Theonomy is Reformed – 17th Century Quotes

January 9, 2011

Quotations from the 17th Century Reformers

Now we arrive at the century that gave us the Westminster Standards. Today there is much confusion as to what the writers meant by “general equity” in chapter 19, paragraph 4 of the confession. After reading the quotes from the 16th century as well as quotes from the 17th, I think it will be easier to understand what they meant. The following quotes are very basic and foundational to the Theonomic ethic. If you read these and find yourself agreeing with them or having little disagreement, then you should have the same attitude toward Theonomy. For these are the writers that influenced Dr. Greg Bahnsen when he wrote: “Theonomy in Christian Ethics.”

17th Century

John Cotton in 1636, the well known American Puritan theologian, prepared an explicit essay, entitled “How Far Moses’ Judicials Bind Massachusetts,” in which he addresses the question,

“whether we as Christians or as a people of God are not bound to establish laws and penalties set down in the Scripture as they were given to the Jews,”

and then offers nine supporting reasons why the answer must be affirmative. That same year Cotton produced a model civil code for his colony entitled Moses His Judicials, which contained entire sections verbatim from the Mosaic law. In his 1663 publication, A discourse about Civil Government, Cotton wrote that the best form of government for Christians to endorse was one where the laws by which men rule are the laws of God.

John Cotton also wrote

“The more any Law smells of man the more unprofitable.”

“If it was a part of the misery of gentiles to be aliens from the commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:12), then it is a part of the happiness of Christian nations that they are subject to the laws of that commonwealth of Israel…. Christ is king of church and commonwealth…. Christ is head of all principalities and powers for the church, and he will subordinate all kingdoms one day to the church.”

William Ames (1576-1633) assisted at the Synod of Dordt and was highly influential in Dutch Reformed as well as Old & New England. In De Conscientia (1630) he taught:

“the judicial laws of the Old Testament are just as moral in basic character as the Decalogue, but they were revealed often in a particularly Jewish form or character.”

Thomas Shepard (1605 – 1649) the prominent Newtown pastor & American Puritan within the same decade as the Westminster Assembly, wrote:

“The judicial laws, some of them being hedges and fences to safeguard both moral and ceremonial precepts, their binding power was therefore mixed and various, for those which did safeguard any moral law, (which is perpetual,) whether by just punishments or otherwise, do still morally bind all nations:…and hence God would have all nations preserve their fences forever, as he would have that law preserved forever which these safeguard…. The learned generally doubt not to affirm that Moses’ judicials bind all nations, so far goeth as they contain any moral equity in them…. “

[I found myself laughing out loud when I read that last sentence]

the New Haven Colony Records for 1641, we read:

“And according to the fundamental agreement, made and published by full and general consent…that the judicial law of God given by Moses and expounded in other parts of Scripture, so far as it is a hedge and a fence to the moral law, and neither ceremonial nor typical nor had any reference to Canaan, hath an everlasting equity in it, and should be the rule of their proceedings.

Samuel Bolton (1606 -1654), a theologian who participated in the writing of the Westminster Confession of Faith in his True Bounds of Christian Freedom, said:

“As for the judicial law, which was an appendix to the second table, it was an ordinance containing precepts concerning the government of the people in things civil, and it served three purposes: it gave the people a rule of common and public equity, it distinguished them from other peoples, and it gave them a type of the government of Christ. That part of the judicial law which was typical of Christ’s government has ceased, but that part which is of common and general equity remains still in force.”

(“common and general equity,” sound familiar? This is a good window into the thoughts of the Westminster authors and how they understood the term and the confession 19:4)

Samuel Bolton, also asserted that:

“A magistrate may require those things at our hands which are clearly revealed to be the will of God….The people were bound to obey the magistrates when they commanded obedience to that which God had commanded….He is but a subordinate, and Christ is the supreme Master. The magistrate tells us what is God’s will, not what is his will. He tells us it is his will, too, but only because it is God’s will first.”

John Owen in 1653 preached a sermon before Parliament, in which he declared:

“Although the institutions and examples of the Old Testament, of the duty of the magistrates in the things and about the worship of God, are not, in their whole latitude and extent, to be drawn into rules that should be obligatory to all magistrates now,…yet, doubtless, there is something moral in those institutions, which, being unclothed of their Judaical form, is still binding to all in the like kind, as to some analogy and proportion. Subduct from those administrations what was proper to, and lies upon the account of, the church and nation of the Jews, and what remains upon the general notion of a church and nation must be “everlastingly binding.””

Samuel Rutherford & George Gillespie

Of all the Westminster Divines, Samuel Rutherford and George Gillespie are among the most influential and well known. The success of the Westminster Assembly is due in large part to their contributions, both scholarly and leadership.

Samuel Rutherford In his Divine Right of Church Government (1646), maintained that the Old Testament requirement for

“punishing of a sin against the Moral Law by the magistrate is moral and perpetual,”

It was Rutherford’s opinion that the judicial law as far as its judicial character and as far as it pertained exclusively to the Jewish Republic were not binding,

“though the moral equity of all those [laws] be not abolished.”

George Gillespie, in 1646 published his Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, wherein he stated:

“I know some divines hold that the judicial law of Moses, so far as concerneth the punishment of sins against the moral law…ought to be the rule to the Christian magistrate; and for my part, I wish more respect were had to it, and that it were more consulteth with” (I.1).

In 111 Propositions:

“47 …It is one thing to govern the commonwealth, and to make political and civil laws; another thing to interpret the word of God, and out of it to show the magistrate his duty, to wit, how he ought to govern the commonwealth, and in what manner he ought to use the sword….”

“48. For to that end also is the holy Scripture profitable, to show which is the best manner of governing a commonwealth, and that the magistrate, as being God’s minister, may by this guiding star be so directed, as that he may execute the parts of his office according to the will of God, and may perfectly be instructed in every good work….”

In a tract entitled: “Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty” he says:

“whether the Christian Magistrate is bound to observe the judicial laws of Moses, as well as the Jewish Magistrate was,”

Gillespie declared that

“he is obliged to those things in the judicial law which are unchangeable, and common to all nations; but not to those things which are mutable, or proper to the Jewish Republic”

And also:

“the Christian Magistrate is bound to observe these judicial laws of Moses which appoint the punishments of sins against the moral law.”

Referring to Matthew 5:17 he says:

“He who will hold that the Christian Magistrate is not bound to inflict such punishments for such sins is bound to prove that those former laws of God are abolished, and to show some Scripture for it.” (doesn’t this sound like Bahnsen?)

“Though we have clear and full scriptures in the New Testament for abolishing the ceremonial law, yet we no where read in all the New Testament of the abolishing of the judicial law, so far as it did concern the punishing of sins against the moral law.”

“the will of God concerning civil justice and punishments is no where so fully and clearly revealed as in the judicial law of Moses. This therefore must be the surest prop and stay to the conscience of the Christian Magistrate.”

“he who was punishable by death under the judicial law is punishable by death still; and he who was not punished by death then, is not to be punished by death now.” (this is “equity” not equivalence)


The outlook of those who authored the Westminster Confession of Faith was clearly that the civil magistrate is morally bound to obey the law of God as it bears on civil morality.

Next to come will be the post reformers.

diamond buyers

Theonomy is Reformed – 16th Century Quotes

December 19, 2010

Quotations from the Early Reformers

I am providing the quotes here with very little comment. Take note especially of the tems “equity, equitable, and judicial.” These are terms used in the Westminster Confession and without a proper understanding of their contemporary use, we tend to interpret the confession importing our modern usage of such terms.

16th Century

Martin Bucer in 1550, wrote his treatise on social ethics for Edward VI, entitled De Regno Christi. There he stated:

Since no one can describe an approach more equitable and wholesome to the commonwealth than that which God describes in his law, it is certainly the duty of all kings and princes who recognize that God has put them over his people that they follow most studiously his own method of punishing evildoers….Insofar as the substance and proper end of these [Mosaic] commandments are concerned, and especially those which enjoin the discipline that is necessary for the whole commonwealth, whoever does not reckon that such commandments are to be conscientiously observed is certainly not attributing to God either supreme wisdom or a righteous care for our salvation. And so whoever decides that these misdeeds of impiety and wickedness are to be kept out or driven from the commonwealth of Christians by more mitigated punishment than death necessarily makes himself wiser and more loving than God as regards the salvation of men.

“Your Majesty will prove his trust and zeal for governing the commonwealth in a holy way for Christ the Lord, our heavenly King, if for every single crime, misdeed, or offense he establishes and imposes those penalties which the Lord himself has sanctioned.”

Edwin Sandys the Anglican Bishop In 1573, wrote to Heinrich Bullinger that it was the position of presbyterian reformers in England that:

The judicial laws of Moses are binding upon Christian princes, and they ought not in the slightest degree to depart from them….These good men are crying out that they have all the Reformed churches on their side.”

John Calvin

This equity alone must be the goal and rule and limit of all laws,” so that in relation to the judicial laws of Moses, the laws of a modern nation may “indeed vary in form but have the same purpose” (Institutes of the Christian Religion 4:20:15-16).

Speaking of the extradecalogical laws of lending, he said: “The judicial law, however, which God prescribed to His ancient people, is only so far abrogated as that which charity dictates should remain” (Commentary at Exodus 22:25).

“Although the political laws of Moses are not now in operation, still the analogy is to be preserved, lest the condition of those who have been redeemed by Christ’s blood should be worse amongst us, than that of His ancient people of old” (Commentary at Leviticus 25:42).

Calvin’s endorsement of the authority of the judicial laws (as to their principial demand, a model of love) is quite clear in his treatment of the laws on incest in the Mosaic code. That they were judicial in character is an opinion he stiffly rebuked:

Absurd is the cleverness which some persons but little versed in Scripture pretend to, who assert that the Law being abrogated, the obligations under which Moses laid his countrymen are now dissolved; for it is to be inferred from the preface above expounded, that the instruction here given is not, nor ought to be accounted, merely political…. In short, the prohibition of incests here set forth, is by no means of the number of those laws which are commonly abrogated according to the circumstances of time and place, since it flows from the fountain of nature itself, and is founded on the general principle of all laws, which is perpetual and inviolable…. I do not see, that, under the pretext of its being a political Law/French: that the Law of Moses has ceased, the purity of nature is to be abolished (Commentary at Leviticus 28:6).

His attitude is captured in a remark made about two of the judicial laws of the Old Testament regarding the Sabbath:

“Who can deny that these two things apply as much to us as to the Jews?” (Institutes 2;8:32).

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), In the Second Helvetic Confession, wrote that God’s entire will for every part of life was fully declared in the law, so that no departure from it was allowed (Xii). In the May 13, Decades he declared that, even though the outward or cultural form of the judicial laws may vary from nation to nation,

“the substance of God’s judicial laws is not taken away or abolished.”

In like manner, let him govern the people, committed to him of God, with good laws, made according to the Word of God in his hands, and look that nothing be taught contrary thereto…. Therefore let him draw forth this sword of God against all malefactors, seditious persons, thieves, murders, oppressors, blasphemers, perjured persons, and all those whom God has commanded him to punish or even to execute (XXX).

Johannes Wollebius, (1586-1629) Another Continental theologian of Reformed persuasion, wrote that

the judicial law is binding on us (harmonizing as it does with the moral law and ordinary justice), except “in those matters which were peculiar to that law and were prescribed for the promised land or the situation of the Jewish state” (Compendium of Christian Theology 14.6).

John Knox (1513-1572) said rulers as well as preachers were subject to church discipline, and

“discipline stands in the correction of those things that are contrary to God’s law” (IX)

In chapter one of the Second Book of Discipline (1578) we read:

This power and policy of the kirk should lean upon the word immediately, as the only ground thereof… being ruled by his [Christ’s] laws…. So ought the person of the magistrate to be subject to the kirk spiritually…. The spiritual rulers should require the Christian magistrate to minister justice, and punish vice…. The ministers exercise not the civil jurisdiction, but teach the magistrate how it should be exercised according to the word (I.11, 14, 17, 21). 83

Thomas M’Crie, biographer of Knox, indicated that he [Knox] held the conviction

“that the judicial laws given to the Jewish nation were binding upon Christian nations, as to all offences against the moral law.”

Thomas Cartwright (1535 – 1603) (One of the top puritans of his day) said that

since some of the judicial laws were “made in regard of the region where they were given, and of the people to whom they were given,” those who keep “the substance and equity of them (as it were the marrow), may change the circumstances of them, as the times and places and manners of the people shall require.”

“But to say that any magistrate can save the life of blasphemers, contemptuous and stubborn idolaters, murders, adulterers, incestuous persons, and such like, which God by his judicial law hath commanded to be put to death, I do utterly deny, and am ready to prove, if that pertained to this question.”

William Perkins (1558–1602), addressing a question of civil ethics, spoke of

“the law of Moses, the equity whereof is perpetual”

Henry Barrow (1550 – 1593) spoke of God’s Old Testament “statutes and judgments,” saying that

they “endure forever” as “the true exposition and faithful execution of his moral law: which laws were not made for the Jews’ state only...but for all mankind, especially for all the Israel of God, from which laws it is not lawful in judgment to vary or decline either to the one hand or to the other.”

Philip Stubbs (1555 – 1610), the puritan pamphleteer, said Referring to one of the penal sanctions of the Old Testament law,

“which law judicial standeth in force to the world’s end.”


These are just a few quotes I gleaned from the articles I reference before supplied by Covenant Media Foundaion ( Careful attention to reading these should bring to remembrance the Westminster Confession Paragraph 4 in Chapter 19. A familiarity with the language and quotations from the early reformers before the confession was written provides clarity to what the Westminster divines meant when they wrote WCF 19:4.

Next, I’ll post quotations from the 17th century.

Theonomy is Reformed – Friendly Opponents

November 7, 2010


Not all those who don’t embrace Theonomy would assert that that it isn’t reformed. To follow I give you two examples.

Dr. Meredith Kline

Dr. Meredith Kline (Clarks beloved professor) in his critique of Dr. Bahnsen’s book “Theonomy in Christian Ethics,” wrote:

“At the same time it must be said that Chalcedon is not without roots in respectable ecclesiastical tradition. It is in fact a revival of certain teachings contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith at least in the Confession’s original formulations.”

And again:

“In support of this position, Bahsen makes precedential appeal to the Westminster Confession of Faith (pp. 537 f.) and, as already intimated, there is a degree of validity in that appeal.”

In an article I linked to in the previous post, Mr. Duncan tries to explain how Dr. Kline was wrong. Obviously, I don’t believe he supported his case in that article. However, this doesn’t change the fact that a highly credentialed and contemporary Reformed professor granted that Theonomy has roots in the reformation, even though he hated the teaching.

Mr. G.I. Williamson

Mr. Williamson is well known in the reformed camp. He has written several study guides on our confessions and catechisms. He is not a Theonomist. In an article he wrote, posted here ( at , he says:

“Do I sound like I am on the theonomists’ bandwagon? I am not.”

However, we also see him say in that same article, speaking of Calvin:

“It was for this reason that Calvin, in his commentary on the five books of Moses, showed how every "case law" taught an abiding principle. He did this by arranging all of these laws under one or another of the Ten Commandments. He showed how each of them helps us understand the intent and meaning — and proper application — of the ten central commandments.

I remain convinced that the Reformer was essentially right. I don’t think he was always right, or that he necessarily organized every case law under its proper heading (some could arguably be placed under a different commandment). But he has convinced me that there is an abiding principle in every Old Testament case law. In my opinion, the theonomists deserve credit here. They are trying to do in our generation what John Calvin did in his.


These are examples from two highly respected men in our contemporary reformed community. You can see that it isn’t just the Theonomist that is attributing Theonomy to the early reformers. Next, I’ll finally start to give you the quotes I’ve gleaned from Dr. Bahnsen’s article I referred to in the earlier posts. After reading these, you’ll start to wonder how on God’s earth anyone, let alone professors in our seminaries, could ever say that Theonomy isn’t reformed.

Theonomy is Reformed – The Current Problem

October 10, 2010


I believe that the evidence supporting my thesis is so overwhelming that anyone arguing against it should be embarrassed, especially if one is a theological historian. However, we have had many such attempts from the last three decades that it is necessary to address this topic. Even though the notion that Theonomy is a novelty has been refuted conclusively time and time again, we still have prominent ministers today falsely asserting otherwise. Following are examples taken from two such ministers, with quotes as recent as 2 months ago:

Dr. R. Scott Clark

Dr. R. Scott Clark is a Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. He has written several books, and in at least one he negatively critiqes Theonomy. He is also a prolific blog writer and has a regular podcast now. To follow I’ve compiled a number of quotes from his blog to show that he adamantly asserts the novelty of Theonomy. Maybe sometime in a future post, I’ll re-quote him and deal with the specific errors in his facts and argumentation. If I were to do that now, I’d be getting off track from the purpose of this series, though I’m so strongly tempted since he’s crying out for a rebuttal! LOL

theonomy (the abiding validity of the civil law in exhaustive detail) is a novelty and alien to confessional Reformed theology. It’s an unfortunate development borne of more zeal than knowledge. The Reformed churches confess the civil use of the law (which confession has been modified in the modern period) so that the civil kingdom (as distinct from the Spiritual kingdom or the church) should adhere to the moral or natural law, but we don’t expect nor do we wish the civil magistrate to interfere with the church or to do the work of the church in anyway, including the punishment of heretics. In the modern period virtually all the Reformed churches have repudiated the vestiges of Christendom so that we no longer hold to the civil enforcement of the first table of the law. That said, even though our tradition was theocratic (civil enforcement of the first table) we were never theonomic (civil enforcement of the Mosaic penalties). Calvin and Bullinger repudiated that notion as Anabaptist. (

“Neither movement [FV & Theonomy] was driven by the Reformed confession.” (

“Theonomy is a seriously contra confessional error.” from: (

““the abiding validity of the (civil) law in exhaustive detail” is flatly contrary to the Westminster Confession. Full stop. We confess that the Mosaic civil law has “expired.” Full stop.

We confess that what remains of the Mosaic civil law is “general equity” and that term has been hijacked and abused by theonomists for more than 30 years.

One cannot say “not P and P” at the same time about the same thing. The Reformed say “not P.” Theonomists say “P.” There is a fundamental, irresolvable, basic conflict.

I know the lit. I know the history. It’s a fundamentalist movement the roots of which are in rationalistic fundamentalism not in Reformed theology, piety, and practice.” (

“I do hope to try to encourage people in the Reformed churches and people outside the Reformed churches to see that there is an orthodox alternative to theonomy, that the theonomic/reconstructionist movements aren’t very representative of historic Reformed theology and ethics and that one doesn’t have to be theonomic/reconstructionist to be Reformed.”  (

“Theonomy represents a significant departure from the Reformed tradition. Judged by the tradition and the confessions, the expression “abiding validity of the law of God in exhaustive detail” is not a Reformed way of speaking.” (

“1. The WCF teaches the threefold distinction in the law, which it inherited from the Reformers, which they inherited from the medieval theologians.

2. The WCF says that the judicial laws have EXPIRED. Dead. Pushing up daisies. Joined the choir invisible. Done. Finito. Finished. Ended. Abrogated. No more in force. It couldn’t be clearer.

Whatever else theonomy is, it is a denial of WCF 19.4 and a denial of basic Reformed theology, of fundamental principle in the Reformed reading of redemptive history, that Israel’s civil polity was unique. It served a unique function. That function was fulfilled by Christ. That function and the the civil laws that were part of that function, are abrogated.

Yes, virtually all the 16th- and 17th-century theologians were theocrats. They were wrong, but they weren’t theonomists.”  (

“The civil laws have “expired.” In the words of John Cleese, they’re “pushing up daisies.” They don’t oblige any non-canonical civil entity any more than the “general equity” of the civil laws may require. Whatever “general equity” means, it doesn’t mean “the abiding validity of the law of God in exhaustive detail.” In fact the Decalogue and other biblical summaries of the natural law have usually been taken to be, in effect, the “general equity thereof.””  (

“Reaction to theonomy? Yes and no. I encountered theonomy before I came to sem and at sem. I found it wholly unsatisfactory. It was reading Calvin that pushed me away from theonomy but reading Vos sealed it. I found it utterly foreign to the Reformed hermeneutic of the 16th and 17th centuries and utterly foreign to the biblical theology I learned from Vos et al. It is just a form of fundamentalism or QIRC.”  (

From his book, Recovering the Reformed Confession,”

“Advocates of theonomy have either blurred the distinction between theocracy and theonomy or simply ignored it as they appeal to the premodern Reformed theologians in support of their agenda. When writers such as Calvin and Rutherford are read in their own historical context, they are not found to be arguing for anything like the absolute moral necessity of the application of the Mosaic civil laws and penalties to the postcanonical state.” (Page 62)

“One searches them in vain for any instruction or even intimation that the Reformed churches confess that the Mosaic civil law is still in force.” (Page 63)

I do have to comment on the last two quotes from his book. First of all, Dr. Clark constantly misrepresents Theonomy building a straw man. (Men made out of straw are easier to knock down). Theonomy does NOT argue for “the absolute moral necessity of the application of the Mosaic civil laws and penalties.”Yet, he constanstanly misquotes or infers a misunderstanding of Theonomy. Instead, Theonomy says that there is an underlying moral principle in the civil laws of Moses. Reading Clark, you’d expect to find a theonomist insisting that all of our roofs have railings around them. But you’d be hard pressed to do so. The theonomist instead recognizes that the 6th commandment requires the protection of life and an application of that moral law is to make your roof safe if you are going to entertain on it (like the Israelite culture did). Today in our culture, a theonomist might say the general equity of that law is to put a fence around your swimming pool or keep your car’s brakes in working order.

Secondly, Dr. Clark must not have searched the same primary resorces from premodern Reformed theologians that Dr. Bahnsen did. In a future post, I’ll be pulling quotes from Dr. Bahnsen’s articles (mentioned in the previous post) to show that there is plenty of theonomic thought found if one would just read them. George Gillespie is one of them, and hardly a Reformer to have ignored.

As you can see, Dr. Clark takes an easy path. Instead of offering an argument or documentation in support of his anti-theonomic stance, he just dismisses Theonomy out of hand, falsely asserting there is no early support for it. He does this over and over again in his writings that eventually it is easy to believe, that is, if you don’t check the primary sources yourself.

J. Ligon Duncan

J. Ligon Duncan III is a PhD that ministers in the PCA. A thorough read of what Dr. Duncan has to say regarding Theonomy will at least show that he tries to be scholarly and honest.It is clear he makes the effort not to misrepresent Theonomy. Still, he tries to deny theonomists access to their Reformed forefathers.  From his essay: The Westminster Confession of Faith: 
A Theonomic Document? he states:

“Whatever the claims of our Reconstructionist brethren, we are convinced that it can be conclusively demonstrated that the WCF does not support the peculiarities of the theonomic thesis.”

In this essay, Duncan tries to reinterpret the Westminster Standards in the same way that our liberal judges reinterpret the Constitution. He doesn’t examine the writings of the people who wrote the Standards, and as such brings our own cultural mentality into their reading  begging the very question at hand. Later in this series, I plan to deal with this notion head on. (Stay tuned)

Here are a few more quotes from another paper he wrote entitled Moses’ Law for Modern Government

“Theonomy challenges the church to return to Reformational teaching on the grace of law, the role of the law as standard in the Christian life, and the consequent relevance of Old Testament law to Christian ethics.”

“The classical Reformed view differs from Bahnsen at this point. The Theonomist says that the civil law is neither arbitrary nor circumstantial. The general Reformed consensus holds that the civil law was not arbitrary, but was circumstantial. If this latter view is correct, then there may be things peculiar to the Mosaic code which are inappropriate for the modern nation-state.

This is an area where Theonomy, in gross violation of biblical patterns and common sense, is ignoring the context of the giving of the law to the redemptive community of the Old Testament. This constitutes an approach to the nature of the civil law very different from Calvin and the rest of the Reformed tradition, which sees the civil law as God’s application of his eternal standards to the particular exigencies of his people.”

But here, he slips and says Calvin and the Puritans recognized what is essentially the theonomic thesis! He says they did it in a way that didn’t forget Israel’s circumstances as if modern theonomists do, but that is not the case (see my mention above about the railing around the roof law). Theonomists learned from these reformers, including their carefulness on exegeting properly.

“5. Mosaic Case Law a Model of Social Justice for All Cultures

Fifth, and following on the last point, Theonomy asserts that the Old Testament case law is a model of social justice for all cultures, including the penal code. To quote Bahnsen again: “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.” This point [the continuing validity of Mosaic penology] is clearly important in the Reconstructionist ideology. It has also occasioned some of the most vehement reactions of non-Theonomists. Abusive ad hominem and sensationalism have reigned in most responses to this issue, hence a more restrained approach and thorough reply is still needed.

Without question, none should underestimate the value of having God’s own revealed applications of his eternal character and the principles of his moral law to the civil situation in Israel. These laws may indeed give us guidance in making equitable laws and even suggesting appropriate punishments. Calvin and the Puritans acknowledged this, as has the whole of the Reformed tradition in general. However, we must not forget that the circumstances in God’s redemptive purposes may have dictated both the form and even the content of the case law at certain points. This Calvin, and the Puritans following him, clearly recognized.”

And he again give theonomists some access to the early reformers in this statement:

“Reconstructionism borrows heavily from the Calvinistic legacy not only in its high view of Scripture, but also in its views of Church-State relations, and the complementarity of law and gospel.”


These are examples from just two of the most vocal on the Internet today. There have been others over the years, but you can see the problem doesn’t stop. Stay tuned for my next post when I show that there are other opponents to Theonomy that at least grant its support in the early Reformers. There are also some that don’t embrace Theonomy in its entirety, but at least recognize the same.

Theonomy is “Reformed” – Introduction

October 3, 2010

Two years ago, I posted an essay regarding the question of whether reformers of old held "theonomic" views or not. I referred to the assertion that there is a difference between "Theocrats" and "Theonomists," that the reformers were the former but not the latter, and theonomy is a novelty. I also said I’d study it and get back to you. Well, here I am. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and I can’t promise that I’ll be back in the author’s seat very often, but I finally have a topic that I feel is worth posting.

First of all, this was prompted by a chance to speak in a rare "open forum" at Hoagies and Stogies. I spoke on this topic, but we had a very small amount of time to deliver our speeches. Since I did the work to put together an argument, I’m going to refine it and tune it for a small blog series. Here is the introduction. (When Reuben posts the recording, I’ll provide a link. Here it is: The argument that reformers were theocrats not theonomists comes directly from Dr. R. Scott Clark. He asserts this over and over again wherever he comments about Theonomy, but I wrote the essay referred to above in direct response to the last paragraph of Dr. Clark’s blog post found here: In it he states:

Finally, as you seem to suggest, theonomy (the abiding validity of the civil law in exhaustive detail) is a novelty and alien to confessional Reformed theology. It’s an unfortunate development borne of more zeal than knowledge. The Reformed churches confess the civil use of the law (which confession has been modified in the modern period) so that the civil kingdom (as distinct from the Spiritual kingdom or the church) should adhere to the moral or natural law, but we don’t expect nor do we wish the civil magistrate to interfere with the church or to do the work of the church in anyway, including the punishment of heretics. In the modern period virtually all the Reformed churches have repudiated the vestiges of Christendom so that we no longer hold to the civil enforcement of the first table of the law. That said, even though out tradition was theocratic (civil enforcement of the first table) we were never theonomic (civil enforcement of the Mosaic penalties). Calvin and Bullinger repudiated that notion as Anabaptist.

Being that Dr. Clark is a professor of church history and historical theology, I didn’t want to contradict him until I felt certain that the evidence was against him. I now am certain that it is against him, so I am not going to let his degree or vocation intimidate me any longer. I’ve given his status due respect and carefully considered his claims. I do want to state up front that I have personally met him at our church, he’s done pulpit supply for us, and I do like much of what he has to teach. I really enjoy his speaking voice, having heard him on several occasions, and even though I am going to be harsh on his position regarding theonomy and the early reformers, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Dr. Clark is a dear brother in the Lord’s kingdom and I fully accept him and love him as such. Now to the task at hand…

Theonomy is Reformed

As Americans, we are all familiar today with the problem of “judicial activism,” the practice of legislating from the bench. Laws get changed because people re-interpret the constitution in light of today’s culture and vocabulary, instead of paying attention to the founder’s original intent. Today, in reformed academia, we have the same problem regarding the Westminster Standards. People read them only in light of today’s culture and vocabulary, and forget that there is a wealth of primary sources written by the Standards authors and their contemporaries.

The thesis that I want to support today is simply this: “THEONOMY IS REFORMED.”

To be more specific: The underlying premise of Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomic Thesis is nothing new to the early reformers, but in fact was employed by many of them including influential writers of the Westminster Standards. Not only that, but the Westminster Standards themselves presuppose a commitment to a ‘theonomic’ principle.

What is Theonomy?

I’ll let Dr. Greg Bahnsen tell you that in his own words:

“The position which has come to be labeled "Theonomy" today thus holds that 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.” (From: )

To be more precise, the controversial element of Theonomy holds that the underlying principles of the Mosaic judicial laws are still binding on all mankind today, including the civil punishments for social crimes. E.G. the just punishment for rape is death & for stealing is restitution. A society governed by God’s law is a blessed society.

I am not arguing for the truth of Theonomy

In this series, I am not arguing for or against Theonomy itself. It may very well be that some of the reformers held views that are consistent with Theonomy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Theonomy is right. I strongly believe that it is, and I argue for that in many other places. Instead, what I do argue is that Theonomy is not new to this century, but it was employed by many of the reformers, including the writers of the Westminster Standards.

What I don’t mean

  • I don’t mean that the reformers were Theonomists – that would be anachronistic. The term "Theonomy" was not used until the last 30 to 40 years to describe those of us that hold to this ethical view. Therefore, we can’t go back to the 16th century and look for the adjective "theonomist" the way we can find the adjective "reformed."Instead, I would say that the reformers were "theonomistic."

  • I don’t mean that ALL the reformers or the vast majority of them were theonomic – to state that would require a lifetime of familiarity with centuries of primary sources. See what Bahnsen said regarding this:

To be sure, Reformed writers through the centuries have not always agreed with each other totally; there have been those who took a more disparaging or negative view of the judicial law and its penal sanctions than those mentioned in this chapter. For that reason I resist using such misleading phrases found in current polemics as "the historic consensus of Reformed theologians" and "the mainstream of Reformed thought" – both of which are located by those speaking of them by the process of gerrymandering the evidence. In a matter which has been debated from numerous perspectives over centuries by men who are not always clear or consistent in their statements and practices, it is quite unlikely that anyone has a familiarity with the evidence which is detailed enough in primary sources and comprehensive enough in scope to make a credible judgment as to the "consensus" or "mainstream" of Reformed thought. Consequently, my point is simply that the theonomic perspective on the current validity of the Old Testament penal sanctions is nothing astonishingly new to the history of Reformed thought. (From: )

I especially like Bahnen’s customary humility and scholarly honesty regarding this subject. It is a refreshing contrast to see that Bahnsen here is not the zealot. He admits that it is extremely unlikely that anyone could state with certainty what the "mainstream of Reformed thought" is regarding civil ethics. This is a lesson from which I think Dr. Clark should take notes.

  • I don’t mean that you must be theonomic in order to claim the adjective “Reformed.” If my point immediately preceding this one is true, then we can’t make this a test to determine who is and who is not "Reformed." There are other specific traits that are important and necessary to have in order to call yourself "Reformed." One’s particular view of civil ethics is not one of them while a broader understanding of the use of God’s law today might be.

What’s next?

The rest of the series will deal with the topic in this way:

  1. I will document the problem today. I’ve quoted Dr. Clark above. In the next post, I will do this more thoroughly and provide quotes from other anti-theonomists that want to bolster their arguements by using the false assertion that Theonomy is new.
  2. I will show that not all of our contemporaries who repudiate Theonomy do so by denying the Theonomists their appeal to the early reformers.
  3. I will provide quotations from the early reformers that utterly destroy Dr. Clark’s false assertions. (For a preview, you can read Dr. Bahnsen’s articles: The Theonomic Thesis in Confessional and Historical Perspective and The Westminster Assembly and the Equity of the Judicial Law. Dr. Bahnsen already did the hard work and research into this study and provided it 30 years ago!)
  4. I will explain how the Westminster Standards themselves presuppose the theonomic thesis
  5. I will summarize the study and make my final remarks.

Hopefully, I will find the time to put this all together and follow through with my plans fully. May the Lord bless you and keep you, Kazoo

The Heresies of Meredith Kline

April 16, 2009

The Reformed Covenanter has a post about Kline here:

Interesting. Can anybody with first-hand knowledge of Kline confirm these quotes and speak to whether or not they are in context?

Bahnsen vs. Shepherd

November 16, 2008

[EDIT] Be sure to see my additions at the bottom, with some clarification/corrections…

Dr. Clark has a post here that speaks of theonomy and the fv being separated at birth. The discussion goes on for a bit and part of it calls into question the legitimacy of bring Dr. Bahnsen into the mix. It is often stated that Bahnsen was a strong supporter of Norman Shepherd by Dr. Clark, as you can see in this more recent comment: November 6, 2008 at 8:29 am

Now, I am one of the unfortunate ones in that I never knew Dr. Bahnsen personally. But I have read much of his work and listened to much of his audio. I suspect that the support Dr. Clark speaks of for Shepherd was more of a personal support than doctrinal. Every time I read or listen to Bahnsen, I find myself hearing the tried and true soteriology of the Reformation. Bahnsen never conflated justification with sanctification as far as I can tell. You can listen to a free mp3 where he vehemently defends the Reformation and repudiates the vile doctrine of the Roman Catholic church. It is found here: The Road to Rome, Was the Reformation Right?, by Greg L. Bahnsen. I am listening to a bible study he conducted on the book of Galatians right now, and again, there is just no question or gray area when he speaks on these issues. As a side note, I think this bible study was a study done during his later years when he was pastoring in Southern California. He is so gentle and pastoral, it is amazing! Much different from the talks he gives to large crowds. You can tell it is a small group because the telephone rings sometimes and the children can be heard in the background.

Anyway, that’s my take on it, but this man knew Bahnsen personally for many years, and writes 22 pages with many quotes from Bahnsen that really should settle the issue. I hope you take the time to read it:




I should have been a little more careful in my comments above. Basically, my point is that Bahnsen’s support for the historical reformed doctrine of Justification is very clear in all the material I have ever read of his, or heard a recording of. I can not say that I am the best student of Bahnsen, but I will state that I know A LOT of his material. And I can confirm that I have never run into anything that would bring into question whether he believed and taught the orthodox reformed doctrine of Justification found in the Westminster Standards.

For example:

Larger Catechism Questions & Answers #’s 70 – 73

Q. 70. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Q. 71. How is justification an act of God’s free grace?
A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter XI

Of Justification
I.    Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies;  not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,  they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

II.    Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification:  yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.

Now, I am not an expert on the FV or Norman Shepherd. I am reading through Shepherd’s book “The Call of Grace” right now. So, it is/was unfair of me to hint at or to write with the assumption that Shepherd’s doctrine of Justification “conflates” sanctification with justification. Some say vehemently that it does, and others don’t. Dr. R. Scott Clark linked to a web page that David Bahnsen wrote to say that Dr. Bahnsen supported Shepherd both personally and doctrinally. That can be found here.

Like I said, I really don’t know very well what Shepherd taught or what he teaches and if the two are one in the same or if it has developed since Dr. Bahnsen’s death. Honestly, for this post, I don’t care. It isn’t relevant. But Bahnsen definitely DIDN’T stray from the Westminster Standards when talking about Justification. And THAT is my main point.

Lastly, when speaking with my very good friend Ron about these matters, I am constantly reminding him that the language he used to explain to me his understanding of justification sounds too much like the RC doctrine that I grew up with and rejected, and he is a self professed FV guy. That is probably one of the main reason I have to this day refused to take on the label “FV.”