death or dying
3. Natural men 3. Resurrected men
4. Sons of the devil 4. Only sons of God
exist in that and righteous co-exist age and in a resurrected state
Cf., the parable of the tares in Mt.
1. Mixed good and evil 1. Only the good.
2. Natural men 2. Resurrected men
We might add to this contrast from other
passages like 1 Tim. 6:17-19:
Riches of this age/Life indeed Cf.
also Lk. 16:8, 11.
3. This age and the age to come are divided
by the second coming of Christ which ends this age and inaugurates the age to come.
A sampling of the support for this assertion
Attaining to that age is equivalent to
attaining to the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection is the door out of this age,
and into the age to come. When does the resurrection occur? It occurs according to the
pervasive teaching of the New Testament at Christ's return. (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:22, 23; 1 Cor.
15:50-55; 1 Thes. 4:16.)
These verses refer to the same event as Lk.
20:35. They are clearly a reference to the second coming of Christ, Cf. Mt. 24:30, 31.
In the age to come we receive eternal life.
This occurs at Christ's second coming. (Cf. Mt. 25:31 with vs. 46.)
This verse clearly implies that the second
coming consummates this age and brings in the age to come in its fullness. Cf. Mt. 28:20.
John 6:39 says, "And this is the will
of him who sent me, that of all that he has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on
the last day." The last day of this age is the day of Christ's second coming and it
is the first day of the age to come. We remind ourselves again that there is no period
between this age and the age to come. Three observations are appropriate here.
Many have thought that prophecy,
eschatology, was complicated. What could be simpler than this? Only two ages, not 7, 10,
12, 21 or more. There couldn't be a simpler eschatology. The unlearned and fearful may put
their fears and assumptions that biblical eschatology is too complex for them aside. There
are two ages, one temporal and natural, the other eternal and supernatural, separated by
the second coming and resurrection. If one knows this, one knows more than most
"prophetic teachers" and "prophecy nuts" of our day. It is men who
have made eschatology difficult, not God. Of course difficulties of detail, exegetical and
doctrinal, remain. One must, however, put off for awhile the puzzles and questions
regarding the details and intricacies of prophecy. First things first. Algebra 1 and 2
must precede trigonometry.
The Bible teaches a very clear-cut and
humiliatingly simple scheme. If this scheme is grasped in its breadth, many of the details
will be clarified.
On the simplest level there are two basic
schemes of prophecy:
What are the essentials of
Pre-millennialism? They are a thousand year reign after the second coming of Christ before
the eternal state. This is the meaning of Rev. 20:1-10 according to Premillennialism. Note
that in Premillenialism unresurrected, evil men inhabit the millennial period according to
Is the biblical doctrine of two ages similar
or consistent with this teaching of premillennialism? No. The doctrine of the two ages
confronts premillennialism with a dilemma. Let us suppose we are premillennialist. Where
would we put the millennium? In this age or in the age to come? Why not in this age?
Because the millennium occurs after Christ's second coming. Why not in the age to come?
Because no wicked men in an unresurrected condition remain in that age.
Biblical eschatology involves an emphatic
supernaturalism. There is no evolution into the age to come. No naturalistic or
materialistic explanation for the glory that shall be revealed. Furthermore, no spiritual
progression brings in the consummate Kingdom of God.
4. This age is and always will be an
In Luke 16:8 evil men are called the sons of
this age and contrasted with the sons of light. In Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 we learn that
those who have left all for Christ can always expect persecutions in this age. As long as
this age lasts persecution will be the lot of true Christians. In Romans 12:2 Paul exhorts
Christians not to be conformed to this age. How could Paul have used such language if he
did not believe that this age will always be an evil age? In 2 Cor. 4:4 Satan is
identified as the god of this age. It is therefore necessarily evil. In Galatians 1:4 Paul
calls this age a present, evil age. In Ephesians 2:2 Paul describes the former, wicked
lives of Ephesians believers as walking according to the age of this world. Such passages
as these presuppose and assume that this present age is, and always will be, evil. If this
were not the case, there might come a day when the persecution of Christians would cease,
when it would not be wrong to be conformed to this age, when Satan would not be its god,
when Paul's description of it as evil would cease to be true, and when one could walk
according to the age of this world and be righteous. All this defies the plain
implications and presuppositions of these passages.
All of this, of course, has direct
application to any form of postmillennialism, but it also has specific application to
Theonomic postmillennialism. When North speaks as follows of the millennial blessings he
expects, he defies the plain sense of the Word. He says,
. . . the kingdom of God becomes truly
worldwide in scope. This involves the beginning of the restoration of the cursed world.
The curse will then be lifted progressively by God. One result is longer life spans for
man. This is a downpayment on the paradise to come after the final judgment.(32)
We will have occasion to return to this
interesting statement. It is clear, however, that the curse is lifted during the course of
this present evil age which has Satan as its god. Further, it is doubtful whether North
may legitimately speak of a yet future, but pre-second coming progressive lifting of the
curse consistent with his stated position that there is no radical historical
discontinuity, no divine and supernatural intervention in history between the two advents
of Christ.(33) But that brings us to the second
fundamental structure of Eschatology which is relevant for this critique of Theonomic
B. Postmillennialism and the Two-stage
Coming of the Kingdom
Properly understood, no more complete or
clear teaching on the coming of the kingdom occurs in the NT than that of the seven
parables of the kingdom found in Matthew 13. It is peculiarly appropriate that we should
examine these parables since Gary North makes them the subject of extended comment in Unconditional
The theme of these parables is pervasively
present in Matthew 13. It is the Kingdom, or more precisely, the coming of the Kingdom.
Cf. verses 11, 16, 17, 19, 24, 31, 32, 44, 45, 52. We will treat this theme by means of
1. Their Common Emphasis.
2. Their Specific Emphases.
3. Their Comprehensive Teaching.
4. Their Present Relevance.
1. Their Common Emphasis
The common emphasis of these parables flows
from the fact that they all address the same problem or question. This question flowed out
of the historical situation in which Jesus and his disciples found themselves. The Jews in
general conceived of the coming of the Kingdom as a glorious deliverance from all their
troubles. Political and temporal victory would be its results (John 6:15; Acts 5:35-39).
Even those Jews with a more spiritual expectation like that of John the Baptist viewed its
coming as equivalent to the judgment of the wicked with irresistible might (Matt. 3:2-12.)
In such a context, Jesus came preaching the nearness and then the actual coming of the
Kingdom (Matt. 4:17; Mt. 12:28, 29). A man like John the Baptist gladly embraced Jesus as
the one who would usher in the glorious and irresistible coming of the Kingdom. But when
Jesus continued to preach and even preach the actual presence of the Kingdom (Mt. 12:28f.)
without the onset of the glorious consummation, John the Baptist with such preconceptions
began to have doubts (Matthew 11:2-6), 11. Verse 11 refers to knowledge of the mysteries
of the Kingdom. If a man like John would struggle with the seeming inconsistency of Jesus'
preaching of the Kingdom with what the Old Testament itself had led the Jews to expect
(Dan. 2:44), Jesus' disciples would not be immune to the same doubts. The question was:
How could the all-conquering, glorious eschatological Kingdom of God be present in the
former in the former carpenter turned itinerant preacher and his Galilean followers?
While the parable may have an application to
the gospel in the world during the church age as older interpreters thought, this is not
its historical meaning. The Sitz im Leben of the parable is Jesus' announcement
that the Kingdom of God had come among men. The Jews thought that the coming of the
Kingdom would mean the exercise of God's mighty power before which no man could stand. The
Kingdom of God would batter the godless nations (Dan. 2:44). The dominion of wicked rulers
would be destroyed and the Kingdom be given to the saints of the Most High, that all
nations should serve and obey them (Dan. 7:27). In apparent disagreement with the Old
Testament promises, which were elaborated in great detail in the contemporary apocalyptic
expectations, Jesus said that the Kingdom had indeed come upon men, but not for the
purpose of shattering evil. It is now attended by no apocalyptic display of irresistible
Ridderbos says that the problem addressed is
the "modality of the coming of the Kingdom of God."(35)
The common emphasis of these parables is that the Kingdom has come and is present, but
that this is inseparably related to its future, glorious consummation. It is present in
its initial phase, in other words, in a form mostly unexpected by the Jews.
2. Their Specific Emphases
Each of the parables picks up this common
emphasis and elaborates it in its own peculiar fashion.
a. The Parable of the Four Soils.
This parable's emphasis is that the Kingdom
of heaven is present in the sowing of the Word of God. Ladd asserts, the single emphasis
is upon the nature of sowing: The present action of God's Kingdom.(36)
It is "the word," the "word
of God," "the word of the kingdom," the decisive, messianic word of power
that Christ, as the Son of Man, has to say on earth and in which eo ipso the
kingdom of heaven is revealed and has come. And the fact that this word can be compared to
seed, and he who speaks the word to a sower, is the instruction about the modality of the
kingdom of heaven that has come with and in Christ. This is the redemptive-historical
purport of the parable. Its spectacular aspect is its simplicity which is the confirmation
of the incomprehensible supposition: this is the way of the kingdom of God, "A sower
went out to sow -- and nothing further; and this means the new world of God."
The emphasis is elaborated in two
directions. First, the presence of the Kingdom is consistent with the rejection of the
Word and its consequent fruitlessness in the lives of some who hear it. Ladd remarks,
Rather, the Kingdom in its present working
is like a farmer sowing seed. It does not sweep away the wicked. In fact, the word in
which the Kingdom is proclaimed may lie like seed on the roadside and never take root; or
it may be superficially received only to die; or it may be choked by the cares of the age,
which is hostile to the Kingdom of God.(38)
If the Kingdom is present as sowing, such
fruitlessness is explicable. Second, the presence of the Kingdom is yet vindicated by the
amazing fruitfulness of the Word in those who receive it.
b. The Parable of the Tares
This parable elaborates what was implicit in
the first one. The Kingdom of God comes in two stages. It will come as the eschatological
harvest, but it must for that very reason come first as seed-time. Extraordinary as the
thought must have seemed to the Jewish mind, until that time, good and evil men will
co-exist in the world in the time of the Kingdom. The coming of the Kingdom does
not mean the immediate destruction of the wicked. The Messiah comes first as sower than as
harvester. It is not his will that the wicked be immediately destroyed.
The issue between the servants and the landlord is not the question who is to execute the separation, nor what kind of separation it is to be, but when it will happen. Though the servants desire to carry out an immediate separation, the landlord determines that it shall be postponed till the day of the harvest, for--thus he tells his servants--you might pull out the wheat in gathering the tares. . . .
. . . Since the kingdom comes like the seed,
and since the Son of Man is first the sower (vs. 37) before being the reaper (vs. 41) the
last judgment is postponed. The delay is implied in this difference. Whoever sows cannot
immediately reap. The postponement of the judgment is determine by the modality of the
kingdom of God that has already come with Christ.(39)
The meaning of the parable is clear when
interpreted in terms of the mystery of the Kingdom: its present but secret working in the
world. The Kingdom has come into history but in such a way that society is not disrupted.
The sons of the Kingdom have received God's reign and entered into its blessings. Yet they
must continue to live in this age, intermingled with the wicked in a mixed society. Only
at the eschatological coming of the Kingdom will the separation take place. Here is indeed
the revelation of a new truth: that the Kingdom of God can actually come into the world,
creating sons who enjoy its blessings without effecting the eschatological judgment.(40)
c. The Parable of the Dragnet
The point of this parable is almost, if not
completely, synonymous with that of the Tares. Not only in agriculture, but also in
fishing, two distinct phases occur. First, there is gathering, then there is separating.
Until the time of separation, good and bad co-exist together.
d. The Parables of the Treasure and the
Two related emphases are present in these
twin parables. First, Jesus intimates that the Kingdom is present in a hidden and
unexpected form. (vs. 44, "treasure hidden in the field," vs. 45, "Finding
one pearl"). Second, Jesus declares that in order to possess the Kingdom there will
be the need of total sacrifice. To a Jew with ideas of a glorious, earthly kingdom,
possessing the Kingdom meant glory, riches, fame, and honor. Jesus said a flat
"no" to that idea. Possessing the Kingdom would rather mean the total sacrifice
of this world's possessions.
e. The Parables of the Mustard Seed and
The main emphasis of these parables is again
that the Kingdom comes in two phases. More especially, Jesus is affirming that the
present, apparent insignificance of he himself and his followers is no bar to their being
the present manifestation of that Kingdom which would one day attain supreme dominance.
Jesus' answer is first the seed, then the tree. First the absurdly small bit of leaven in
over a bushel of meal and then the whole leavened. Ladd says,
The burning question faced by Jesus'
disciples was how the Kingdom of God could actually be present in such an insignificant
movement as that embodied in his ministry. The Jews expected the Kingdom to be like a
great tree under which nations would find shelter. They could not understand how one could
talk about the Kingdom apart from such an all-encompassing manifestation of God's rule.
How could the coming glorious Kingdom have anything to do with the poor little band of
Jesus' disciples? Rejected by the religious leaders, welcomed by tax collectors and
sinners, Jesus looked more like a deluded dreamer than the bearer of the Kingdom of God.(41)
Jesus answer is, first the tiny seed, later
the large tree. The smallness and relative insignificance of what is happening in his
ministry does not exclude the secret presence of the very Kingdom of God.
The parallel with the parables of the tares
and dragnet shows that the ultimate triumph in view is that of the age to come, the
consummate Kingdom. It is not the golden age of the Post-millennialists.
While rejecting the post-millennial
interpretation of these parables, the question of whether Jesus is here emphasizing the growth
of the Kingdom must still be answered. In other words, Jesus' primary stress is on the
beginning and the end, but does he also stress the middle period, the growth of the
Kingdom? Ladd rejects this idea of process.(42)
The idea of process or growth, however,
demands neither Post- millenialism, nor evolutionary theory. There may be progress without
post-millenialism. The framework of seed-time and harvest illustrates the idea of a
process of maturation. It is noteworthy, however, that such a process of maturation by
itself would never bring harvest. There must be the direct intervention of the
Evolutionary theory is not necessary either.
It is the direct activity of God and His word of power that brings both growth and
harvest. It is not an immanent evolution, but an action of the transcendent God through
His word that brings the Kingdom. Ridderbos says,
Yet it is unnatural to have an eye only for
the beginning and the end and to eliminate at all cost all that lies in between.
Everything depends upon the idea that is formed of the way in which progress is made from
the small beginning to the wonderful end. For the fact that the final coming of the
kingdom is entirely based on God's action shows that the end is not the completion of an
immanent process of development. And this is also true of the beginning. The whole of the
manifestation of the kingdom is the fruit of divine action. The seed is the word of God
spoken by Christ with authority. This word of power will one day make all things new. But
between the beginning and the end there is a history. In this history the word has made
progress and has had its effect. This progress cannot be thought of in the sense of the
modern idea of evolution, but in that of the plan and work of God.(43)
The following exegetical considerations
point to the presence of the idea of growth in this passage:
1) The Parable of the Sower implies the
germinal power, the amazing fruitfulness of the Word. Cf. Mt. 13:8, 23. But note that
growth and progress co-exists with the reality of fruitlessness in this parable.
2) The parallel occurrence of the Parable of
the Mustard Seed in Mark 4:30-32 gives a clearer emphasis to the idea of growth by its use
of three, durative present tenses in verse 32.
3) The context of Mark 4:30-32 points to the
idea of growth. Cf. the parable found in 4:26-29. The term, , and the delineation of three
stages of growth point up the idea of growth.
4) The context of the Parable of the Mustard
Seed as it is found in Luke 13:18-20. Note the connection between verse 10-17 and verses
18-20. Those verses emphasize the present power of Jesus' word to heal the sick, humiliate
his enemies and gladden the multitude with the word of salvation.
5) The allusion to such parables as that of
the mustard seed in Col. 1:6, 10, 11 confirms the presence of the growth idea in them.
Note the verbal parallels of with Matthew 13:32 and with Matthew 13:23.
3. Their Comprehensive Teaching
Taken together these parables give us a
comprehensive view of the Kingdom. With respect to the prospects of the Kingdom during
this age, both pessimism and unalloyed optimism must be rejected. A realistic optimism
is, however, warranted by these parables. Growth and progress will occur, but not such
growth or progress as will supersede the problems which confronted the early followers of
Jesus and their faith. For many, the word will continue fruitless. Good and evil will
continue to co-exist in the world and in the community created by the Kingdom. Sacrifice
will always be the order of the day for those who would possess the Kingdom. Yet, in many,
the word will cause extraordinary and fruitful effects and over-all growth will continue.
Mixture of Good and Evil Growth of
= Sacrifice for Kingdom = Kingdom
Fruitlessness of Word Amazing Fruitfulness
/Judgment of all the wicked
= Consummate Kingdom-Separation of righteous and wicked
\Glory of Righteous
4. Their Present Relevance
North--to do justice to him--does emphasize the idea of
historical continuity present in these parables. He rejects any Premillennial and by
implication any Postmillennial disruption of the historical continuity which these
parables teach will obtain until the absolute consummation.(44)He,
of course, also emphasizes the growth of the Kingdom as it is set forth in the parables of
the mustard seed and the leaven. It is, however, at this point that North's treatment
becomes imbalanced. The fact is that two other ideas are taught very clearly in these
parables. One is the continuance of evil in the present phase of the Kingdom with its
concomitant impact on the Kingdom, i.e. widespread fruitlessness in the preaching of the
Word, persecution and the necessity of sacrifice in this age. This is the special emphasis
of the parable of the tares, but it is the implication of several of the other parables.
This growth of evil in this age is also the explicit teaching of other passages in the NT
(2 Thes. 2:7, 8; 2 Tim. 3:1, 12, 13; Rev. 20:7-9). It is when North negates these
realities by distorting the emphasis on growth in the parables of the kingdom that he
departs from the analogy of Scripture. This distortion and departure becomes evident in
the following passages in Unconditional Surrender.
Satan's kingdom is being conquered by the gospel, not by the sheer force of God's angelic host. The terms of surrender are ethical. The offer of salvation is not being made to Satan's angelic host, but to his earthly troops. Christians are steadily seeing the defeat of Satan's human forces, for Satan suffers continual defections. As the power of the gospel increases its zone of sovereign mastery, even more will defect. He will have only the remnants of any army when the final trumpet sounds. He will be trying to hold the fort in the last outpost. And the gates of hell shall not prevail. . . .
Seventh, the treaty of peace is extended to all areas of those cultures that surrender to God unconditionally. The whole of society must be put under dominion. Societies can rule under God's sovereign authority, as Israel was called to do, or they can become tributaries to God's conquering kingdom, as the nations far from Israel were expected to do (Deuteronomy 20:10-11), or else they are to be destroyed (Deuteronomy 20:12-15). There is no "King's X," no escape hatch. . . .(45)
Theonomists like North and Rushdoony refuse to accept the
Biblical paradox of the parallel growth of good and evil in the present age. Their
dialectic sees only two alternatives: "pessimillennialism" or postmillennialism,
optimism or pessimism. It is because of this artificial dichotomy that Rushdoony
repeatedly lumps amillennialism with the most pessimistic forms of premillennialism.(46) While it is true that some forms of
amillennialism do tend to be quite pessimistic, there is an alternative to the alternating
pessimism and optimism of chiliastic expectations. It is the optimistic realism of
There is a theological logic behind the parallel growth
of good and evil in the present age. This theological logic, once understood, will tend to
corroborate it. Simply stated, it is this. Biblically, both good and evil are capable of
maturation individually, corporately, and historically. Evil matures as it rejects light
and is progressively hardened. Good matures as it progressively recognizes and rejects
evil. It is in the very interaction of light and darkness that this maturing process takes
place. In a certain sense it is the very growth of good, the more brilliant shining of
light, which is responsible for driving historical evil to its wicked consummation.
C. Postmillennialism and the Single Focus of the
It is beyond dispute that the summary, practical effect
of Theonomic rhetoric is to fix the attention and expectation of Christians upon the
Christianized world of postmillennialism in order to motivate Christians to cultural labor
to that great goal. In Rushdoony's The Meaning of Postmillennialism: God's Plan for
Victory everything conspires to fasten the Christian's labors and hopes on this
millennial blessing. To North's credit, in Unconditional Surrender he seeks to be
more balanced. Alongside of the millennial world, he repeatedly stresses the consummate
Fifteenth, God creates the final version of the new
heaven and new earth, wherein grows the tree of eternal life (Revelation 22:2). Men now
have access to it. No longer is it in Eden, with a flaming sword to keep men from gaining
access to it on the basis of their own works and power (Genesis 3:24). He demonstrates
that His down payment on this final dwelling place had been wholly reliable.(47)
Even this quotation, however, shows the practical dualism
of the Theonomic hope.
It is the contention of this assessment of Theonomy that
there is something profoundly amiss in such dualistic expectations. For as the NT
interprets OT prophecy and as it repeatedly stresses the hope of the Christian, one can
only speak of that hope as having a single focus. Whatever expectations there may be for
this age are merely anticipations of the age to come and the overwhelmingly dominant focus
is on the age to come.
This is perhaps most evident if one does a simple word
study on hope in the NT. When hope is thought of as an objective goal, (and not as a grace
or internal attitude) the single focus is upon the age to come. Its central focus
is the resurrection of the body, Acts 23:6, 7; Acts 24:15, 26:6-8, 1 Cor. 15:19-22, 1
Thes. 4:13-16. Its broader context is the redeemed earth, Rom. 8:18-25. Its present
location is heaven, 1 Pet. 1:3, 4; Col. 1:5, where it is stored securely until Christ
brings it to us in His glorious return, Phil. 3:20, 21; Col. 3:1-3, 1 Pet. 1:13. Its future
revelation comes by the personal agency of Jesus Christ at His second coming, 1 Peter
1:13, 1 Thes. 4:13-5:3, Rom. 8:20-25, Tit. 2:11-13, 1 Jn. 3:2,3. Its various
descriptions all underscore its connection with the second coming and the
resurrection. It is glory, Rom. 5:2, 8:21, 2 Cor. 3:12, Col. 1:27, eternal life, 1 Tim.
6:17-19, Tit. 1:2, 3:7, open justification, Gal. 5:5, 2 Tim. 4:8, perfected image-bearing,
I Jn. 3:2, salvation, 1 Thes. 5:8, 9, Christ 1 Thes. 2:19, 5:10, Tit. 2:13, and grace, 1
Pet. 1:13, Jude 21. There are passages where the word, hope, is given a temporal
application, Phil. 1:20, 1 Tim. 5:5, Rom. 4:17-21, 2 Cor. 1:8-10. There is no fear,
however, that millennial blessings will be found in these passages.
When the hope of Theonomy is compared to the hope of the
NT, the contrast is stark. Without asserting or desiring to assert that the Christian has
no hope to see the gospel advance, the church built, and even ripples of righteousness
spread through society, there simply is no question in the NT that all such hopes are
distinctly and vastly secondary and subordinate to "the blessed hope."
Perhaps the classicus locus of the Christian hope is
found in Rom. 8:18-25 which contains Paul's famous statement that "we have been saved
in hope." (Rom. 8;24). This passage warrants closer examination because it connects
the Christian hope to the subject of the lifting of the curse. This is significant because
Gary North also connects his hope with the lifting of the curse.
Eleventh, the kingdom of God becomes truly worldwide in
scope. This involves the beginning of the restoration of the cursed world. The curse will
then be lifted progressively by God. One result is longer life spans for man. This is a
down payment on the paradise to come after the final judgment. God says: "For, behold
I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come
into mind" (Isaiah 65:17). But this process of creation is part of history, to be
concluded by the final conflagration. It has preliminary visibility, in time and one
earth. How do we know this? Because of verse 20, one of the crucial teachings in the Bible
concerning God's preliminary blessings: "There shall be no more thence an infant of
days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred
years old; but the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed." Isaiah 65:20
therefore points to a time before the final judgment, when people still die and sinners
still operate, but which resembles the long life spans of these who lived before Noah's
Flood. This passage cannot possibly be referring to the world beyond the final judgment,
yet it points to external blessings, namely, long life, that do not exist in our wold.
These words cannot legitimately be "spiritualized." They refer to life on earth.
They refer to a specific blessing on earth. It is a blessing that is a down payment on
paradise, a testimony of God that He can deliver this fallen cursed world. This testimony,
however, is not based on a radical break with the processes of history, but is instead a
testimony that stems from the steady expansion of God's kingdom. This is continuity in
history, and there is also progress in external affairs. This is not some hypothetical
internal kingdom, but a visible kingdom of flesh and blood.(48)
The language of North is clear. At a future point when
the kingdom has become worldwide, then God will begin to progressively lift the curse.
This is interesting. Though North, as we have seen, is theoretically committed to the idea
of historical continuity till the consummation of the age, here he speaks of an event not
taking place at present, the lifting of the curse on this world, which can only be
described as having the quality of redemptive discontinuity. The only qualitatively
different lifting of the curse which the Bible views as yet future is that described in
Rom. 8:18f. There it is clearly associated and coincident with "the glory that is to
be revealed" (v. l8), "the revealing of the sons of God" (v. l9),
"creation itself being set free into the glory of the children of God" (v. 21),
and "our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (v. 25).
Clearly, it is difficult to keep postmillennialism tidily
within the bounds of the historical continuity taught in the Bible!
Two issues must yet be addressed. The first is the
meaning of the passage cited by North, Isa. 65:17-25. This passage is arguably the classic
locus of postmillennialism. There are three considerations which are conclusive against
the postmillennial and Theonomic interpretation of this passage.
1) It ignores the NT interpretation of this prophecy.
No interpretation which fails to begin with an
appreciation for the necessity of interpreting the OT after the analogy set in the NT is
safe. This is especially so when the NT itself repeatedly asserts the comparative dimness
and shadow-like character of the OT and its prophecy. (Cf. Heb. 1:1, 2, 10:1, 1 Pet.
1:10-12.) It, therefore, may not be ignored or even treated as irrelevant when the NT
repeatedly interprets the language of this passage as referring to the eternal state. The
mention of a new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem in Isa. 65:17, 18 are used of the
consummate and eternal condition of God's kingdom in 2 Pet. 3:1-13 and Rev. 21:1, 2. The
cessation of "weeping and the sound of crying" is unknown in the NT until Christ
ushers in the eternal state. Then echoes of this language reverberate in Rev. 21:4. The
perfect termination of evil and the harm it causes in God's holy mountain is fulfilled
only in the new earth and the new Jerusalem where nothing unclean enters and there is no
more curse, Rev. 21:27, 22:3. It may be safely asserted that NT never applies the language
of Isa. 65:17-25 to millennial blessings.
2) It is unable to do justice to key elements of this
Is it really the case, we would inquire of the
postmillennialists, that you expect in your millennium a condition which is
"forever" (Isa. 65:18), in which "there will no longer be heard in her the
voice of weeping and the sound of crying" (Isa. 65:19), and in which "the wolf
and the lamb shall graze together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall
be the serpent's food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain" (Isa.
65:25), and all this, furthermore, understood not in a spiritual sense, but in the very
literal sense advocated by North? Theonomic postmillennialists, at least, advocate no such
millennium, we are glad to say, but by that very fact they are not consistent or coherent
in their interpretation of Isa. 65.
3) It forgets the OT character of this passage.
It is a recognized principle of the interpretation of OT
prophecy among Reformed commentators that in the OT the blessings of the age of
resurrection were much less clearly revealed and were often spoken of in terms familiar to
OT Israel.(49) So here in Isa. 65 the blessings
of eternal life are held out under the shadow of extended longevity of earthly life and
blessing as we know it in this age.
A second issue must now be addressed. From our previous
quotations of North and Rushdoony, it is clear that they would charge the eschatological
stance outlined in this section as discouraging Christian men from diligent labor to apply
the law of God in the world and to advance the righteousness of the kingdom. In other
words, it takes the heart out of men for fulfilling the "dominion mandate."
The issue now confronted is a difficult and vexed one.
Reactionary views, like Carl McIntire's denial of the creation mandate must be avoided.(50) There is a dominion mandate and it is relevant
in the present age. With John Murray we find it impossible to see how any Biblical and
Reformed Christian can evade this responsibility. Murray writes,
By the term, The Christian World Order, I take it that what is meant is a world order that in all its aspects and spheres is Christian, an order so conformed to the principals of Christianity, and so pervaded by the forces that are operative in Christianity, that the whole of life will be brought into willing captivity to the obedience of Christ. . . .
Our dilemma would seem to be indeed perplexing. If we have to wait for the supernatural forces that Christ's advent will bring in its train before the order of absolute right and holiness will be ushered in, is there any sense in speaking of a Christian world order except as an eschatological hope? Particularly and most practically, is there good sense in working towards the establishment of a Christian order when we know that, in the completeness of its conception, it is not attainable in what we generally call this life?
We must be bold to say that the Christian revelation does not allow us to do anything less than to formulate and work towards a Christian world order in the life that we now live. It is not difficult to demonstrate the validity and even necessity of this thesis.
The standard of thought and the rule of conduct for us are divine obligation. The rule and standard for us are the irreducible claims and demands of the divine sovereignty, and these irreducible claims are that the sovereignty of God and of his Christ be recognized and applied in the whole range of life, of interest, of vocation and of activity. That is just saying that the demands of the divine sovereignty make it impossible for us to evade the obligation to strive with all our heart and soul and strength and mind for the establishment of an order that will bring to realization all the demands of God's majesty, supremacy and kingship. And this, in a word, is simply the full fruition of the kingdom of God, wherever we are, and in the whole compass of thought, word and action.
But, since we have fallen, and since the only way now
whereby the claims of the divine sovereignty can even begin to be realized within the
compass of our responsibilities is through the redemptive and mediatorial work of Christ,
then there rests upon us, with like universal and unrelaxed stringency, the obligation to
bring to bear upon the whole compass of life the supernatural and redemptive forces that
are inherent in the Christian redemption and revelation. And this is just saying that the
ideal and goal imposed upon us by the kingship and kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ is nothing less than Christian world order. To recede from this conception and aim
is to abandon what is impled in the prayer Christ taught his disciples to pray, 'Thy
kingdom come, They will be done in earth, as it is in heaven' (Matt. 6:10). And it is to
renounce what is overtly expressed in the words of the apostle, 'For though we walk in the
flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but
mightily through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations, and
every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into
captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ' (2 Cor. 10:3-5).(51)
Let it be duly noted that the eschatology assumed and
advocated in this assessment of Theonomy warrants the expectation of a measure of success
in this age in fulfilling the dominion mandate. Christian achievements may be partial and
will certainly be transitory in this present, evil age, but they are not less
admirable--but more!--for all that.
Something more must be said, however. Rushdoony remarks,
The kind of faith we have governs the whole of our lives,
and our total outlook. How we view God and Christ will determine how we view ourselves,
our calling, and the end times. Our view of the end, of eschatology, depends to a large
measure on our view of the beginning, and of all history, and on our doctrine of God and
salvation. Theology is a seamless garment, and a man's views of the end times is
inseparable from his view of God. If he changes his mind on the one, he changes his mind
on the other.(52)
With this view of theology we certainly agree. Thus, we
cannot help but conclude that Theonomic postmillennialism must produce a skewed and
imbalanced view of the Christian's relative responsibilities in the world. There is
visible in their writings a depreciation of "soul-saving" and the church in
favor of the dominion mandate with its emphasis on the familial, economic, and civil
spheres of life. Rushdoony's own life and writings are, perhaps, the most glaring
illustration of this dangerous imbalance. North's comments about Rushdoony in his response
to Christianity Today.(53) Remarks like the
following in Rushdoony's Institutes do nothing to calm one's fears of imbalance.
In spite of the early and excellent statement, Protestantism has by and large by-passed the law as the way of sanctification in favor of the "impulse of self-devised devotion." Moreover, the more it has followed in this course, the more self-righteous and pharisaic has it become, a natural course where men make the word of God of none effect through their traditions (Matt. 15:6-9). The sanctified person in Protestantism is too often a sanctimonious law-breaker who goes to Sunday School, attends church twice each Sunday, prayer-meeting in the week, gives testimonies when asked, and is amazed if he is told that the law of God, rather than man-made spiritual exercises, constitutes the way of sanctification. Many preachers stress long hours of prayer as a mark of holiness, in plain defiance of Christ's condemnation of those who thought, with their long prayers, they would "be heard for their much speaking." (Matt. 6:7)
In Arminian churches, and especially the so-called
"holiness churches (Pentecostal and others), sanctification is associated with
various emotional binges, which are far closer to the methods of ancient Baal worship,
which, in its extreme, went into cutting and even castrating oneself (1 Kings 18:28). . .
We are glad to say that North's attitudes about the
church appear far less extreme in Unconditional Surrender, yet statements which
provoke deep concern still remain.
. . . The doctrine of predestination can lead to social
impotence if it is coupled with pessimism concerning the long-run triumph of the church,
in time and on earth. Those who hold both the doctrine of predestination and an
eschatology of earthy, historical defeat have a tendency to run inward, both
psychologically and ecclesiastically. They worry too much about the state of their souls
and the state of the institutional church, and not enough about the state of the kingdom
of God in its broadest sense. . . .(55)
Theonomists may at this point want to remind us that there is no ultimate dichotomy between "soul-saving" and the church on the one hand, and the dominion mandate on the other. With this we agree, of course. We would, however, remind them that it is they themselves who have made this dichotomy in quotes like the one just given.(56)
Section 3: Theonomy, Theocracy and Society
I. The Central Features of Theonomic Ethics--The Abiding
Validity of the Law in Exhaustive Detail
Bahnsen begins his book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics,
with a 50 page discussion of Mt. 5:17-19 which he entitles, "The Abiding Validity of
the Law in Exhaustive Detail."(57) This
phrase more than any other epitomizes Theonomic ethics. It exemplifies the ambiguity of
the system. It sparked the controversy which has surrounded the system. In his preface to
the second addition Bahnsen provides a 10 point summary of the ethical approach embodied
in his book. Keeping in mind that this summary was intended to clarify and defend the
thesis of his embattled book, it still is a helpful basis for identifying the
characteristic features of Theonomy.
1. Since the Fall it has always been unlawful to use the
law of God in hopes of establishing one's own personal merit and justification, in
contrast or complement to salvation by way of promise and faith; commitment to obedience
is but the lifestyle of faith, a token of gratitude for God's redeeming grace.
2. The word of the Lord is the sole, supreme, and
unchallengeable standard for the actions and attitudes of all men in all areas of life;
this word naturally includes God's moral directives (law).
3. Our obligation to keep the law of God cannot be judged
by any extrascriptural standard, such as whether its specific requirements (when properly
interpreted) are congenial to past traditions or modern feelings and practices.
4. We should presume that Old Testament standing laws
continue to be morally binding in the New Testament, unless they are rescinded or modified
by further revelation.
5. In regard to the Old Testament law, the New Covenant
surpasses the Old Covenant in glory, power, and finality (thus reinforcing former duties).
The New Covenant also supercedes the Old Covenant shadows, thereby changing the
application of sacrificial, purity, and "separation" principles, re-defining the
people of God, and altering the significance of the promised land.
6. God's revealed standing laws are a reflection of His
immutable moral character and, as such, are absolute in the sense of being non-arbitrary,
objective, universal, and established in advance of particular circumstances (thus
applicable to general types of moral situations).
7. Christian involvement in politics calls for
recognition of God's transcendent, absolute, revealed law as a standard by which to judge
all social codes.
8. Civil magistrates in all ages and places are obligated
to conduct their offices as ministers of God, avenging divine wrath against criminals and
giving an account on the Final Day of their service before the King of kings, their
creator and Judge.
9. The general continuity which we presume with respect
to the moral standards of the Old Testament applies just as legitimately to matters of
socio-political ethics as it does to personal, family, or ecclesiastical ethics.
10. The civil precepts of the Old Testament (standing "judicial" laws) are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in the punishment of criminals. (58)
Perhaps, the first feature of this summary which strikes
the reader is that at many points it is simply a clear and emphatic statement of a
Reformed and Biblical ethics. Items 1-8, it seems to this writer, contain nothing which
should surprise anyone acquainted with the Reformed faith. To be more specific item 4
which, if we may paraphrase, says that the OT laws remain valid unless abolished in
Christ, is simply the converse of the Dispensational hermeneutic rejected by every
Reformed Christian. Furthermore, the insistence on the sovereignty of God and His Word
over every area of human life including politics contained in items 2, 7, and 8, while,
perhaps, more problematic to some, seems the inescapable demand of any consistently
Christian and especially any Reformed perspective. This assessment has no quarrel per se
with such perspectives.
It is in items 9 and 10 that in our judgment the more
peculiar and controversial perspectives are revealed. Even here, Bahnsen is somewhat
vague. Several supplementary statements will clarify the controversial nature of the
position Bahnsen is advocating. By "general continuity" in "matters of
socio-political ethics" and by the Old Testament "judicial laws" being a
model of perfect social justice even in the punishment of criminals" Bahnsen intends
to affirm the following positions:
A. Bahnsen means that the OT penology remains in force in
"When the magistrate carries out the dictate of
justice in executing one who has committed a capital crime according to God's law, this
has the effect of purging the land of evil and restraining others from
committing similar crimes (Deut. 13:5, 11). Scripture lists the following as capital
offenses against God: murder . . ., adultery . . ., adultery and unchastity . . , sodomy
and bestiality . . ., homosexuality . . ., rape . . ., incest . . ., incorrigibility in
children . . ., sabbath breaking . . ., kidnapping . . ., apostasy . . ., witchcraft,
sorcery, and false pretension to prophecy . . ., and blasphemy . . . With respect to
social affairs the Lord looks with so much scorn upon these crimes that He commands the
state to execute those who commit them. Christians do well at this point to adjust their
attitudes so as to coincide with their Heavenly Father. Remember the seriousness of the
penal law." (For other examples of the application of OT penology cf. pp. 117, 118,
B. As the above intimates, Bahnsen, to say the least,
defines the separation of church and state differently than it is normally defined in our
day either by secularists or Christians. In fairness to Bahnsen his view of the separation
of church and state is not novel, but may claim to be typical of Calvin, the Westminster
Confession of Faith, and the earlier Reformed tradition. Bahnsen argues
"Therefore, an investigation of the Older and New
Testaments reveals that they both separate the functions of the state from those of
the church; however, they both maintain also the authority of God over church as
well as state. In the era of the New Testament this means that the sword of the state is
under moral responsibility to the law of God without being confused with the sword of the
church. The state has recourse to capital punishment as a penal sanction, but the church's
severest punishment is that of excommunication. . . The state does not operate in the name
of the Redeemer or as an organized expression of the redeemed community. However, this
does not mean that the state is not morally responsible to God and His justice. . . The
point, then, is that church and state can be separated with respect to function,
instrument, and scope and yet both be responsible to God. . . the law does not grant the
state to enforce matters of conscience (thus granting "freedom of religion"),
but it does have the obligation to prohibit and restrain publicunrighteousness
(thus punishing crimes from rape to public blasphemy). The state is not an agent of
evangelism and does not use its force to that end; it is an agent of God, avenging His
wrath against social violations of God's law. If one's outward behavior is within the
bounds of the law he has nothing to fear from the civil magistrate-even if one is an
idolater, murderer, or whatever in his heart."(60)
Let there be no misunderstanding of Bahnsen's position.
In his ideal state "public" blasphemy, idolatry, sabbath-breaking, apostasy,
witchcraft, sorcery, and false pretension to prophecy would be subject to civil penalties
up to and including the death penalty.
Before commencing a consideration of these, the
characteristic features of Theonomic ethics, several observations are pertinent.
First, Bahnsen's views at this point are characteristic
of the views of Christian Reconstructionism as a whole. It would be easy to multiply
quotations which would evince this with reference to both North and Rushdoony. North
remarks, for instance, that Christians should work to get the tax exemptions of
"liberal" churches lifted (denied). (61)
Second, it is clear that the view which Bahnsen (and other
Theonomists) take of OT judicial law is at the heart of
the controversy between them and other Reformed thinkers. In the next Roman Numeral the
question of whether their view is historically Reformed will be addressed.
Third, the controversy over "the judicial law" is, however,
related to a more basic issue, the nature of the
Theocracy in Israel. This theological crux will be addressed in Roman Numeral III of this
Finally in Roman Numeral IV an attempt will be made to
outline a Reformed alternative to the Theonomic approach to and hermeneutic of OT law.
II. The Historical Background of Theonomic Ethics
Two major questions need to be asked here. They are . . .
A. Is the Theonomic view of the Mosaic "Judicial
Law" consistent with the Reformed tradition?
B. Is the Theonomic viewpoint the legitimate offspring of
A. Is the Theonomic view of the Mosaic "Judicial
Law" consistent with the Reformed tradition?
This is a pressing question for Theonomists. On the one
hand, in asserting "the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail" they
appear to teach the binding obligation of the "judicial law" of Moses on society
today.(62) On the other hand, the divines of the
Westminster Assembly and Calvin, their mentor, clearly teach the "expiration" of
the judicial law of Moses and deny that it is as such binding on nations today. The
critical statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith is found in 19:4. Having clearly
distinguished the moral, ceremonial, and judicial law, the Confession states, "To
them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with
the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity
thereof may require."(63) Calvin elaborates
on this very point in his Institutes. His statements are so similar to that of the
Confession that it is probable that here as in so many other places he had a formative
impact on the Confession.
"I will briefly remark, however, by the way, what
laws it may piously use before God, and be rightly governed by among men. And even this I
would have preferred passing over in silence, if I did not know that it is a point on
which many persons run into dangerous errors. For some deny that a state is well
constituted, which neglects the polity of Moses, and is governed by the common laws of the
nations. the dangerous and seditious nature of this opinion I leave to the examination of
others; it will be sufficient for me to have evinced it to be false and foolish. Now, it
is necessary to observe that common distinction, which distributes all the laws of God
promulgated by Moses into moral, ceremonial, and judicial; and these different kinds of
laws are to be distinctly examined, that we may ascertain what belongs to us, and what
does not. . . .
What I have said will be more clearly understood, if in
all laws we properly consider these two things-the constitution of the law and its equity,
on the reason of which the constitution itself is founded and rests. Equity, being
natural, is the same to all mankind; and consequently all laws, on every subject ought to
have the same equity for their end. Particular enactments and regulations being connected
with circumstances, and partly dependent upon them, may be different in different cases
without any impropriety, provided they are all equally directed to the same object of
equity. . . . Whatever laws shall be framed according to that rule, directed to that
object, and limited to that end, there is no reason why we should censure them, however,
they may differ from the Jewish law or from each other. The law of god forbids theft. What
punishment was enacted for thieves, among the Jews, may be seen in the book of Exodus. The
most ancient laws of other nations punished by theft by requiring a compensation of double
the value. Subsequent laws made a distinction between open and secret theft. Some
proceeded to banishment, some to flagellation, and some to the punishment of death. False
witness was punished, among the Jews, with the same punishment as such testimony would
have caused to be inflicted on the person against whom it was given; in some countries it
was punished with infamy, in others with hanging, in others with crucifixion. All laws
agree in punishing murder with death, though in several different forms. The punishment of
adulterers in different countries have been attended with different degrees of severity.
Yet we see how, amidst this diversity, they are all directed to the same end. For they all
agree in denouncing punishment against those crimes which are condemned by the eternal law
of God; such as murderers, thefts, adulteries, false testimonies, though there is not a
uniformity in the mode of punishment; and, indeed, this is neither necessary, nor even
expedient. . . . For the objection made by some, that it is an insult to the law of God
given by Moses, when it is abrogated, and other laws preferred to it, is without any
foundation; for neither are other laws preferred to it, when they are more approved, not
on a simple comparison, but on account of the circumstances of time, place, and nation;
nor do we abrogate that which was never given to us. For the Lord gave not that law by the
hand of Moses to be promulgated among all nations, and to be universally binding; but
after having taken the Jewish nation into his special charge, patronage, and protection,
he was pleased to become, in peculiar manner, their legislator, and, as became a wise
legislator, in all the laws which he gave them, he had a special regard to their peculiar
Theonomists respond to this apparent conflict with the
recognized standards of the Reformed tradition in various and contradictory ways.
Rushdoony's response is the most honest and
straightforward. At the same time, however, it is also the most arrogant. He unflinchingly
admits the contradiction and then accuses the Confession of "confusion" and
"nonsense" and charges Calvin with uttering "heretical nonsense."(65)
Other Theonomists have not been so eager to take on the
Reformed tradition and have manifested more reverence for its perspectives. At the same
time, they have infringed historical honesty and literary clarity.
Bahnsen at the opposite extreme from Rushdoony in this
matter argues that his thesis is in accord with the Confession. (As an OPC minister, we
would expect Bahnsen either to do this or to exit the OPC which holds the Westminster
Confession of Faith.) What Bahnsen gains by this in reverence for the Reformed tradition,
he loses in literary clarity. It is vexingly difficult to penetrate his thinking at this
point. The confession asserts the "expiration" and "non-obligation" of
the judicial laws with the qualification "further than the general equity thereof may
require." Bahnsen in his appendix dealing with the Westminster Confession seeks to
view the distinction implicit here as a distinction between "the particular cultural
expression of a judicial law" and the law itself in its cross-cultural general
Fowler's assessment appears to be accurate.
What Dr. Bahnsen is actually saying is that the
connotations of Israel's ancient culture are no longer binding in today's culture. But the
case laws are illustrations to be applied equitably to today's culture.
There is no doubt, therefore, that for Dr. Bahnsen,
"general equity" does not refer to general moral principles underlying
the case laws (i. e. the scope of the Ten Commandments). He is notsaying that the
case laws are no longer binding. Instead, "general equity" refers to the case
laws, minus their cultural expressions, which are to be applied in an equitable manner
cross-culturally in today's society.
Dr. Bahnsen's view of general equity stands in contrast
to Reformed thought. This is one of the distinctives of Dr. Bahnsen's view of the judicial
law.(pp. 24, 25).(67)
As Fowler says, this view of the expiration of the
judicial law does not satisfy the language of the Confession. To put it plainly, where the
Confession speaks of the expiration of the judicial law as given to Israel as a body
politic, Bahnsen speaks merely of the passing of its "particular cultural
James Jordan, writing in the Journal of Christian
Reconstruction,(68)takes yet another approach
to this problem. Jordan argues that the Westminster Confession is ambiguous with reference
to the distinctive position of Theonomy.(69) Two
salient features of Jordan's article may be noted.
First, Jordan regards the very classification, "judicial law" as
Richard Flinn writing in the same issue of this journal seconds this opinion when he
asserts (p. 55).(71)
This is a most significant point. For since the
Westminster Confession presents its whole treatment of the law in terms of the moral,
ceremonial, judicial distinction,(72) these
comments amount to a concession of a distinct departure from the conceptual framework of
The second salient feature of Jordan's argument is to
stress the multi-faceted practical agreement between
Theonomy and Calvin and Westminster as to the application of the Mosaic Judicial Law to
society. Undoubtedly, such agreement exists. The Confession and Calvin did agree with
Theonomy with reference to such issues as the relation of church and state. Calvin seems
to have argued in favor of the death penalty for adultery later in his life.(73)
Such argumentation has, however, a fatal flaw. Practical
agreement is not the same as theoretical agreement. Jordan virtually admits this when he
concedes that Calvin did not "advocate the Mosaic judicials."(74) Fowler is right, then, when he argues:
It is one thing to say that certain crimes or offenses against the law of God still deserve the death penalty meted out in the Old Testament, it is another thing to say that the Old Testament judicial law is binding in exhaustive detail! . . . In their incidental applications of particular laws, they may be alike therefore, but in the foundation of their respective systems, they are completely different! It is the foundation, not the incidentals that matters.(75)
Three things at least distinguish Theonomy from the
1. "Theonomists" challenge as error the
2. "Theonomists" proceed from a new (or novel)
case law view of the judicial law.
3. "Theonomists" emphasize that the judicial
law is abidingly valid, whereas the Confession sees it as "expired."
B. Is the Theonomic viewpoint the legitimate offspring of
If Theonomy departs from the Reformed view of the
"judicial law" the question is raised, from what in the Reformed tradition does
it originate? Though in the nature of the case absolute proof may not be offered for his
conviction, this writer is convinced that the logical starting-point for Theonomic thought
in the Reformed tradition is to be found in paedobaptism and the logic by which it was and
is supported in the Reformed tradition. In other words, Theonomy is simply the hermeneutic
of paedobaptism consistently applied to the relation of Israel and the Church, the OT and
the NT. A number of considerations may be brought forward which commend this diagnosis of
the Theonomic symptoms.
1. Paedobaptist logic is committed to restricting the
discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New
Covenant to a very superficial level and at the same time emphasizing the continuity
between them to the point of practical identity. In order to facilitate the introduction
of paedobaptism, baptism and circumcision are equated as closely as possible. This
tendency to discount the discontinuity of and the diversity between baptism and
circumcision is precisely the tendency of Theonomy in regard to the "judicial
law" of Israel as it applies it to modern state.
2. Even more cogently, it may be argued that Reformed
Paedobaptist thought treats OT Israel as the paradigm for
the NT Church and its baptism. Theocratic Israel is the model for the Church. Clearly, it
seems to this writer, that is precisely the methodology of Theonomy in economic and
political theology. Theonomy, if it is anything, is the erecting of the theocracy into a
model for modern economics and politics. This is in fact precisely what Bahnsen says.
The civil precepts of the Old Testament (standing
"judicial" laws) are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in
the punishment of criminals. . . "All of the statutes" revealed by Moses for the
covenant nation were a model to be emulated by the non-covenantalnations as
well . . .(76)
3. Baptists in the Reformed tradition have long argued
that Reformed Paedobaptists are (happily) inconsistent in
their general refusal to practice paedocommunion. Paedobaptists, they have argued, use the
theocratic model for baptism, but not for communion. Theonomists, however, are among the
leading advocates in the recent Reformed movement for paedocommunion. Rushdoony,(77)North,(78)
Jordan,(79) though not Bahnsen,(80) vehemently argue for paedocommunion. In so
doing they are simply being consistent in their paedobaptist logic. The consistency,
however, must be extended further. In bringing the Reformed tradition into strict
conformity to the paedobaptist logic and the theocratic model, one must not only practice
paedocommunion, but also adopt the judicial law as normative for the modern state. By
doing this the "ambiguity" in the Westminster Confession is eliminated. For, it
seems to this writer, that the Confession and the Reformed tradition have been ambiguous
in their adoption of the theocratic model at some points and not at others. To make the
Reformed tradition "consistently Presbyterian," the Theonomists eliminate those
aspects of that tradition which have, in fact, been implicitly Baptist.
4. In further confirmation of our suspicion-thesis that
Theonomy is ultimately "paedobaptist" in its
origins is the choice of the Tyler Theonomists as to their first volume in the
Christianity of Civilization symposiums. Its title tells us all we need to know. It is
entitled The Failure of the American Baptist Culture.(81)
5. Finally, one further similarity between "Paedobaptism"
and Theonomy may be mentioned. Paedobaptism is unable to
generate a unified perspective. Rather considerable diversity is its result. Similarly,
Theonomy as documented previously results in tremendous disagreement and debate in its
practical application. We are convinced that the reason for this divisive tendency in both
cases is the inherent inadequacies of the Theocratic model as a paradigm for either the
Church or the State.
It is the contention of this assessment that Theonomists
have seen a very clear problem in the Reformed tradition, its ambiguity regarding
theocratic Israel as a model for the modern society, church, and state. They have,
however, chosen the wrong direction in removing that ambiguity. Instead of attempting to
make Reformed Theology consistently Presbyterian, they should have argued for making it
consistently Baptist. In refusing this alternative and opting for the theocratic model, we
are convinced that they are on a theological road which can--consistently taken --lead
only to externalism and formalism. The frightening thing is that Theonomy has manifested a
dogmatic commitment to following its premises to their logical conclusions--no matter how
III. The Theological Crux of Theonomic Ethics--The
Theocracy in Redemptive History.
Introduction: This assessment has focused attention
repeatedly on the subject of the Theocracy as critical in the debate over Theonomy. That
subject must now be addressed Biblically.
A. The Nature of the Theocracy
Any treatment of the Theocratic kingdom confronts itself,
first of all, with the task of defining the term, Theocracy. Though this term is a
venerable member of theological vocabulary, exactly defining it is beset with
difficulties. Not that its meaning etymologically or superficially is in doubt.
Etymologically, it is "God-rule." Webster, recognizing its native, civil
context, properly defines it as "the rule of a state by God or a god . . ."
When one attempts a theological or biblical definition,
however, problems arise. Theocracy is not a biblical word. Josephus seems to have coined
it.(82) Worse yet, Theocracy is a loaded word
with a long history of theological controversy. Webster's definition, though accurate,
lacks clarity. The Bible's most basic teaching regarding civil government is that it owes
its origin to God and is accountable to him. (Cf. Ps. 82:1f., Rom. 13:1f., 1 Pet. 2:13f.)
Thus, Webster's definition might permit us to regard every state as a Theocracy. Yet, if
anything is clear, it is that something more distinctive, more unique, is meant by the
term. This brings us to the first and controlling aspect of the definition of Theocracy.
1. Yahweh is in a unique sense king of Israel.
There ought to be nothing startling in God's claim to be
king. As creator He is sovereign of all. Cf. Ps. 74:12f., 93:2, 103:19f. It is, however,
not merely this dominion that God claims when He proclaims himself king of Israel. Thus,
it is not merely this general dominion that the term, Theocracy, designates. For it is
specifically God's kingship in Israel that is the proper starting-point of both Josephus'
use of the word(83) and its precise, theological
use. Oehler's words need qualification, but as a starting-point for the definition of
Theocracy they are accurate: "The Old Testament idea of the divine kingship
expresses, not God's general relation of power toward the world (as being its creator and
supporter), but the special relation of His government toward His elect people.(84) This meaning of God's kingship pervades the OT
and is a prominent characterization of His peculiar relation to Israel. Cf. Ps. 44:1-8
esp. v. 4, Ps. 68 esp. v. 24, and Isa. 41:21. This becomes most pointed when Yahweh is
viewed as the commander of Israel's army. Cf. Exod. 12:41, 17:8-16, Num. 10:35, 21:14,
Yahweh's assumption of kingship over Israel is related to
the Exodus period in Israel's history and most specifically to the covenant-making at
Sinai. Deut. 33:1-5 is probably the locus classicus here. It identifies the timing of
Yahweh's kingship with the Sinai covenant-making. Note in particular the reference to the
covenant meal with Israel's leaders in v. 5. This is a reference to events recorded in
Exod. 24:1-12. Cf. Exod. 19:5, 6. Isaiah in his discussion of the New Exodus refers
frequently to the original Exodus as the period of Israel's (national) creation. Isa.
43:15, thus, identifies Yahweh's kingship with this period: "I am Yahweh, your Holy
One, the Creator of Israel, your King." In similar manner Yahweh's Kingship over
Israel is closely related to His being Israel's redeemer, a designation which clearly
recalls the Exodus Period. Such references give a broader and more dynamic view of
Yahweh's kingship over Israel and its origin, but one that nonetheless corroborates the
idea that Yahweh's kingship over Israel and the Sinai covenant are inextricably related.
Cf. also Ps. 10:16. Oehler comments, "The Patriarchs called Him Lord and Shepherd,
and it is not until He has formed for Himself a people by bringing Israel up out of Egypt
that He is called, Exod. 15:18, "He who is King forever and ever."(85) This makes sense. It is obviously only a nation
over which one may be king (not a family or a clan).
The natural conclusion that one might draw from all of
this is that God would occupy the place human kings occupied in other nations. Some might
think such a conclusion simplistic. They might also wonder how this relates to the Davidic
kingship later instituted and previously prophesied. Nonetheless this is apparently the
precise conclusion that the pervasive teaching of the OT demands that we draw. Yahweh
occupied just the place human kings did in other commonwealths. Cf. Judges 8:23, I Sam. 8,
12:12, 2 Chr. 13:8. This is also implied by the defect, humanly speaking, of the Mosaic,
civil order in that no definite office of executive power is appointed at the Exodus
period. Oehler comments, "The Mosaic Theocracy presents the peculiar phenomenon of
being originally unprovided with a definite office for executing the power of the
state."(86) We may conclude with the words
If the foregoing be a correct account of the idea
expressed by the word "theocracy" and particularly if the foregoing be a correct
account of the OT representation of God's relation to, and rule in and over Israel, it
follows as a matter of course that the realization of such an idea was only possible
within the sphere of what is known as special revelation. Indeed, special
revelation of the Divine will, through Divinely chose organs, to Divinely appointed
executive agents, is itself, the very essence of the idea of theocracy."(87)
2. The direct promulgation by special revelation of a
specific and detailed civil order is, then, characteristic of the Theocratic order.
As a matter of fact, it is precisely this divinely
revealed civil order that is often in mind when the term, Theocracy is used.
It is both interesting and appropriate in light of what
has just been said about the formal assumption of kingship over Israel by Yahweh at Sinai
that the giving of this civil law-order occupies a prominent place in the Sinaitic
covenant. This becomes clear in all sorts of ways. Deut. 33:1-5 specifically mentions as
part and parcel of Yahweh's kingship "the law that Moses gave us, the possession of
the assembly of Jacob." The contextual reference makes it impossible in the light of
that historical record to exclude a reference to the law as the possession of "the
assembly of Jacob," a reference to Israel as a formal, civil (as well as religious)
All this already implies the prominence of this civil
law-order in the Exodus account. Immediately after speaking of the Ten words by God
Himself in Exod. 20, but before the ratification of the covenant by blood and the covenant
meal in ch. 24 (Cf. Heb. 9:18f.), there intervenes the promulgation of the divine, civil
law-order of the Theocratic kingdom in chapters 21-23. These chapters epitomize this
order. Note Heb. 9:19: "When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law
to all the people, he took the blood . . ." This is not to say that this civil
law-order is not later expanded. It is to say that Exod. 21-23 are the epitome of this
order. The civil character of the laws of 21:1-23:13 is evident from a cursory reading.
This brief exposition of the prominence of a divinely
revealed civil or national order in the Theocracy may be concluded by a reference to Deut.
See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the
LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to
possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the
sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, "Surely this great
nation is a wise and understanding people." For what great nation is there that has a
god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is
there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting
before you today.
It is pre-eminently the civil order that is in view. This
is clear, first of all, from the fact that it is Israel as a nation-a civil
order-contrasted with the other nations which is in view. Further, the terms,
"statutes and judgments," are contrasted in Deuteronomy with the covenant itself
and clearly refer to the detailed civil order to be followed in the land. Cf. Deut.
4:12-14, 5:1-3 with 5:30-6:3. This civil order was one of the glories of Theocratic
Israel. Note Isa. 33:22: "For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the
LORD is our king; He will save us.
3. A third characteristic of the Theocracy, one which
often at the heart of its theological usage, is--what we
would call--the union of church and state in the Theocratic kingdom. Oehler remarks,
". . . church and state, if we may speak thus, are here joined in immediate
union."(88) Fairbairn marks this idea out as
the key idea of the Theocracy:
First, then, in respect to the true idea of the theocracy--wherein stood its distinctive nature? It stood in the formal exhibition of God as King or Supreme Head of the commonwealth, so that all authority and law emanated from Him; and by necessary consequence, there were not two societies in the ordinary sense, civil and religious, but a fusion of the two into one body, or, as we might express it from a modern point of view, a merging together of Church and State.
. . . And this is simply the idea embodied in the Jewish
theocracy; it is the fact of Jehovah condescending to occupy, in Israel, such a center of
power and authority. He proclaimed Himself "King in Jeshurun." Israel became the
commonwealth with which He more peculiarly associated His presence and His glory. Not only
the seat of His worship, but His throne also, was in Zion--both His sanctuary and His
Many aspects of the civil law of Israel corroborate this
observation. There were civil penalties for religious defection to idolatry and the
frequent involvement of the priests and Levites in civil matters. Cf. Num. 5:15f., 35,
Deut. 19, 21:5. Deut. 23:1-8 contains ceremonial and national restrictions with strong
religious overtones upon entrance into the assembly of Israel. Girdlestone comments,
"The being "cut off from the congregation of Israel," and the being
forbidden to enter it (Num. 19:20, Deut. 23:1) seem to have implied severance from the
privileges, religious and social, which the nation as such enjoyed."(90)
What most insistently demands the observation under
discussion is, however, the fact that the seat, center, and focus of both civil power and
religious worship in Israel was identical. The ark of the covenant in the holy of holies
first in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple was the throne of Jehovah. Cf. I Sam. 4:4,
2 Sam. 6:2, 2 Kings 19:15, 1 Chr. 13:6, Ps. 80:1, 99:1, Isa. 37:16. This is not
surprising. It was in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple that Yahweh dwelt with His
people, Israel. If Yahweh was the king of Israel, it follows that these places must have
been His throne. This temple-throne equation meets us everywhere in Scriptures. Cf. Num.
10:35, 36; Ps. 11:3, Isa. 6:1f., Ezek. 43:7, Jer. 3:16, 17.(91)
Even the identity of Israel as at one and the same time a "kingdom of priests,"
Exod. 19:6, points to the identity of the civil and ecclesiastical establishments since it
attributes both royal and priestly status to the "holy nation."(92)
One may point, finally, to how Jerusalem under the
Davidic covenant becomes the center of Temple worship and, thus, the geographical locale
of the throne of God. The future location of the temple is chosen by Yahweh Himself. Cf. 2
Sam. 24:15-25, I Chr. 21:18-22:5. At the same time Jerusalem becomes the seat of the line
of Davidic kings with whom the Theocratic kingdom is identified. Cf. 2 Sam. 5:7, 6:12, 1
Kings 2:10, 8:1, 9:24. Thus, the civil and ecclesiastical are again connected.
Before taking up the fourth aspect of the Theocracy, a
note of qualification is in order. For notwithstanding all that has been said of the union
of church and state, an element of separation remains. It is the strict separation of the
royal and priestly offices. The king and the priest were never to be the same in the
Theocratic kingdom. Cf. 1 Sam. 13:8-14. This points to the ultimate inadequacy of these
institutions to fulfill the Theocratic ideal. It leaves the uniting point of the
Theocratic kingdom even in its fullest OT development in the person of Yahweh. The
prophets indicated that all such inadequacy and imperfection would be removed in the
Eschaton. Of the one who perfectly united the divine and Davidic kingships, it is written:
"Behold, a man whose name is Branch for He will build the Temple of the LORD. Yes, it
is He who will build the Temple of the LORD, and He who will hear the honor and sit and
rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne and the counsel of peace will
between the two offices." (Zech. 6:12, 13)
4. The fourth and concluding perspective in our
definition of Theocracy is the Davidic fulfillment and mediation of the Theocratic
The difficulty that confronts us at the outset is the
reconciliation of a human king in Israel with the Theocratic ideal. The evidence presented
earlier for Yahweh's being in a realistic sense the king of Israel might seem to preclude
the rise of a human dynasty. This problem becomes acute in I Sam. 8, 10, and 12. The
request for a king is regarded by both Samuel and Yahweh as a rejection of Yahweh's rule.
Nonetheless it would be wrong to find in such passages
the absolute prohibition of all human monarchy. The Mosaic law in Deut. 17:14-20 clearly
and without condemnation contemplates this occurrence. Two remarks alleviate the seeming
difficulty raised by such passages. (1) The condemnation of the request for a king in I
Sam. 8:6, 19 rests not on the fact of the request itself. Such a request is already
contemplated in Deut. 17:14. It is rather the spirit in which the request is made which in
all probability is the objectionable thing.(93)
(2) Deut. 17:15 requires that Yahweh choose the human king of Israel. The spirit in which
the king was requested in I Sam. 8 militated against the sovereign prerogative of Yahweh
in this matter. This fact also explains Gideon's rejection of kingship when it was offered
him, Judges 8:23. Yahweh had not chosen him for this! The Hebrew verb, , used in Deut.
17:15 plays a highly significant role in the development of human kingship in Israel.
Samuel's use of in reference to Saul is ambivalent. Twice, with a condemnatory emphasis,
he states that Saul is the king which Israel chose! Cf. I Sam. 8:18, 12:13. Once he
proclaims Saul the king whom Yahweh had chosen, I Kings 10:24. It is not wrong to see in
this ambivalence the idea that Yahweh's choice of Saul was ultimately intended as a
judgment upon Israel for the spirit in which they sought a king from Samuel, the spirit of
rebellion and distrust. Cf. Hos. 8:4, 9:9, 13:10.
In contrast the use of with reference to Yahweh's choice
of David is frequent and unqualified. Cf. I Kings 11:34, I Chr. 28:4-6, Ps. 78:67f., I
Kings 8:16, I Sam 16:8f., 2 Chr. 6:6, Ps. 89:19f. This fact in itself establishes that no
ultimate conflict existed between a human king and the Theocratic ideal. The evidence for
the Davidic mediation of the Theocratic kingdom, now to be examined, further corroborates
a. The Direct Statements of the David Mediation of the
The Chronicler has for one of his themes the idea that
Yahweh's kingship is now exercised through the Davidic dynasty. 1 Chr. 17:14 lays
the foundation for the development of this theme in its record of the Davidic covenant
itself. Through Nathan Yahweh says of David's son, "But I will settle him in My house
and My kingdom forever and his throne shall be established forever." 1 Chr. 28:5records
the second inauguration of Solomon as king. "Then Solomon sat on the throne of the
LORD as king . . ." 2 Chr. 13:8 records Abijah's speech to Jehoram and all
Israel. While Abijah's historical account may be slanted, the theology of v. 8 is
unimpeachable. "So now you intend to resist the kingdom of the Lord through (in the
hands of) the sons of David."
b. The Symbolic Identification of the Divine Throne with
the Davidic Throne.
The ark of the covenant, as already remarked, was the
throne of Yahweh. It is of intense interest, then, when both 2 Sam. 6 and I Chr. 15 and 16
record the bringing of the ark of God to Jerusalem immediately prior to the divine
establishment of the Davidic dynasty. 2 Sam. 6:2 emphasizes the royal significance of the
ark: "the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very Name of the LORD of hosts,
who is enthroned above the cherubim." Given the specific provisions of the Davidic
covenant, the clear, though figurative, meaning of this event is the identification of the
divine throne with the Davidic throne. There is the symbolic identification of the divine
throne with the Davidic throne in 2 Sam. 6; just as there is the covenantal identification
in 2 Sam. 7. O. Palmer Robertson remarks, ". . . David brought the ark of God to
Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). In so doing he publicly displayed his desire to see his own rule in
Israel related immediately to the throne of God. In this manner, the concept of the
Theocracy found its fullest expression.(94)
c. The Organic Relation of the Sinaitic Covenant and the
The very context of the Davidic covenant contains
indication of this. 2 Sam. 7:1 states of David that "the LORD had given him rest on
every side from all his enemies." It ought to need no proof that the whole point of
the Sinaitic covenant was to give Israel rest. Cf. the use of the term, , the verb in 2
Sam. 7:1, in both Exod. 20:8-11 and Deut. 5:14 as well as in Deut. 3:20, 25:19. Of
particular interest is Deut. 12:10 because of its parallels with 2 Sam. 7:1f. The message
of this notation in 2 Sam. 7:1 is that in David and the Davidic covenant the Sinaitic
covenant finds both its continuation and culmination.(95)
The Davidic covenant is tied to the Sinaitic covenant not
only in terms of its blessings, but also in terms of its laws. Clearly, as chief executive
officer of the state the king would be responsible for the implementation of the
Theocratic civil law. Deut. 17:14-20 specifically mentions in v. 18-20 the requirement
that the king write and study and observe the law. The civil law of Israel would
undoubtedly be included in such a manuscript and it is, at least, possible that the
"Book of the Covenant," Exod. 21-23, is specifically in view.(96) This responsibility to keep the law of Moses is
spelled out in two crucial passages regarding Solomon in I Kings: first in David's dying
charge to Solomon (21:4) and then in Yahweh's second appearance to Solomon after the
dedication of the temple (9:1-9). Cf. also the example of Josiah in 2 Kings 22:1-23:30 and
2 Chr. 34 and 35.
Such data requires the rejection of all divorcing of the
Davidic covenant and Mosaic covenant whether exegetically or theologically motivated.(97) Their organic relation must be maintained!
d. The Specific Provisions of the Davidic Covenant.
The highpoint of the evidence for the Davidic mediation
of the Theocratic kingdom is found in the provisions of the Davidic covenant itself.
1) David's Son/God's Son
Perhaps the clearest indication of the unification of the
Divine and Davidic thrones is Yahweh's adoption of David's son and heir. Cf. 2 Sam. 7:14,
I Chr. 17:14, Ps. 89:26-29, 2:2-7. Davidic royalty becomes divine royalty. Oehler remarks:
The theocratic king is the son of God, the
first-born among the kings of the earth . . . By sonship is expressed chiefly the relation
of love and faithfulness in which God stands to the ruler of His people. The significance
of sonship must not be limited to this; but the term further implies that the king is in
this capacity begotten of God, . . . that his dignity is of Divine origin, his sovereignty
a reflection of the Divine glory . . .(98)
The fulfillment of all this in the one who is both
"David's son and David's Lord" is too clear to miss.(99)
2) God's House/David's House
Robertson comments on the inter-relationships here must
be quoted at length.
One of the most striking aspects structurally of II Samuel 7 is the inversion of phrases as a mode of emphasis. This particular manner of expression brings into closest relationship the concept of "dynasty" and "dwelling-place."
First, God responds with emphasis to David's proposal: "Shall you build a house for me?" (v. 5). Shall you, a mortal man, determine the permanent dwelling-place for the Almighty?
Then God inverts the pattern of thought: "Yahweh makes known to you that he, the Lord himself, will make for you a house (v. 11). Obviously the house which the Lord shall build for David is not a royal palace, since David already lived in a "house of cedar" (v. 2). David understands God's reference to the "house" to be to his posterity: "You have spoken concerning your servant's house for a great while to come" (v. 19).
David shall not build God's "house," but God shall build David's "house." The inversion of phrases interchange dwelling-place" with "dynasty." In both cases, perpetuity is the point of emphasis. David wishes to establish for God a permanent dwelling-place in Israel. God declares that he shall establish the perpetual dynasty of David.
In his gracious words to David, God indicates that these two "permanencies" shall be linked together. He shall establish David's dynasty, and David's dynasty shall establish his permanent dwelling-place. But the order of grace must be maintained. First, the Lord sovereignly establishes David's dynasty; then the dynasty of David shall establish the Lord's dwelling-place (v. 13).
The net effect of this close interchange on the basis of
the "house" figure is to bind David's rule to God's rule, and vice versa. God
shall maintain his permanent dwelling-place as king in Israel through the kingship of the
Davidic line.(100), (101)
This connection between God's house and David's house
leads to the two most pivotal promises of the Davidic covenant. According to Robertson
they are as follows: "One promise concerns the line of David, and one promise
concerns the locality of Jerusalem ... David's line and Jerusalem's throne."(102)
All of this re-confirms the mediatorial capacity of the
Davidic kings in the Theocratic kingdom of Yahweh. David's royal house will build God's
royal house. God's throne and David's throne are geographically identified in Jerusalem.
In concluding both this treatment of the Davidic
mediation of the Theocratic kingdom and the larger subject of the identity of the
Theocracy one must note how by God's sovereign choice the Theocratic kingdom has been
united to the line of David and the city of Jerusalem. (Cf. Ps. 78:67-72). The Theocracy
has been concentrated into God's choice of David and Zion. It is for their sakes that
Judah is spared time and again. (Cf. I Kings 11:11-13, 32, 34, 36, 14:21, 15:4, 2 Kings
8:19, 19:34, 20:6.)(103) It is in David and Zion
that God's unique kingship over Israel is exercised, that God's specially revealed civil
order is maintained and that the union of the civil and ecclesiastical (the royal and the
priestly) institutions are epitomized.
B. The Destruction of the Theocracy
The data so far presented permits the following
definition of the Theocracy. The Theocracy is the nation of Israel as constituted by the
institutions and blessings of the Sinaitic and Davidic covenants made with them by Yahweh,
their king. The destruction of the Theocracy implies, therefore, nothing less than the
destruction of the nation of Israel. It implies the reversal of the Sinaitic covenant and
the Davidic covenant, the removal of the peculiar institutions and blessings granted to
Israel under these covenants. The land, the laws, the temple, the Davidic dynasty-Zion-,
all go in the destruction of the Theocracy.
Such terminology as "the reversal of the Davidic and
Sinaitic covenants" ought in itself to remind us that the destruction of the
Theocracy is neither absolute, nor unqualified, nor permanent. How could it be? The
covenants are the historical administration of the purpose of Him who has said, "My
purpose shall stand and I will accomplish all My good pleasure." (Isa. 46:10) If the
Old covenant is broken, a new and better covenant will be made. (Jer. 31:31-34) If the
Davidic crown is now profaned, David will yet reign in Jerusalem, Ps. 89:39, Ezek. 34:24.
With these qualifications, however, one may yet speak of the reversal of the Theocratic
blessings. The land, the great blessing secured by the old covenant, vomits out Israel and
Judah! The Davidic line of kings after 400 years of reigning in Jerusalem, the throne-city
of God is disrupted.
1. The Reversal of the Sinaitic Covenant
a. The Covenant Broken
Deuteronomy-wise in the experience of Kadesh
Barnea-forecasts the eventual breaking of the covenant by Israel, Deut. 29:25 records the
answer to the question, "Why has the LORD done thus to this land?" (v. 24) It
is, "Because they forsook the covenant . . ." Therefore "the LORD uprooted
them from their land." Deut. 31:14-22 contains Yahweh's prophecy that Israel
"will forsake me and break My covenant," "spurn Me and break My
covenant," and they will be "consumed." (v. 16, 17, 20)
The accuracy of this forecast is vindicated in Jeremiah
who uses the imagery of divorce (3:1-8, 31:31, 32) and rejected silver (6:27-30) to teach
the formal renunciation of Judah in the Exile. Compare Ezek. 16:59, 20:37 for similar
The national and civil character of the sin which
violated the covenant as well as its religious and idolatrous character is made ringingly
clear. He condemns the people (9:1-6), but more often he civil rulers, "the
shepherds." (Cf. Jer. 10:21, 12:10, 12:1f., 25:34.) One could add here the civil
transgressions of the kings, but this will come up for mention later.
b. The Curse Fulfilled
The breaking of the covenant is attended by the coming of
curse-signs in Deuteronomy. Foremost of these curses is the Exile. Israel will perish from
the land and be left few in number among the nations. Cf. Deut. 4:26, 27, 8:19, 20, 11:17,
28:21, 36, 62, 48, 29:28, 30:18. 2 Chr. and Jer. in their climactic accounts of the
repeated exiles and continuing destructions of Judah culminating in the assassination of
even Gedaliah and the flight of the remnant that had gathered under him to Egypt is the
account of the overflowing fulfillment of this threat.
Specific details of God's curse are given and these find
their mate in Jeremiah's prophecy. God will withhold the rain which waters Canaan. Cf.
Deut. 11:17, 28:23f. with Jer. 14:1, 22, 3:3. Siege conditions will lead to grotesque
cannibalism. Cf. Deut. 28:52-57, 63, 64, with Jer. 4:8, 5:8, 19-22. In general lives
filled with terror will be the portion of Israel. Cf. Deut. 28:25, 37, 66f. 32:25.
"Terror on every side" is the refrain of Jeremiah's prophecies. Cf. 6:25, 203,
4, 10, 46:5, 49:29, Lam. 2:22.
2. The Reversal of the Davidic Covenant
The pivotal promises or blessings conferred on the nation
by the Davidic covenant were the Davidic dynasty, the Solomonic temple, and the
unification of David's throne with God's throne in the locality of Jerusalem. Though
perhaps no covenant contains such strong notes of certainty, stability, security, and what
one may even call unconditionality, the Davidic covenant itself contains the intimation
that all would not be continuous and undeviating progress and blessing. (Cf. 2 Sam. 7:14,
The literature lays the demise of Judah squarely at the
feet of the house of David. The general denunciations of Judah's shepherds have already
been noted. Jeremiah specifically denounces the abuses of the Davidic king. The striking
thing about these denunciations is the way in which the conduct of the king determines the
future of Judah. Jer. 21:11, 12 urges the king to further civil righteousness in order to
avoid the wrath of God upon the nation. Jer. 22:1-5 makes the execution of civil justice
and the protection of the poor from oppression by the king the determining factor in
whether Judah will experience the blessing or the curse. Compare also Jer. 22:13f. 2 Kings
23:26, 27 relates the ultimate destruction of the city and the temple immediately to the
abuses of Mannasseh, the king. The account of Mannasseh's reign in 2 Kings 21 shows that
it was both his idolatry (v. 2-8) and his violence (v. 16) that provoked Yahweh.
The house of David reached the pinnacle of its power,
glory, and extent in the reign of Solomon. Solomon's sins were already in the latter part
of his reign laying the foundation for the decline of the fortunes of the Davidic kings.
Ps. 89, written during the reign of Rehoboam,(104)
attests that believing Israel was shocked by the swift, sudden, and severe character of
the divine chastening which feel on the Davidic line. Rehoboam's folly, the consequent
loss of the ten northern tribes, the invasion of Shishak, the plundering of Judah and the
temple-all foreshadow the ultimate demise of Judah. Even the reason given by Yahweh for
Shishak's success reminds one of the final destruction of the Theocracy and the Exile:
"But they will become his slaves so that they may learn the difference between My
service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries" (2 Chr. 12:8).
The remaining history of Judah is the story of continued
political and religious decline. New low points are reached first in the royal alliance
with the house of Ahab and then in the shattering abuses of Manasseh. Occasional glimmers
of the original Davidic glory are seen in the preservation of Joash, the deliverance of
Hezekiah, and the renewal under Josiah before the light of David vanishes in the Exile.
The account of the last four Davidic kings reverberates
with the reversal of the Davidic blessings. Each king does evil in the sight of Yahweh, 2
Kings 23:32, 37, 24:9, 24:19. Each temple is plundered twice before its ultimate
destruction, 2 Chr. 36:7, 10, 18. At least three deportations depopulate the land and the
city of Jerusalem, 2 Kings 24:10-16, 25:11, 12, Dan. 1:7. Finally and climactically, the
city and the temple are leveled and the last king of the four hundred year Davidic dynasty
led blind and childless to Babylon.
C. The Restoration of the Theocracy
Taking up the subject of the restoration of the
Theocracy, one confronts one of the most crucial and yet most complex of OT issues. An
illustration of this complexity may be seen in the contrasting notes on which the accounts
of the destruction of the Theocracy (2 Kings 25, 2 Chr. 36) conclude. Both conclude on
notes of hope for the future. Both allude to the promises of the Davidic covenant. Yet
what a difference there is! 2 Kings 25:27-30 records the "lifting up of Jehoiachin's
head" by Evil-Merodach. The implication is certainly clear. It is, as several
commentators see,(105) that God has yet mercy
and exaltation in store for David's house.
2 Chr. 36:23's approach is distinctly different. The
allusion is still to the Davidic covenant, but now, however, it is not a son of David, but
Cyrus, king of Persia who gains a quasi-Davidic status. He fulfills the function of the
son of David whom God appoints to build His house. Cf. 2 Sam. 7:13, 1 Chr. l7:l2, 22:10,
28:6, 10, 20, 29:19, 2 Chr. 6:2 with 2 Chr. 36:23, Ezra 1:2. This unusual status of Cyrus
will be enlarged upon later. The point is that these differing perspectives alert us to
the complexity of the subject about to be addressed.
1. The Medo-Persian Restoration
The mixed reaction to the laying of the foundation of the
temple after the Exile (Ezra 3:8-13, Hag. 2:1-3) epitomizes the dual perspective with
which the OT presents the Medo-Persian restora-tion. It may be presented both as the
restoration of the Theocracy (in a limited sense) and as the continuation of the Exilic
bondage (in the deepest sense).
A superficial reading of Jeremiah might lead one to the
opinion that the 70-year old Exile would issue in the full restoration of the Theocratic
kingdom. The prophecy of the 70 years (Jer. 25, 29) occurs in the general context of
Messianic prophecies (Jer. 23, 3l, 32, 33). There are other reasons for seeing a
Theocratic restoration motif in the Medo-Persian restoration. The restoration of the land,
the temple with its precious articles (Ezra 1:5-11, 5:1-6:15, Neh. 12:28-39), the civil
order enforced by civil penalties (Ezra 7:25, 26), and all of this under the reign of
"God's anointed" (Isa. 45:1), the quasi-David Cyrus and the actual leadership of
Zerubbabel, a son of David (1 Chr. 3:19, Mt. 1:12) points to this motif.
But whatever degree of Theocratic restoration took place
it was a far cry from even the last and lowest days of pre-Exilic Judah (Ezra 3:8-13) not
to mention the golden age of Solomon. However Cyrus and Zerubbabel typified the Davidic
Messiah, Cyrus was not a son of David and Zerubbabel not a king. The prophetic vision
demanded David in the person of his greater son reigning with irresistible power in
Jerusalem. Cf. Jer. 23:5, 30:9, 33:14-26, Ezek. 34:23, 24, 37:24, 25.
This bring us directly to the second motif: the
Medo-Persian restoration as the continuation of the Exilic bondage. This is in the end the
deepest insight of the OT presentation. No Davidic king reigned in Jerusalem. With this
fact one may directly connect the explicit statements of Ezra and Nehemiah. In his prayer
of confession over the mixed marriages, Ezra mentions the captivity of Judah's kings as
well as the rest of Judah. He then says, "But now for a brief moment grace has been
shown from the LORD our God to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His
holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our
bondage. For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has
extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to
raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and
Jerusalem." (Ezra 9:8, 9). Nehemiah 9:36, 37 contains similar sentiments:
"Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which Thou didst give to our fathers
to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves on it. And its abundant produce
is for the kings Whom Thou has set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our
bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress." (Neh. 9:36,
37) The thought (Deut. 28:33, 48) and the very language (distress-Deut. 31:17, 21 and
slaves and bondage both derived from -Deut. 28:68) characterize the situation of the
returned remnant as a continuation of the Exilic situation. More than that, the repeated
use of or its derivatives characterize the situation as like that of the bondage preceding
the Exodus. Cf. Exod. 13:3, 14, 20:2, Deut. 5:6, 15, 6:12, 21 7:8, 8:14 13:5, 15:15,
16:12, 24:18, 22. The mention of the heathen kings implies that slavery and bondage are
their lot because not a son of David but Persian kings rule over them. Other elements of
Ezra-Nehemiah underscore this motif: the repeated emphasis on the sin of the returned
remnant (Ezra 9:1-10:44, Neh. 5:1-13, 13:1-31), discouragement in the building the temple
(Hag. 1:5), fierce and sometimes effective opposition which delays the construction of the
temple and the wall (Ezra 4:1-24, 5:3-6:15, Neh. 1:3, 2:9, 10, 4:1-23, 6:1-14), and the
failure of many Jews even to desire to return (Ezra 8:15-20).
2. The Eschatological Restoration
These conditions fell far short of the conditions
prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They foretold the triumphant reign of a Davidic king
over a purified, multiplied, secure, and obedient people in a restored, Theocratic civil
order in the land. Cf. Jer. 23:3-7, 31:27-37, 32:37-44, 33:1-26, Ezek. 11:14-21, 20:33-44,
34:11-31, 36:22-38, 37:24-38. These are the most common features. Other features which
transcend the Medo-Persian Restoration include: Ezekiel's wondrous temple (Ezek. 40-48),
the reunion of Israel and Judah (pointing to the reversal of the first historical act of
judgment on the Davidic dynasty (Ezek. 37:15-23, Jer. 3:18, 31:1-31), the universalizing
of the Theocracy in a way which transcends the old order (Jer. 3:16, 17 cf. Zech. 6:11-14,
The response of faith to the Medo-Persian restoration is
not to question such promises. Rather it sees in this restoration the typical and
germinate fulfillment of promises that receive their ultimate fulfillment in the Eschaton.(106) Indications were not lacking, however, before
the Medo-Persian restoration that these promises would not be its immediate issue. Cyrus,
the restorer, was not to be a Davidic king. (Cf. Isa. 45:4, 46:11, Jer. 25:14). It is,
however, in the prophecies of Daniel that it is clearly taught that the end of the 70
years would not see the restoration of the Theocratic kingdom. Indeed seven 70's
would pass in the circumstances of partial restoration before the appearance of Messiah,
the Prince, Dan. 9:25.
It is the subject of the Theocratic kingdom along with
its disruption which form the controlling backdrop of the prophecies of Daniel. Cf. Dan.
l:l-7, 9:1-27. This is well-known, but its pervasive significance is not properly
appreciated. This is particularly true of the foundational visions of Dan. 2 and 7. Why
are just these four kingdoms chosen? What is so special about them? Why are not the
earlier Egyptian and Assyrian empires the subject of like prophecy? Is it their extent
which controls their selection?(107) The
Theocratic disruption provides the rationale for these prophecies. They begin with
Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon and span Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome,(108)
because these empires were those to bear rule over the people of GOd during the Theocratic
disruption. They retain this authority till the restoration of the Theocracy. Cf. Dan.
2:34, 35, 44; 7:23-27. One of the main purposes of these visions was to warn the people of
God that not merely the Babylonians, but three additional Gentile kingdoms would bear rule
over them before this. Their message is, thus, analogous to that of Dan. 9:24f that not
merely 70 years, but seven 70's must transpire before the Davidic reign returns. Fairbairn
sees this relation:
Not only so; but when the kingdom had fallen to its very
foundations, and to the eye of sense lay smitten by the rod of Babylon as with an
irrecoverable doom, that precisely was the time, and Babylon itself the place, chosen by
God to reveal, through His servant Daniel, the certain resurrection of the kingdom, and
its ultimate triumph over all rival powers and adverse influences. In contradistinction to
the Chaldean and other worldly kingdoms, which were all destined to pass away, and become
as the dust of the summer threshing-floor, he announced the setting up of a kingdom by the
God of heaven, which should never be destroyed - a kingdom which, in principle, should be
the same with the Jewish theocracy and in history should form but a renewal and
prolongation, in happier circumstances, of its existence; for it was to be, as of old, a
kingdom of priests to God, or of the people of the saints of the Most High; and as such,
an everlasting kingdom, which all the dominions were to serve and obey.(109)
The period of the Gentile kingdoms is, then, the period
of the Theocratic disruption. The special thing about these kingdoms is not their extent
necessarily, but the fact that they bear rule over the people of God in the interim
between the disruption and restoration of the Theocratic kingdom. They replace the
Theocratic government during this interim.
All of this raises the question of the character and
timing of the restoration of the Theocratic kingdom. This is all the more necessary if we
are to assess the significance of all this for the church. If the Theocratic disruption
continues, the Church's relationship to civil government will be governed by the
principles which governed Israel subsequent to the Exile. If one holds that the Theocratic
kingdom has now been restored, then the relation of post-Exilic Israel to civil authority
has very little to do with the Church and the present era of redemptive history. A
Dispensational approach to the Theocratic kingdom which severs the Church and Israel will
have the same result.
Among evangelical and conservative interpreters of Daniel
a sharp cleavage exists on the timing of the coming of the kingdom prophesied in Daniel 2
and 7. In general it is fair to say that Dispensational, Pre-millennial commentators hold
to a future restoration associated with the second advent of Christ. The idea of a revived
Roman empire is normally associated with this view.(110)
Anti-chiliasts and some Pre-millennialists have held that the kingdom of God promised in
ch. 2 and 7 came in the events associated with Christ's first advent.(111) A growing number of evangelical scholars are
committed to a synthesis of these views at least insofar as their general perspective
regarding the coming of the kingdom.(112) These
scholars recognize a tension in the NT regarding the coming of the kingdom: an
"already" and a "not yet" in the coming of the kingdom. They believe
the kingdom prophesied in the OT unfolds itself in two successive stages. The kingdom
foretold by the prophets without self-conscious distinction between two phases (1 Peter
1:10, 11) comes indeed, but first in an inaugural and only then in a consummate form. This
is perhaps the unique feature of NT eschatology and pervades its thought-structures. Cf.
particularly 1 Cor. 15:20-28.
It is, however, in Matthew--the "Jewish"
gospel--the gospel of the son of David, in which occurs 55 times and 23 times, that this
doctrine gets its clearest exhibition. It is, further, precisely from Matthew that one
would expect the clearest teaching on the restoration of the Theocratic kingdom. The
redemptive-historical situation of these parables and their specific teaching as to a
two-stage coming of the kingdom has already been elaborated.
Applying this framework to the interpretation of Daniel
and the restoration of the Theocratic kingdom, one obtains the result that a tension
exists between the "already" and "not yet" aspects of the restoration
of the Theocratic kingdom.
It is possible to construct an impressive argument for
the present restoration of the Theocratic kingdom. The motifs of the Davidic covenant find
affirmation in many different ways in the NT. David's son has now been exalted and now
exercises all authority in heaven and on earth. Cf. Mt. 28:18-20, Eph. 1:20-22, Acts
2:34-36, Rom. 1:3, 4. He reigns in Jerusalem. Cf. Gal. 4:26, Heb. 12:22-24. There he
occupies David's throne. Cf. Acts 2:30, 31. There is the full unification of the throne of
God and of David. He occupies the throne of God himself (Rev. 3:21, 5:1-13) in the temple
of God (Heb. 8:1-6).(113)
Yet all of this finds its focal point in heaven. Cf.
Phil. 3:20, Gal. 4:26, Heb. 12:22f. The NT insists that "we do not yet see all things
subjected to him." (Heb. 2:8f. 1 Cor. 15:20-28) Premillennialists have been right to
insist upon an earthly reign. The meek will inherit and reign upon the earth. (Matt. 5:5,
Rev. 5:9, 10) The restoration of the Theocratic kingdom means security under the Davidic
king for the people of God. (Jer. 23: 5, 6; 33:14-18; Ezek. 34:20-25, 37:24-28). This is
by no means the lot of the people of God in the present, evil age. (2 Tim. 3:12, Acts
Thus it is that we may speak of the heavenly and
spiritual inauguration of the Theocratic kingdom, but one must never forget that its
earthly manifestation is crucial to it and is yet to come. This the older anti-Chiliast
writers tended to miss or neglect.(114)
When one is speaking of civil authority, however, one is
speaking of a very earthly and external issue. It is, then the perspective of the
"not yet" that is regulative in relation to the subject of whether civil
allegiance belongs to the Gentile kingdoms. As to earthly, civil authority the Theocratic
kingdom is not yet. The eschatological re-gathering of (new) Israel awaits (Mt. 8:11, 12,
24:29-31, Lk. 13:29). The "times of the Gentiles" continue till the end of the
age, a reference to the period of the supremacy of the Gentile powers of Daniel.(115) The new Jerusalem in its earthly
manifestation is not yet, Rev. 21:1-7. Jesus, Paul, and Peter command submission to
Daniel's fourth kingdom. Cf. Mt. 22:15f., Rom. 13:1f, 1 Peter 2:13f. Jesus refuses the
offer of civil authority in the days of his flesh. Cf. Lk. 12:13, 14; Jn. 6:15.
We are now in a position to assess the significance for
the Church of post-Exilic Israel's relation to the Gentile civil authorities. The
conclusion must be that the Church finds itself in a continuation of the "times of
the Gentiles" and that for this reason the Christian's duty to the Gentile kingdoms
is similar and even identical to that of post-Exilic Israel. A study of the authority of
the Gentile kingdoms over the people of God is, therefore, relevant for and applicable to
the Christian. A discussion of other elements of the application of this view of the
coming of the kingdom to the interpretation of Daniel is given in a footnote.(116)
D. The Authority of the Gentile Kingdoms
The discussion thus far has acquainted us with the
disruption of the Theocratic kingdom and the ascendancy of the Gentile kingdoms over the
people of God. The fact, however, that in God's sovereign or decretive will the Gentiles
have achieved power over the people of God does not itself solve the issue of whether
power is to be regarded as legitimate or valid, civil authority. Nothing resists God's
decretive will, Rom. 9:16-20. Nothing escapes God's decretive purpose, Eph. 1:11, Rom
11:36. "If a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?" (Amos 3:6)
Thus, the mere fact that in God's decree the Gentiles have gained power over Israel does
not legitimate that power. Otherwise we should have to denounce the saviors whom God sent
Israel in the period of Judges. The question is this: Is it not only God's decretive will,
but also God's preceptive will that the Gentile kingdoms reign over the people of God?
This is related to the broader question of the nature of
civil government in general. In a well-known work O. Cullmann has defended the thesis that
"the powers" of Rom. 13:1 include angelic-demonic powers.(117) Is civil government, the authority of the
Gentile kingdoms, divine or demonic? Is Rom. 13 or Rev. 13 the "classicus locus"
on the subject of civil government?
Interestingly enough the first and last chapters of the
Aramaic portion of Daniel, chapters 2 and 7, confront us immediately with this issue. For
in the opinion of the present writer the symbolism of Dan. 2 and Dan. 7 presents us with
two strikingly different views of the Gentile kingdoms. The difference is all the more
striking because of the great similarities of the two visions. The single, great statue in
human form in ch. 2 contrasts vividly with the four ferocious beasts in ch. 7. Chapter 2
sets before us via its imagery the Gentile kingdoms as human and exercising a divinely
delegated authority. Human form has a positive significance in Daniel. Cf. Dan. 7:4, 13.
There is not hint of the idolatrous in the statue.(118)
While the imagery does not hint as to the origin of this status, v. 37 makes clear the
divine right of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom. Cf. the discussion of the text below. Many
commentators note the unity of the statue in opposition to the diversity of the beasts.(119) This unity points to the fact that a single
authority is retained by each of the Gentile kingdoms. The ultimate destruction of the
statue may hint at the abuse of its authority, but does not indicate that its authority
was not God-given. One may compare Ps. 82. In v. 8 of that Psalm God is urged to reclaim
the authority he has delegated to the "gods" (civil authorities) because of
their abuse of it (v. 2-7) and judge all the nations. Daniel's calmness and confidence in
ch. 2 vividly contrasts with his reaction to the vision of ch. 7. This also points to the
idea that the two chapters present the Gentile kingdoms in contrasting ways. It is human
civil authority as divinely constituted which the vision of ch. 2 contemplates.
Chapter 7, on the other hand, is filled with the distress
and alarm and consternation which fills Daniel's heart in response to its imagery. Cf. v.
7, v. 15, v. 28. It is the bestiality of the Gentile kingdoms under demonic control which
evokes this response. Cf. v. 3-8, 11. Now it is the abuse of civil authority with its
consequent persecution of the people of God which is in view. Of persecution there was
nothing in ch. 2. Now it is prominent. Cf. v. 8, 11, 18-25. It is not now the unity of
these kingdoms as possessing a single God-given authority that is presented, but their
diversity in their mutual antagonism. Cf. 7:8, 20, 24; 8:5-8. These beasts originate not
by God's preceptive will, 2:37; but by the action of God's general providence on the
chaotic sea of fallen mankind, 7:2, 3.(120), (121)
The juxtaposition of these two views of the Gentile
kingdoms in Daniel permits two preliminary remarks before we develop them respectively via
the post-Exilic literature. One may first remark that the juxtaposition of these two views
by Daniel at the beginning and end of Daniel's Aramaic section reminds us that no
dichotomy should be erected between the view of the earthly kingdom given in Rev. 13 and
that given in Rom. 13. Daniel saw nothing inconsistent in these two views. Tension there
may be, inconsistency never! The task of Biblical scholarship is to penetrate their inner
unity and appropriately apply the rich diversity of the Biblical presentation. This leads
to the second remark. One task which may not be neglected in a study of the Biblical view
of the state is the penetration of the inner unity of this tension and the assessment of
its significance for the Biblical view of the origin and nature of the state.
1. The Authority of the Gentile Kingdoms as Divine
Do the Gentile kingdoms possess a legitimate civil
authority over the people of God? Is their power de jure as well as de facto? In the
course of our examination of this subject we shall note in order the validity,
responsibility, and perpetuity of their authority. The first is our major concern with the
second and third topics dependent upon and subordinate to its development.
a. Its Validity
In this topic we shall examine the varied contributory
motifs of the post-Exilic literature by looking first at the validity of Nebuchadnezzar's
rule and then at that of Cyrus' rule. The reasons for this development will be evident
when the perpetuity of Gentile authority is developed. For now we are assuming that the
authority of these two kings devolves upon their respective successors.
So various are the motifs which establish the divine
legitimacy of Nebuchadnezzar's rule over the people of God that one might be tempted to
speak of a pro-Babylonian polemic in the relevant literature. But compare Jer. 50, 51, Dan
Daniel 2:37 was mentioned above briefly and it must now
be developed with regard to its assertion of the legitimacy of Nebuchadnezzar's rule.
Several corroboratory remarks will make this clear. The terms, kingdom, power, strength,
and glory, themselves imply the idea that not mere power, but actual authority has been
divinely granted to Nebuchadnezzar.(122) Cf. the
frequent repetition of this theme in Daniel 4:36, 37, 5:18, 19. The parallel use of this
terminology in Dan. 7:14, 22, 27 of the kingdom of God also suggests this point. Also
relevant is the allusion in Dan. 2:37 to Ps. 8:6-8 and through it to Gen. 1:26, 27 noticed
by several of the commentators.(123) This ties
Nebuchadnezzar's rule to the image of God and thereby establishes its validity.
This allusion to Ps. 8:6-8 is also present in Jeremiah's
classic statement of Nebuchadnezzar's authority in ch. 27 and 28. (Cf. especially 27:5, 6,
28:14.) Other indications of this authority in those chapters include the naming of
Nebuchadnezzar, v. 6, God's servant; the threat to punish severely any nation that does
not submit to his yoke, v. 8; the promise to preserve the nation that does submit, v. 11;
the application of all this to Zedekiah and Judah, v. 12-15. The death of the false
prophets who prophesied against Babylon--some at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar--underscores
the whole. (Cf. Jer. 28:1-17, 29:21-23.)
Related to all of this is the emphasis of 2 Chr. 36 and
Ezek. 17 that Zedekiah in rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar had broken solemn covenant not
only with Nebuchadnezzar, but with God. Cf. 2 Chr. 36:13, Ezek. 17:11-21, Ezra 4:19.
These motifs enable us to understand the basis on which
Jeremiah issued the unprecedented call to fall away or apostatize to the king of Babylon
promising life to those who did. Cf. Jer. 21:8-10, 37:13-15, 38:1-28. This recommendation
contrasts starkly with the divine prohibition against going to Egypt, Jer. 42:7, 37:3-10,
This call to fall away is followed up with the advice of
Jer. 29:1-7. The Jews are to pray for and seek the welfare of the city where they are
exiled. This the exiled Jews did zealously as the example of Daniel and his three friends
proves. Jews rose to positions of prominence in the Exile.(124)
Daniel refused the king's food, but not his service, Dan. 1:8-21, rising to the pinnacle
of civil authority along with his friends, 2:46-49, indicating genuine loyalty to the
king, 4:19, and finding this loyalty reciprocated 6:14-24.
The kindness of the Babylonian kings to the Jews, in
fact, is a prominent motif in the Exilic literature. Evil-Merodach favors Jehoiachin, 2
Kings 25:27-30, just as Nebuchadnezzar had kindly treated Jeremiah, Jer. 39:11-40:6. This
kindness is all the more striking because of the way it contrasts with the harsh treatment
and imprisonment by Zedekiah, 37:11-38:28. (Cf. Ezra 9:9.)
The giving of divine revelation to one outside the
covenant is uncommon enough that this may also be a further indication of the
"pro-Babylonian polemic." Cf. Dan. 2 and 4. Certainly Nebuchadnezzar's response
recorded in Daniel 4 to the second vision and his chastisement should be seen as
supporting the legitimacy of his authority. Cf. Dan. 3:24-30.
Many of these motifs recur with reference to Cyrus and
the Medo-Persian kings. The acknowledgement of the most high God is, if anything, more
prominent. Cf. 2 Chr. 36:22, 23; Ezra 1:2-4; 6:10-12, 7:11, 12, 19-26, Dan. 6:25-28. Too
much, of course, must not be made out of such acknowledgements, but their prominence in
the literature should convince us that the writers regarded them as more than stylized and
insincere formulas. The fact that the Jews loyally served the Persian kings is also
pervasively recorded. There are Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel and Nehemiah: the governors;
Nehemiah: the cupbearer; Mordecai, who revealed a plot on the king's life, Est. 2:21-23,
and rose to exalted position, 6:1-14, 8:1, 2, 15-17, 9:4, 10:2, 3. Thus, those who
remained in exile during the Persian period continued to seek the welfare of their cities,
Two special marks of authority belong to Cyrus and the
Persian kings. (1) They are the appointed instruments of God to re-build the city and
temple, a Davidic function, 2 Chr. 36:22, 23, Ezra 1:2f.,7:6-11, 6:14. This strongly
suggests that they possess a civil legitimacy of the same character as the Davidic
dynasty. (2) It is undoubtedly this work (Isa. 44:26-28, 45:13, 46:11) that gives Cyrus
the exalted titles of Yahweh's "Shepherd" and "anointed one." Cf. Isa.
44:28, 45:1. Such titles strongly suggest the civil legitimacy of Cyrus and his Persian
b. Its Responsibility
If Nebuchadnezzar is Yahweh's servant and Cyrus His
shepherd and anointed one, they are for that very reason to rule for Him and in accord
with his will. Failure to do so results in divine judgment. Cf. Jer. 50, 51, Dan. 4, and
Dan. 5:17-30. As a minimum Yahweh requires deep humility before and acknowledgment of the
most high God, Dan. 4:37, righteousness and mercy to the poor, Dan. 4:27, keeping sacred
that which God regards as holy, Dan. 5:1-4, and refraining from persecuting God's people,
Dan. 7:25, 26.
c. Its Perpetuity
By the perpetuity of their authority, it is meant that
the authority given originally to Nebuchadnezzar is passed on to the Gentile kingdom which
rule over the Israel of God till the second advent of Christ. The starting-point for this
is again the imagery of Dan. 2 noted above. The four Gentile kingdoms (and the number four
may have a symbolic significance beyond its literal significance) are seen as one entity.
One awesome symbol of civil authority in the hands of man represents them all.
The thought contained in this symbolism is expanded in
the literature. It is not merely Nebuchadnezzar, but his sons also that will rule, Jer.
27:7. It is not merely Nebuchadnezzar, the dynastic head of Babylon, who possesses genuine
authority. Cyrus also has such authority. Cf. Jer. 50:44 where Yahweh asserts his
prerogative to appoint a successor to the Babylonian kingdom. Thus, the civil authority of
the first two of the four kingdoms is attested. Therefore the Jews continue to seek the
welfare of their exilic cities even after the return of the remnant to Judah and serve the
successors of Cyrus. Cf. Est. 10:2, 3, 2:21-23, Neh. 2:1-8.
The Apostle Paul utters what is only the logical
conclusion of all this in Rom. 13:1 when he says, "Let every person be in subjection
to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those
which exist are established by God." This statement is often understood (and is
certainly true) in the barrenly dogmatic sense, but it is nonetheless the fruit of a rich
redemptive-historical movement. For it was of the Roman Empire, the fourth and iron
kingdom of Dan. 2, of which Paul was originally speaking. The four Gentile kingdoms of
Dan. 2 include ultimately all non-Theocratic civil authority ruling over the people of God
till the end of the age and the dawning of the Theocratic kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar's
authority becomes that of his sons, and their authority devolves to Cyrus and his
successors, and thence to Greece and Rome. Rome's authority unfolds to include all human,
civil authority during this age until its eschatological consummation in the kingdom of
2. The Authority of the Gentile Kingdoms as Demonic
The heading that stands over this section could be
misunderstood. The authority of the four Gentile kingdoms is only demonic in a qualified
sense. The Gentile kingdoms, as we shall see, embody a bestial (and hence demonic) element
from the very beginning. This element comes more and more to characterize them only in
their eschatological development. This aspect of Gentile power will be examined by looking
at its origins, its manifestations, its development, and it corollary.
a. Its Origins
One might foresee the bestiality of the Gentile kingdoms
in the mere fact that it is fallen humanity which God invests with civil authority. No
redemptive provision is granted with this investiture. Hence its abuse was certain.
Another circumstance, however, in the origin of the power
of the Gentile kingdoms points more clearly to the negative aspects of their power. Their
power rises over the people of God in fulfillment of covenantal curses in response to the
wickedness of Israel. Cf. Jer. 1:15, 16; 2 Kings 23:6, 7; 2 Chr. 36:11-17; Deut. 28:25,
36, 49f. With such an origin one might expect that conditions for the people of God under
such rulers would be less than ideal. In fact one may speak of a curse-character in the
rule of the Gentile kingdoms. This is certainly reflected in the attitudes of Ezra and
Nehemiah who liken their condition to that of Israel before the Exodus. It is the
condition of bondage and slavery under foreign kings, Ezra 9:8, 9; Neh. 9:36. This
language at least in part reflects upon the fact that it is not one of their countrymen,
but a foreigner that rules them. Deut. 17:14-20 associates foreign rule with tyrannical
and autocratic rule. The glory of the house of David for Israel was that one of their
kinsmen rules them. Cf. Ps. 89:19, Deut. 17:15. Jer. 30 in its great promise of
restoration ties the re-establishment of the Theocratic kingdom to this thought. One
"of them," "out of their midst" will lead and rule God's Israel, v.
b. Its Manifestations
Various and multiplied instances of the bestiality of the
Gentile kingdoms are given in the relevant literature. Daniel, Esther, and to some extent
Ezra contain the most relevant materials.
Daniel, as noted before, portrays the Gentile kingdoms
with bestial imagery in chapters 7 and 8. Their power, ferocity, and violence is patent.
Cf. 7:3-8, 8:3-14. It is in connection with these beasts that persecution of the people of
God first becomes a subject of Daniel's prophetic visions. Cf. Dan. 7:21-25, 8:9-14.
Daniel 3 and 6, however, intimate in their historical narratives that systematic
persecution could become a reality under the Gentile kings. The common element in the
narratives of Daniel 3-6 seems to be the tendency of the Gentile kings to assume divine
prerogatives and engage in excessive and idolatrous self-exaltation. This is, by the way,
the exact point of which the kings of Israel were to beware, Deut. 17:20. Nothing could
make more clear the demonic tendency in these kingdoms.
Chapter 3 reveals the proud, divine pretensions of
Nebuchadnezzar in his demand for divine worship. The great statue here stands as the
precise antithesis of the deepest demands and highest prerogatives of God in His covenant.
The result of Nebuchadnezzar having such pretensions, though not perhaps its
self-conscious intention, was the attempted destruction of God's servants. Chapter 4
records the same pride here manifesting itself in the boasting which claims for its own,
the credit, the honor, the glory and does not give God His due. Chapter 5 exhibits the
same pride as the empty bravado of a doomed king. This bravado leads again to direct
conflict with God when its claims the sacred, temple vessels for the profanity of its
drinking binge. Chapter 6 reaches the nadir of degradation and shame for the foolish
pretensions of the Gentile kings. Their divine pretensions are now exhibited in the decree
forbidding petitions to "any god or man" and in the repeated refrain that the
laws of the kings of the Medo-Persians were divine in their immutability. Cf. verses 8,
12, 15.(127) How despicable is this
"god" who by flattery and manipulation is trapped by his own decree, forced to
condemn Daniel against his will, and helpless to save him though he yearns to do so! Thus,
chapter 6 provides the reductio ad absurdum to the divine pretensions of the Gentile
kings. As in chapter 3, however, we are reminded that to live under such bungling
"gods" is a curse often felt by God's Daniels.
Another characteristic which is frequently in view in
Daniel is the excessive violence of the Gentiles powers. We must, of course, beware of
being affected by the sub-Biblical sentimentality which pervades modern thought. Kings are
given the power of life and death by God Himself, Dan. 5:19. Notwithstanding this, the
abject fear which the excessive and arbitrary violence of these rulers inspires is seen as
early in Daniel as ch. 1:10. Note also 3:6, 19, 22, 6:7, 23, 24.
Esther re-enforces the impressions of violent, arbitrary,
and autocratic rule made by Daniel. Esther is terrified even to approach the king
unbidden, 4:11-17. Queens are banished (1:13-22), virgins are seized (2:8),(128) high officials are executed (7:7-10) and
whole races exterminated (3:7-15) at the mere whim of the king. The violence, drunkenness,
sensuality, and plots of the Persian court pervade every corner of Esther. Again, and this
is at the heart of Esther, the curse and danger of such rule for the people of God is
c. Its Development
The demonic character of the Gentile kingdoms unfolds and
develops and becomes more prominent in the eschatological developments of the Gentile
kingdoms. In Dan. 7, it is the fourth and last kingdom that is peculiarly noted for its
surpassing strength, terror, and ferocity, v. 7. It is in the later development of this
kingdom that the "little horn" exalts himself against God (v. 8, 11, 20, 25) and
destroys the people of God (v. 21-25). In Dan. 8 it is the third kingdom which is in view.
Still the third kingdom is the last in the context of ch. 8 and it is striking that it
exhibits similar developments in its later stages, 8:9-14, 23-26. Again, the clear
impression is that of the increasing development of the demonic in the Gentile powers.
The NT corroborates this. 2 Thes. 2 in imagery drawn from
the latter chapters of Daniel (Cf. 2 Thes. 2:3, 4 with Daniel 11:36, 8:10, 11, 7:8, 11,
25) speaks of the development of the mystery of lawlessness which was already at work
until its final manifestation, v. 7f. All this is due to "the activity of
Satan." (v. 9) Similarly in Rev. 12:17 we behold the "dragon" calling up
the "beast" from the sea. The whole passage is reminiscent of Daniel's imagery.
"The beast" is, of course, the eschatological and world-wide demonic
consummation of Gentile power, 13:3, 6, 7, 12.
Daniel and the Bible in general looks for the demonic
finally to dominate Gentile power. The bestiality always present will finally issue in
"the beast." The tendency to divine pretensions and the danger this posed for
the people of God will finally become the systematic assumption of divine prerogatives,
the systematic denial of the true God, and the systematic and universal persecution of the
people of God.
d. Its Corollary
This paper began with a distinction between the general
sovereignty of God and the special kingship administered through His covenants that God
sustained with Israel. With the destruction of the Theocratic kingdom and the ascendancy
of the Gentile kingdoms, an emphasis is given to the idea of God's universal sovereignty
over the nations. Repeated, striking statements of divine sovereignty crowd Daniel. Cf.
Dan. 2:19-23, 2:47, 4:3, 17, 25, 34, 35, 37, 6:26, 27. Daniel records repeated instances
of God's special providence and preservation of his people. Cf. Dan. 1:9, 3:24-26,
6:19-22, 7:4, 8:25. The message is that God is with his people in the Exile. He stands
with them in the flames, 3:24-26. He sends His angel to shut the lions' mouth, 6:19-22.
The same emphasis is everywhere present. Ezekiel is told
that God is a sanctuary for His people in their exile, 11:14-17. God's name is not
mentioned, but God's minute providence for the preservation of his people is ubiquitous in
Esther. Cyrus' activities manifest the sovereign purposes and providence of God for his
people, Isa. 44:24-28, 45:1-7, 45:8-13, 46:8-11. Ezra testifies to God's special
providential preservation, 7:9, 10, 6, 27, 28, 8:21-23, 31, 32. It is God who "has
not forsaken us," he says, "but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight
of the kings of Persia," 9:8, 9. Nehemiah also records how God answered prayer and
sovereignly disposed the heart of the king, 2:1-8. God continued to keep His people, 4:15.
Thus, the people of God helplessly exposed to the
ferocity of the Gentile kings are constantly reminded that God will restrain their
bestiality until the restoration of the Theocratic kingdom. For "the time will come
when the saints will possess the kingdom," Dan. 7:22.
(1) The commonality of post-Exilic Israel and the Church
in terms of their Relation to Civil Authority.
The data brought forward in this paper supports the
conclusion that substantial unity and continuity exists between post-Exilic Israel and the
Church in the matter of their relation to the Gentile kingdoms. The church as the New
Israel inherits Israel's relation to Gentile authorities and feels their power both in its
human and bestial dimensions. C. F. Keil sees the matter clearly, "Accordingly the
exile forms a great turning-point in the development of the kingdom of God which He had
founded in Israel. With that event the form of the theocracy established at Sinai comes to
an end, and then begins the period of the transition to a new form, which was to be
established by Christ . . . "(129)
The recognition of the development of a new continuity
between Israel and the Church at this point in redemptive history must not disguise the
remaining discontinuity. Here we must remember the restoration motif noticed in our
treatment of the Medo-Persian restoration. There was a typical and partial restoration of
the Theocracy at that time. While Judah was no longer a kingdom, it was a province of the
Persian empire and, thus, a civil entity. Within these limitations the Theocratic civil
order continued to be enforced with civil penalties and the union of the church and state
remained. The NT makes clear that the Church is not in continuity with this partially
restored Theocracy, Mt. 21:33-46, Acts 7:1-53 with 6:8-15. It dies under divine judgment
shortly after the Church's establishment.
(2) The Non-Theocratic Character of Civil Authority till
the Return of Christ.
The first conclusion reminds us that with the expiration
of the partially restored Theocratic order all civil authority ceased to be Theocratic in
the sense in which we have defined that word in this paper. God is no longer the unique
king of any civil entity. No nation is now mandated to adhere to a divinely revealed civil
order. While the moral principles enshrined in the laws of the Old covenant remain
authoritative, no nation is bound to the detailed, civil order of OT Israel. Add to all of
this the destruction of the Temple as the earthly throne of Yahweh and one must also
conclude that no longer are church and state a united entity. The redeemed community no
longer has a civil structure. Thus, the divine establishment of the Gentile civil
authorities means that the separation of the civil and ecclesiastical institutions in
human society is now God's preceptive will. The alteration of this order will be signaled
only by the return of Christ.
(3) The Divine Establishment of the Gentile, Civil
The assertion that no civil authority is now Theocratic
definitely does not mean, biblically, that civil authority now stands in no relation or
only a negative relation to God. The biblical data clearly establishes the fact that the
present, Gentile civil authorities are divinely constituted. It was clear that this fact
implies the idea that Gentile authorities are responsible to God and owe Him obedience as
civil authorities. More stress is placed in the literature, however, on the duty of the
people of God to subject themselves to the government of these rulers. To resist
Nebuchadnezzar was to resist God.
The Biblical mandate to render obedience to the Gentile
kings sheds light on the extent and character of the duty owed to civil authorities. Of
course, no obedience was to be rendered to demands that violated the explicit demands of
God. On the other hand, service and obedience was to be rendered to uncovenanted,
autocratic, proud, idolatrous, abusive, and often bestial rulers. No fact could speak more
eloquently of the truth that our subjection to civil authority is not conditioned on (our
estimate of) the way it is being exercised. Bestial demands and behavior may call for
disobedience or flight, but they never provide the grounds for violent resistance or
rebellion. If Nebuchadnezzar's self-deifying idolatry and Ahasuerus' tyranny did not give
the right of rebellion, then it is hard to imagine any conditions under which the abuse of
civil power would warrant rebellion against "the powers that be."
Worth mentioning here is the fact that examples of
rebellions led by Jews against foreign kings during the time of the Theocracy are not
relevant to the issue now being addressed. Shamgar, Samson, and the other saviors sent to
deliver Israel from foreign domination lived before the divine transfer of civil authority
to the Gentile kings and before the divine destruction of the Theocracy. There is a
qualitative redemptive-historical difference between Eglon and Nebuchadnezzar.
(4) The Curse-Character of Life under the Gentile
The authority of the Gentile kingdoms originated in
covenantal curses and life under them continues and will continue to be a curse to the
people of God. The clear prophetic outlook of the word of God is that the bestial
character of these kingdoms will continue to characterize them and will finally completely
dominate the eschatological manifestation of Gentile authority. This is not to be read as
permission to ignore or be indifferent to civil righteousness insofar as it is within our
ability to enhance it. Such a conclusion would fly in the face of the totalitarian claims
of God and His word. This conclusion does mean, however, that civil authority is not to be
made the object of mis-directed hope or consuming attention by the people of God. The mark
of the perversion of the Biblical perspective is the re-focusing of hope upon social
change. This error pervades modern theologies of social change. The true hope of the
people of God is the re-establishment of the Theocratic kingdom. This, as the Scripture
declares, will be the achievement not of civil reformation but of cataclysmic and
supernatural divine intervention.
(5) The Central Importance of the Church for the Work of
The entire theological perspective enumerated in this
study warrants the conclusion that the energies and responsibilities of the Kingdom center
on the Church in this age. The Theocratic Kingdom is present only in the redemptive task
of the church not in the conservative task of the state. Therefore, labor for the Kingdom,
must not place an equal importance on ecclesiastical and civil matters. The dominion
mandate must not be set alongside the Great Commission as its equal nor may it be seen as
its real content. The Church (and its task) is the exclusive focus of kingdom endeavor in
this age. The theocratic kingdom is now present not in visible or political form, but in
spiritual and ecclesiastical form.
[INSERT PAGE OF CHARTS HERE]
Appendix on Religious Liberty:
Many arguments could be brought forward in defense of
religious freedom or soul liberty. I will only mention two:
(2) Dictating religious belief and worship is not the
task or function of the state. It is outside the sphere of the civil authorities.
The state is to preserve civil justice and peace and
protect men from violence to their bodies or property. This is the teaching of the Bible.
Cf. Rom. 13:3, 4; Mt. 22:21; I Tim. 2:2; I Pet. 2:14; Ps. 82:1-4, 58:2, Deut. 4:27; Gen
6:11, 12, 9:5, 6; Ps. 72:14, Ezek. 7:23, 45:9; Prov. 21:15, 24:11, 12, 29:14, 26, 31:5.
Men may and do differ as to religious belief without
disrupting the peace or offering violence to others. The weapon of the civil authority, as
we saw, was the sword. Swords are not good weapons, they are not even the right weapons,
with which to mold or rule men's consciences. Civil authority rules mens' bodies, not
their souls, Neh. 9:37.
(2) For a state to dictate religious belief or worship
inevitably requires the State to rule the church or the church to rule the state.
The Westminster Confession of Faith in its original form
is the best illustration of this. In chapter 23 and paragraph 3 it states:
The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the
administration of the word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of
heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace
be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all
blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and
discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled,
administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call
synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoeveris transacted in them be
according to the mind of God.
How can the state do this without seriously compromising
the church's sovereignty under God? Without making the church a slave of men? It can't!
A serious objection must now be addressed. Isn't the
civil authority to rule according to the Word of God? If so, how can it allow religious
freedom? Perhaps the clearest illustration of the problem with which we are now grappling
is provided by the 2nd Commandment. If God forbids idolatry, must not the state also
forbid and penalize idolatry?
Here a crucial distinction must be enunciated. It is
certainly true that civil authority is subject to the Word of God, but this does not mean
that it is the duty of the civil authority to enforce every part of God's Word with his
own authority. Several illustrations will make this clear.
Cf. Eph. 6:4: "And you fathers ..." Is the
civil magistrate to enforce this. No! Why? Because the Word is not his authority? No! But
because He is not a Father. Cf. also the exhortations to pastors in I Pet. 5:2. Should the
civil magistrate enforce this? No, because he is not a pastor. John Murray well says,
Since the civil magistrate is invested with this
authority by God and is obliged by divine ordinance to discharge these functions, he is
responsible to God, the one living and true God who alone has ordained him. The magistrate
is, therefore, under obligation to discharge the office devolving upon him in accordance
with the revealed will of God. The Bible is the supreme and infallible revelation of God's
will and it is, therefore, the supreme and infallible rule in all departments of life. The
civil magistrate is under obligation to recognize it as the infallible rule for the
exercise of civil magistracy.
It must be recognized, however, that it is only within
his own restricted sphere of authority that the civil magistrate, in his capacity as civil
magistrate, is to apply the revelation of God's will as provided in Scripture. It is only
to the extent to which the revelation of Scripture bears upon the functions discharged by
the state and upon the performance of the office of the civil magistrate, that he, in the
discharge of these functions, is bound to fulfil the demands of Scripture. If the civil
magistrate should attempt, in his capacity as magistrate, to carry into effect the demands
of Scripture which bear upon him in other capacities, or the demands of Scripture upon
other institutions, he would immediately be guilty of violating his prerogatives and of
contravening the requirements of Scripture.
The sphere of the church is distinct from that of the
civil magistrate. Its sphere of operation has been defined in the first section of this
report. What needs to be appreciated now is that its sphere is co-ordinate with that of
the state. The church is not subordinate to the state, nor is the state subordinate to the
church. They are both subordinate to God, and to Christ in his mediatorial dominion as
head over all things to his body the church. Both church and state are under obligation to
recognize this subordination, and the corresponding co-ordination of their respective
spheres of operation in the divine institution. Each must maintain and assert its autonomy
in reference to the other and preserve its freedom from intrusion on the part of the
Why is the civil magistrate not to enforce the
"first Table of the Law"? Because he is somehow not subject to the Word of God?
No! Because it's not his job!
Are there limits to religious freedom? When anyone's
religion disrupts civil justice or peace and threatens violence to others, then it must be
Moloch Worship, Jehovah's Witnesses' refusal of blood
transfusions for their children, and abortion are several examples of religiously held
"rights" which should not be permitted.
It might be argued that Romans 13:3, 4 requires civil
rulers to punish evil and since evil is to be defined by God's law that violations of the
"first table" of the law should be civilly punished. Besides what has already
been said, three comments are appropriate.
1) Some limitation of the term, evil, must be assumed in
Rom. 13:3, 4 since the civil ruler is obviously not to punish private or heart evil.
2) Interesting enough, when Paul goes on to speak of the
law in Rom. 13, he speaks only of the "Second Table" of the law.
3) The historical context of Rom. 13 makes incredible the
idea that civil rulers are to punish religious evil. Paul is not speaking ideally in Rom.
13, but of the actual conduct of the Roman government as it ruled during his life. Without
doubt, the Roman emperors were not a cause of fear for religious evil behavior. Cf.
Rom. 13: 1, 3, 4.
IV. A Reformed Alternative to Theonomic Ethics
How are we to tell which laws in the Old Covenant we must
obey as Christians and which we need not obey?
This is the pressing question. In rejecting the
alternative of Theonomy we have not settled this serious and practical issue. It is
incumbent upon a treatment like this to provide some direction on this question. This is,
however, a massive matter. The following is offered only as a general outline of the
proper approach to this question.
A. General Premises
1. The Old Covenant is the most concentrated Biblical
revelation of law and the central Biblical revelation of moral law.
The NT does not reveal, but rather assumes a system of
ethics. (Cf. Rom. 13: 8, 9; Jn. 1:17.)
2. We must distinguish between the Old Covenant law as a
temporary covenant and a permanent revelation.
Compare Heb. 8:13 with Eph. 6:1f; Gal. 3:19f. While the
Old Covenant as a temporary covenant no longer binds us, as a permanent revelation of God
and His moral law it does bind us.
Thus, we cannot answer the question with either of the
two, extreme, (and superficial) answers. There is the answer of Dispensationalism. This is
that nothing in the Old Covenant per se binds the Christian. There is the opposite answer,
that to which Theonomy tends. This is that everything in the Old Covenant binds the
Christian. According to the New Testament both of these answers are too facile. Somethings
do and somethings do not bind us. We must be able to tell the difference.
3. The moral law revealed in the Old Covenant has already
been revealed to every man because its demands are written in his heart by creation. Man,
therefore, by nature has certain ideas about right and wrong.
Cf. the following passages Rom. 2:14, 15; (The law
mentioned in this passage is clearly according to the context the law given at Sinai.), 1
This natural revelation--granted--is suppressed by man's
depravity. Thus, a written revelation is necessary to make God's demands clear to sinners.
Yet, this means that no man approaches the question of his ethical duty as a blank slate.
He approaches the question with a basic knowledge of that duty which barring his sin
should guide him in sorting of the Old Covenant laws! Only his sin prevents this!
4. Anything not abolished in Christ remains as the
Compare Mt. 5:17, 18. The Old Covenant was temporary
because it was preparatory and pointed forward to Christ. Anything that was not at least
in principle abolished by Christ was obviously not part of its temporary character.
Examples of such temporary aspects of the Old Covenant are multiplied in the New
-- The priestly and sacrificial laws Cf. Hebrews 7-10.
-- The dietary laws Cf. Acts 10, 11/Mk. 7:19
-- The judicial laws as part of the civil state of
Israel. (Cf. Lk. 21:20-24, Acts 6:13-15.)
Obviously anything re-affirmed in the New Covenant by
Christ or the Apostles is law for the Christian, but it is not necessary for a law to be
explicitly reiterated. As long as it is not abolished by Christ it remains in force.
Problems remain, of course, even after stating this
premise. This is epitomized by the phrase used above, "at least in principle."
There are still gray areas. Hence other rules of thumb are necessary. This brings us to
certain more specific guidelines.
B. Specific Guidelines
1. Any ordinance present from creation has abiding
relevance for the Christian.
Any point at which the Mosaic regulations deviate from a
creation mandate they obviously are part of the temporary aspects of the Old Covenant
Passage? Matt. 19:1-10. What originated at creation must
endure as long as creation itself is not altered! Cf. Matt. 5:17, 19, Luke 20:34-36.
2. Any law which is part of the Ten Commandments is
It is common in our day to raise an objection against the
distinction between the moral and ceremonial dimensions of Old Covenant. It is argued that
the Old Covenant was a unit and did not distinguish between one law and another. Jews
could not have guessed. Who made the distinction? God did! God clearly distinguished the
Ten from the rest. How?
-- By speaking the Ten Commandments only with his own
-- By writing them alone with his own finger
-- By writing them alone in stone--not book
-- By putting them alone in the ark of the covenant
In these ways at least God clearly distinguished one part
of the Old Covenant law from the rest.
3. Any law which the Gentiles as well as the Jews were
obliged to obey is thereby revealed to be part of the natural law written on the heart of
The obligation of the Gentiles to obey, presupposes a
revelation informing them of their obligation. Since the Gentiles did not have specific
revelation, such laws must have been part of the general revelation of God's law written
on their hearts by creation. Are the laws of Lev. 18 for us? Cf. Lev. 18:6-23. Note Lev.
18:1-5, 24-30. This is confirmed by the assumption of Paul in 1 Cor. 5:1f. that these laws
Conclusion: Two test cases will serve to show the
relevance of the premises and guidelines mentioned above in discerning the abiding
relevance of Old Testament laws to ourselves. The first case will be a positive example,
the second a negative. Again, it is necessary to remind the reader that this treatment is
intended only as simple sketch, showing the main lines of thought to be followed in
discerning Old Covenant laws.
The Positive Example: The Sabbath
The Sabbath is a well-known crux of Scriptural ethics.
But the things mentioned above provide a straightforward answer as to its relevance for
the Christian. It is a creation ordinance. It is part of the Ten Commandments. It, at
least, obliged Gentiles dwelling among the Jews. Thus, in terms of each of the three
specific guidelines mentioned above the Sabbath qualifies as abidingly relevant for the
Question is, of course, raised by many with reference to
certain of the premises mentioned earlier. Some argue that the Sabbath was abolished by
Christ on the basis of passages like Col. 2, Gal. 4, and Rom. 14. Others argue that the
Sabbath was not part of the law of nature. Each of these arguments has only partial
It is true that the precise day of the week and even the
length of the week is not part of the content of the law of nature. The most that can be
said is that natural reason might anticipate that the day for God would not be much more
or much less than one in seven. However, that God must be worshiped, worshiped
corporately, and, thus, that a specified time must necessarily be appointed for that
worship and appointed by God himself--all these things seem clearly a part of the law of
nature to this writer. The true case seems to be that the law of the Sabbath is a mixed
commandment; part natural and part positive. The implication of this must be noted. This
means that the positive part of the commandment could be changed, while the natural law
underlying would be embodied in a new institution. As a matter of fact, this is precisely
what the Biblical data indicates did happen. This brings us to the second issue raised
It is not necessary to deny that the seventh day Sabbath
was abolished by Christ or that this is the reference of, for instance, Col. 2:16, 17,
though many fine exegetes have done so. It is simply necessary to distinguish the Sabbath
as a dictate of natural law from the Sabbath as a positive law. That is to say, we must
distinguish between the Sabbath as a moral principle and the Sabbath as a positive
institution. As a positive institution, it is abolished. As a moral principle, it is
re-incarnated in the Lord's Day. It re-emerges in the Christian observance of the first
day of the week. It is simply fallacious and hopelessly superficial to make Col. 2:16, 17
the first, last, and only statement of the Bible on the subject of the Sabbath. It is
downright wrong to ignore all those considerations mentioned above which lead directly to
the conclusion that the Sabbath is a moral principle abidingly relevant in all ages. It is
impermissible to ignore and isolate all that the New Testament teaches regarding the first
day of the week. Cf. Rev. 1:10, 1 Cor. 16:1, 2, Acts 20:7, 2:1, Jn. 20:1, 26.
The Negative Example: the Year of Jubilee
In contrast to the Sabbath day the Sabbath year is on the basis of the principles enunciated above clearly not abidingly relevant for the Christian. It is not a creation ordinance, not a part of the Ten Commandments, not obligatory for Gentiles, (Cf. Lev. 25:39-55), and fulfilled and abolished by Christ (Cf. Lev. 4:16-19, 21:20-24.) both because it points to Christ's work and because it was a civil law of Israel.
Conclusions: Are not there still gray areas? Yes and we must seek for greater light to discern and do God's law of liberty. In the meantime such obscurities make us thankful for the fact and remind us that we are saved by grace and not the works of the law!
1.Peter J. Leithart, "An Interview with Dr. R. J. Rushdoony," The Counsel of Chalcedon (Sept. 1985): 14-17.
2.Gary North, Honest Reporting as Heresy: My Response to Christianity Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), 7.
3.Rodney Clapp, "Democracy as Heresy," Christianity Today,(Feb. 20, 1987), pp. 17-23; Gary North, "Honest Reporting as Heresy..."
4.Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian Reformed Publishing Company, 1984), pp. xx-xxi
5.Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Craig Press, 1976), p. 9
6.Ibid, p. 551
7.Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism: God's Plan for Victory, (Fairfax, Virginia, Thoburn Press, 1977), p. 37
8.North, Op. Cit., p. 6
9.Ibid, p. 5
10.He is referring to his article in The Geneva Review, January, 1986, "Tough Talk," James B. Jordan, pp. 1, 2.
11.Bahnsen, Op. Cit., p. xix
12.North, Op. Cit., p. 6
13.Bahnsen, Op. Cit., p. 228, 229
14.Rushdoony, Institutes, pp. 824-836
15.Bahnsen, Op. Cit., pp. xi-xxvii
16.Carl W. Bogue, "What does the Decalogue Summarize?" Covenanter Witness, (May 1987), p. 4
17.Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism, pp. 8, 9, 10 Cf. pp. 2, 10
18.Ibid, pp. 53-56
19.Gary North, Unconditional Surrender, God's Program for Victory, (Tyler, TX, Geneva Divinity School Press 1983) pp. 176-177
20.Ibid, pp. 196-201
21.Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism, pp. 2, 8-10, 16-27, 29, 30
22.Ibid, pp. 21-23
23.Ibid, pp. 21-23
24.North, Unconditional Surrender, p. 73
25.Chilton, op. cit., p. 495
26.Chilton, op. cit., p. 495
27.Ibid, pp. 495, 496, 498
28.North, Unconditional Surrender, pp. 182, 193
29.Ibid, pp. 189, 194, 211
30.Ibid, p. 210
31.Geerhardus Vos, Pauline Eschatology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 25
32.North, Unconditional Surrender, pp. 199-200
33.Ibid, pp. 179-183
34.George Eldon Ladd, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974, p. 95
35.Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, Philadelphia, Pa., Philadelphia, Pa., Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962), p. 123
36.Ladd, op. cit., p. 95
37.Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 130
38.Ladd, op. cit., p. 95
39.Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 137
40.Ladd, op. cit., p. 97
41.Ibid, p. 98
42.Ibid, p. 99
43.Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 146
44.North, Unconditional Surrender, pp. 179-183
45.Ibid, pp. 195, 198 Cf. p. 202
46.Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism, p. 10
47.North, Unconditional Surrender, p. 201
48.Ibid, pp. 199, 200
49.Cf. Dr. Bob Martin's tapes on the subject from the l985 Trinity Pastor's conference.
50.Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism p. 10
51.John Murray, Collected Writings, vol. 1 (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), pp. 356-358
52.Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism, p. 3
53.North, Honest Reporting . . .
54.Rushdoony, Institutes, pp. 551ff.
55.North, Unconditional Surrender, pp. 213, 214
56.Cf. Rushdoony's assertion of this dichotomy in The Meaning of The Postmillennialism, p. 10.
57.Bahnsen, op. cit., p. 39
58.Ibid, pp. xvi, xvii
59.Ibid, pp. 445, 446
60.Ibid, pp. 426, 427
61.Gary North, The Theology of Christian Resistance, A Symposium, ed. by Gary North, (Tyler, TX, Geneva Divinity School, 1983), p. 64.
62.Bahnsen, op. cit., p xxix
63.Westminster Confession of Faith, (The Publications Committee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland,1970), p. 81
64.John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Vol II, ed. John Allen, (Philadelphia, Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, n.d), pp. 787, 788, 789-791 (4:20: 14, 16)
65.Rushdoony, Institutes, pp. 9, 550, 551
66.Bahnsen, op. cit., pp. 540, 541
67.Paul B. Fowler, God's Law Free From Legalism, pp. 24, 25 (Privately Distributed)
68.James Jordan, The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, "Calvinism and the "Judicial Law of Moses" an Historical Survey," (Winter, 1978-79; vol. v, no. 2) p. 175.
69.Ibid., p. 43
70.Ibid., p. 21
71.Richard Flinn, The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, "Rutherford and Puritan Political Theory," (Winter, 1978-79; vol. v, no. 2) p. 55
72.Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 79f.
73.Jordan, op. cit., pp. xvii, xviii
74.Ibid, p. 25
75.Fowler, op. cit., p. 46
76.Bahnsen, op. cit., pp. xvii, xviii
80.James Jordan, "Theses on Paedocommunion," The Geneva Papers, special edition (from Geneva Divinity School, 1982)
81.The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, ed. James B. Jordan (The Geneva Divinity School, 1982)
82.G. F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament, trans. by G. E. Day, Minneapolis, Klock & Klock, 1978, p. 199. Cf. also W. M. McPheeters, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. J. Orr, V. Wilmington, AP&A, n. d., p. 2965.
84.Loc. cit. (Oehler)
89.Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, II, Evangelical Press, 1975, pp. 418, 419.
90.R. B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1976, p. 231.
91.Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, "Theocracy", p. 617
92.Brown, Driver, Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, attributes the meaning, priest-king, to here. The LXX translates " ", royal priest-hood, and this rendering is adopted in the N. T., 1 Pet. 2:9. Others references to this phrase in the N. T. further substantiate this translation. Cf. Rev. 1:6, 5:10.
93.C. F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Books of Samuel, trans. by J. Martin, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1975, pp. 82-84. Cf. also M. Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, I The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974, p. 531.
94.O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1980, p. 230. Cf. also Oehler, loc. cit.
95.Robertson, op. cit., p 231.
96.P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1976, p. 256
97.Robertson, op. cit., pp. 243-249.
99.Robertson, op. cit., p. 233f.
100.ibid., pp. 232, 233
101.It is striking also that this inter-relationship between God's house and David's house is foreshadowed in Deut. 12:11 and 17:15 which speak respectively of "place" (for worship) and the "king" "which the LORD your God shall choose."
102.Robertson, op. cit., p. 236
103.ibid., pp. 236-240.
104.This is the position of commentator as diverse as Delitzsch, J. A. Alexander, and Gleason Archer (in his O. T. survey).
105.Cf. C. F. Keil and Robert Jamieson in loc.
106.infra, p. 40.
107.Fairbairn, op. cit., vol. I, p. 126f.
108.Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1976, p. 182.
109.With the majority of conservative interpreters, this paper assumes identification of the four kingdoms of Daniel indicated in the text of the paper. Cf. Wood, Baldwin, Young, Leupold.
110.Fairbairn, op. cit., vol. II, pp. 439, 440.
111.Wood, op. cit., p. 72f.
112.Fairbairn, op. cit., pp. 440f.
113.Cf. G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the kingdom, Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Geerhardus Vos, Pauline Eschatology.
114.Fairbairn, op. cit., p. 441.
115.Understanding the Times, ed. by William Culbertson, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1956, pp. 17, 116, 121, 122, 161-163. Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary of the Gospel of Luke, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1975, pp. 528, 529, 536. The above references the first by Dispensationalists, the second by an Amillennialist, illustrate the spectrum of eschatological opinion which agrees in identifying the times of the Gentiles with the period of the four Gentile kingdoms of Daniel, the period of the disruption of the Theocratic kingdom. Exegetical facts which encourage this identification are the allusions to Daniel in the surrounding context of this phrase, 21:20 and 27, and the linguistic parallels between the use of here and its frequent use in Daniel with reference to the Gentile kingdoms. Cf. especially Dan. 2:21, 7:25, 9:26, 27. The plural may have for its significance a reference to the plurality of Gentile kingdoms, Daniel 2 and 7. The similarity with Rom. 11:25 is superficial and deceptive. The fullness of the Gentiles is not in the first place a reference to a period of time.
116.The interpretive framework adopted in this paper sees Dan. 2 and 7 fulfilled in the two-stage unfolding of the kingdom. It holds that it was literally "in the days of those kings" that the GOd of heaven restored the Theocratic kingdom. It is not forced with the futurist to adopt the questionable expedients of a "revived Roman empire," a "gap," a "postponed kingdom," or an unprophesied "parenthesis."
On the other hand, it is not forced with the preterist to find the complete fulfillment of the Theocratic kingdom in the Church as it now exists. In the second stage of its unfolding these prophecies find their visible and earthly fulfillment.
It is appropriate to remark that the idea of a two-phase fulfillment must apply not only to the Theocratic kingdom, but also to the fourth kingdom of Daniel's vision. Just as "the coming of the son of man" (Dan. 7:13, 14) unfolds itself in the two events of Christ's ascension and parousia, even so the fourth and most terrible Gentile kingdom unfolds in two historical manifestations. It is not necessary to suppose that this implies a "revived Roman empire." In the same way seeing Antiochus Epiphanes and the Roman Caesars as types of the eschatological antichrist does not require us to believe that the antichrist will be Nero Redivivus etc. What is required is the idea of a universal, civil authority which abuses its God-given authority in systematic persecution of the people of God.
117.Oscar Cullmann, The State in the New Testament, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1956, pp. 51f.
118.E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1949, p. 71. Cf. also C. F. Keil, The Book of Daniel, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1975, p. 102
119.Young, op. cit., p. 76.
Keil, op. cit., p. 102.
120.Young, op. cit., p. 142
Keil, op. cit., p. 222f.
121.Several commentators notice the contrasting imagery of Dan. 2 and Dan. 7. Cf. Wood, op. cit., p. 178 and Leupold, Exposition of Daniel, Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1961, p. 277 for their interpretations.
122.Cf. BDB in loc.
123.Young, op. cit., p. 73. Cf. also
Joyce Baldwin, Daniel, Inter-varsity Press, 1978, p. 93.
124."Life in the Diaspora," Biblical Archaeologist, XXXVII, 1974. p. 1.
125.Cf. the charts on the following page.
126.Baldwin, op. cit., p. 127. Cf. also W. M. Taylor, Ruth and Esther, New York, George H. Doran, 1919, p. 233.
127.Taylor, op. cit., p. 138f.
128.Taylor, op. cit., p. 138f.
129.Murray, op. cit., pp. 253, 254
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved