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Category: Brandon Adams

Re: When Liberty Gets Leprosy: The Libertarian Lure

Doug Wilson recently wrote a post warning Christians against being enticed by libertarianism. As with everything Wilson says, the post is big on rhetoric and devoid of logic. As usual, it takes numerous reads to try to figure out what his argument actually is, only to realize there is no argument – just empty rhetoric. That’s common with false teachers.

The problem with libertarianism is 3-fold:

First, libertarianism tends to be ideologically-driven, and not driven by love (read, patriotism).

Wilson relies on an unbiblical head/heart dichotomy to try to make his point. Wilson derides ideology (thinking) in favor of affectionate sentimentality in the chest. Far from a tangential oddity, this criticism of libertarianism flows directly from Wilson’s life philosophy. He rejects abstract propositionalism and insists that truth must be tangible: as in touching and seeing physically. If it’s an “abstraction,” it’s not true. Years ago he wrote an essay titled “The Great Logic Fraud” in which he argued

Because of our realist assumptions in mathematics, we have come to believe that 15 + 20 = 35 is true. But it is evidently not true. 15 unicorns plus 20 unicorns will not get you 35 unicorns, try as you may. Of course, on the other hand, 15 turnips plus 20 turnips will result in 35 turnips, and it will do so every time. The structure of the addition table is sound, and the ‘argument’ is valid. And if unicorns existed, we would wind up with 35 of them. But this means the argument is valid, not true.

This underlies his false gospel of covenant objectivity.

Advocates of the “ethereal Church” need to learn that, according to the Bible, a Christian is one who would be identified as such by a Muslim. Membership in the Christian faith is objective—it can be photographed and fingerprinted. (Reformed is Not Enough, 21)

Being a Christian is not a matter of believing invisible propositions. It’s a matter of being baptized and producing faithful works.

Wilson is an earthy, sensate man; what he describes as“objective” are things he can see. point at, and photograph. Everything else is “ethereal.”… Wilson’s sensualistic epistemology requires him to say that visible things are objective and invisible things are not. Of course, that makes God, truth, justice, righteousness, faith ‐ none of which is visible and photographable -‐ ethereal and non-objective. By imposing an un-Biblical theory of knowledge on Scripture, Wilson is inventing another, Antichristian theology, using Christian terminology. (Not Reformed At All, 32)

Regardless, the question of the moral use of force (political philosophy) is not determined by our feelings. It’s determined by thinking – by our study of Scripture.

Wilson attempts to prove that Christians are commanded in Scripture to love the nation-state they find themselves under (without in any way defining what that means). Since libertarians do not love their overlords the way they love their biological father, libertarianism is unbiblical. WLC 124 and 125 does not actually say anywhere that Christians are commanded to have a sentimental heart feeling of love for the nation-state they find themselves under. The only mention of love is directed towards the ruler. They are to love their inferiors so that their inferiors will willfully and cheerfully perform their duties. But, more importantly, the idea that rulers are our fathers is Aristotelean, not Biblical. Commenting on Romans 13, Peter Martyr Vermigli said

This place of the Apostle partaineth to that commandment of the law, Honor thy father and thy mother. For in the olde time, as Aristotle also wryteth, in his Politiques, fathers gave laws to their famely, and to them were as kings. And amongst the Romanes the Senators were called Patres conscripti, that is, appointed Fathers. For a magistrate is nothing els but the father of the country.

Aristotle’s political philosophy is not Scripture’s. The foundation of Westminster’s false view of rulers is their misinterpretation of Isaiah 49:23, which has nothing at all to do with the proper role of a civil magistrate/ruler. It has everything to do with the reversal of Israel’s status as slaves in captivity to their enemies serving them. Wilson’s analogy of the elderly mother is just bizarre. Who is the elderly mother in the analogy? The rulers? We are supposed to lovingly protect our rulers? What?

Bottom line is that Scripture nowhere commands us to have feelings of love in our heart for the shadow deep state. We are to love justice, not injustice. We are to love our neighbors. We are to seek the peace and prosperity of the land we are sojourners in. And we are to love our enemies and oppressors. Reformed libertarianism doesn’t teach otherwise.

Second, libertarianism is backing away from the “social issues” at just the moment when corruption on those issues has reached our nation’s lymph nodes.

“Slaves to Sin Cannot be a Free People.” Correct, but the law cannot free anyone from slavery to sin.

And third, libertarianism sees the abstraction of “free market forces” as a tree in the orchard, instead of fruit from the orchard. This means that the principles of libertarian argument will tend to trump plain statements of Scripture.

“Good kings, good rulers, are anointed by God.” Uhm, David and Solomon’s annointing had specifically to do with their rule over the typological people of Israel who were uniquely in covenant with God. Their kingship was typological of Christ’s – the Anointed. It has nothing to do with rulers today.

“Good government can be a life-giving instrument, and not a money sucking parasite.” Correct, and we don’t suggest otherwise. See The Civil Magistrate vs. the State as a solution to the problem of social order. 2 Sam 23:3 says “When one rules justly over men.” Wilson is begging the question as to what it means to rule justly over men. And yes, Micah 4 talks about the kingdom of Christ, of which Christ is the king, and of which the kingdom of Israel was a type. What’s your point?

“Isaiah 49:22–23… In other words, kings and queens will nurture and protect the church, and kings and queens will show great honor and deference to the church. What the kings and queens will not be is nonexistent.” Oh, that’s your point? See above. Wilson doesn’t typology much.

“God is not willing that any should perish—slave or free, rich or poor, ruled or ruler. God is willing to save kings, and He does so.” Really? I guess libertarianism must be wrong then, cause we don’t believe God saves kings. Oh wait, that’s not what the NAP says.

“It is a gospel work. It is not something we get from Murray Rothbard.” Checkmate. Here I thought all along the tree of life in the New Jerusalem was planted by Rothbard. I guess libertarianism is wrong.

Conclusion

“So in conclusion. Wise Christians love liberty, but it is not our god.” Correct.

“We receive it as a blessing from hand of the Lord Jesus.” Correct.

“If we serve it as a god, as though liberty were the source of anything, what will happen is that we will lose what we have idolized.” Correct.

“If we worship anything instead of Christ, we lose Christ, and we eventually lose whatever thing we substituted for Him.” Correct.

“If we are libertarians, and worship liberty before Christ, we miss Christ.” Correct.

All of that is irrelevant to the question of the permissible use of force according to Scripture. All of that is irrelevant to the regulative principle of violence established by the 6th commandment. All of Wilson’s post is irrelevant to the question of reformed libertarianism.

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Are Civil Rulers Our (Nurse) Fathers?

I’ve been reading through Scripture chronologically. When I read Isaiah 49:23 I was struck by how entirely out of place it is to interpret that text as teaching the civil government’s duty to use the sword to enforce both tables of the law, or even to say anything at all about the nature of civil government. The whole point of the prophecy is about Israel’s enemies becoming their servants. It’s rather amazing that WLC cites the text to prove that obedience to rulers is required under the 5th commandment.

Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?

A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents,[649] but all superiors in age[650] and gifts;[651] and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family,[652] church,[653] or commonwealth.[654]

[654] Isaiah 49:23. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.

The passage is about how “my servant Israel” (Christ) will bring the remnant back from exile among the nations who captured them and took them away.

49:22 This is what the sovereign Lord says:
“Look I will raise my hand to the nations;
I will raise my signal flag to the peoples.
They will bring your sons in their arms
and carry your daughters on their shoulders.

49:23 Kings will be your children’s guardians;
their princesses will nurse your children.
With their faces to the ground they will bow down to you
and they will lick the dirt on your feet.
Then you will recognize that I am the Lord;
those who wait patiently for me are not put to shame.

49:24 Can spoils be taken from a warrior,
or captives be rescued from a conqueror?

49:25 Indeed,” says the Lord,
“captives will be taken from a warrior;
spoils will be rescued from a conqueror.
I will oppose your adversary
and I will rescue your children.

49:26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh;
they will get drunk on their own blood, as if it were wine.
Then all humankind will recognize that
I am the Lord, your deliverer,
your protector, the powerful ruler of Jacob.”

Israel’s adversaries who oppressed them and took them captive will turn and lick the dirt on their feet. Their conquerers will become their servants. This is in line with the Old Covenant’s blessing for obedience:

Deut 28:13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.

a Brakel notes:

The word “nurse” (for “fathers” is not to be found in the original text) does not imply supremacy, but is indicative of the labors of a servant. The nurse of a royal child—this being applicable to the church—is less than the child who is being nursed… Thus, the idea of dominion is not implied in the word “nurse,” but is expressly excluded.

It is truly bizarre the way the reformed tradition has historically interpreted and employed this passage – influenced in no small part by Aristotle’s political philosophy. The text is not a statement about “civil magistrates.” It is a statement about the enemies of Israel.

Israel was to be the greatest, most prominent nation in the world, if they obeyed the Old Covenant.

Deut 28:7 “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways… 9 The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. 10 Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you…13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them.

We see this happen in Solomon’s day, where they possessed all the land God promised them, and then some. Foreign rulers beyond Israel came and brought tribute to Solomon because of his mighty wisdom and the richness of Israel (think Queen of Sheba).

But what happend? Israel broke the Old Covenant, so God poured out the covenant curses upon Israel, which included being destroyed and taken captive by their enemies.

However, the prophets began to speak of a time when Israel would be restored because of their obedience. Moses himself prophesied the same thing in Deut 30:1

Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, 2 and you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. 4 If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. 5 Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Note v7 “Also the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. 8 And you will again obey the voice of the Lord and do all His commandments which I command you today.”

In chapter 49, Isaiah is speaking of this time and he explains that it will happen because of the obedience of the Redeemer of Israel. They will be blessed. Their fortunes will be restored. Their children will return from captivity. Not only will Israel’s enemies be destroyed, but Israel’s enemies will actually come as servants of Israel, caring for its children and bowing down at their feet. Thus the roles are reversed.

22 Thus says the Lord God:

“Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations,
And set up My standard for the peoples;
They shall bring your sons in their arms,
And your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders;
23
Kings shall be your foster fathers,
And their queens your nursing mothers;
They shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth,
And lick up the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord,
For they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me.”

24
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty,
Or the captives of the righteous be delivered?

25 But thus says the Lord:

“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away,
And the prey of the terrible be delivered;
For I will contend with him who contends with you,
And I will save your children.”

Thus the highest rulers of God’s enemies will lose their dominion and will become servants of Israel and will return Israel to the land from which they took them.

This verse says absolutely nothing about the institution of civil government. It speaks of the blessings for obedience that Israel would receive in the latter days – which we are to interpret typologically as referring to our eschatological inheritance earned by the only obedient Israelite: Jesus the Christ.

Psalm 72
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
[…]
May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth!
9
May desert tribes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
10
May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
render him tribute;
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts!
11
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!

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Podcast Discussion of Theonomy (According to Christ)

I recently discussed the issue of theonomy on the According to Christ podcast. It’s a complicated topic, so it takes more than an hour to discuss, but hopefully we touched on enough points to lead people into further study. I try to be as detailed as possible in my analysis and criticism because Bahnsen was as detailed as possible in his defense. He listened to critics (not always fully, imo) and gave detailed replies. My argument does not simply rest on a general, vague appeal to typology. Rather, I seek to provide very concrete arguments from typology – more concretely than Bahnsen’s previous critics. However, an adequately thorough presentation of these arguments would require a book, not a podcast.

At one point I misspoke. I stated that Bahnsen could not understand Israel as a type of the church. Bahnsen stated on page 440 of Theonomy in Christian Ethics “With respect to typology it might be suggested that Israel as a nation is a type of the church of Christ. There is certainly scriptural warrant for that comparison.” Bahnsen then proceeded to demonstrate the incompleteness of a general appeal to the typology of Israel, insisting that any argument from typology much be very specific in how Israel’s typology translates into the abrogation of certain penal sanctions. Bahnsen said

[S]ince the argument from typology would appear to contradict the direct assertion of Scripture (cf. Matt. 5:17-19), then much more than a typological connection must be mentioned. It must be demonstrated that Scripture warrants the suggested inference from the typological connection to the argumentative conclusion. The artistic and pedagogical designs inherent in the Scriptures certainly must not be ignored or despised; however, neither must they be abused by trying to make them say something which Scripture itself does not say. The infallible interpreter of Scripture is not an imaginative model brought to bear on the data of the Bible (thus threatening to operate like a Procrustean bed) but is the Scripture itself (Westminster Confession of Faith, I.IX). Without specific biblical moorings and key didactic confirmations, from point to point, typology degenerates either to allegory or a mere projection of the typologists clever or artistic imagination.

I agree and have thus sought to be concrete in my arguments from typology. Lord willing I will be able to put those arguments down in the more concrete form of a book in the future. For now, I hope the brief podcast discussion is helpful.

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Web 3.0 Reading List

I started preparing an essay for RL almost 2 years ago (wow, time flies) about Web 3.0. With the recent banning of Alex Jones from Facebook and other social media platforms, it’s quite relevant.

Web 0.1 was directly dialing into another computer (think movies like Sneakers, War Games, and Hackers).

Web 1.0 was Netscape. You could type in a URL (not numbers) and look at a webpage someone else made – typically not hosted on their own computer.

Web 2.0 was social media. Viewers of the web became creators of the web as everyone began interacting with each other on a third party’s server.

Web 3.0 is decentralization. “Bring Your Own Data.” You own and control your data and allow various apps to access it.

Web 0.1 was very decentralized, but on the way to Web 2.0 things became more and more centralized. To communicate with others, you use a middleman (Facebook, Twitter, etc). You upload a post to Facebook. Your friends down your post from Facebook. That is a convenient way to share information because it provides common ground to find and reach others. Web 3 seeks to retain all the good things of Web 2.0, but with a return to the decentralization of Web 0.1. Rather than Facebook’s servers being the medium to connect people across social media, communication and storage of data can occur anywhere (the cloud or at your house or on your phone). The challenge is creating a common platform where this can take place.

An early attempt at decentralization were federated social media networks like Diaspora or Mastadon (see links below). These were a step away from centralization, but they weren’t fully decentralized. Basically they created a common framework for users to connect and share data (photos, posts, tweets) from any variety of different servers. Think of email. Even though you use Gmail, you can still communicate with someone who uses Yahoo, or someone who has an email account through their school – or even someone who has setup their own email server in their basement (i.e. Hillary Clinton). Email is a common language. It’s not a “walled garden” like Facebook, Twitter, etc. The trouble was you still had to choose to use someone else’s server (unless you had the time and expertise to really run your own), and if you wanted to switch servers it wasn’t readily easy.

That was where things stood 2 years ago when I started researching. I created a Diaspora account and played around a bit. But things have come a long, long ways in the last 2 years. Why? Blockchain. Blockchain technology allows for truly decentralized common ground from which to build from. In short, you can create a web identity from a blockchain key and then build whatever you want on top of that. You choose where to store your web presence/identity (physically: at home on a usb drive, encrypted on Dropbox, or anywhere in-between), you choose who to share any part of your presence (think Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Podcast, Instagram, etc) with, and it all works as seamlessly as using Facebook but without the ability for a central entity to stop communication between your web presence and whomever you want to share it with because they don’t control the data. Through your blockchain ID, you are giving them directions to wherever you are storing your information (blog post, photo, etc). There is no Facebook middleman giving directions or hosting your data.

When I started writing, I thought decentralization/federation was a pretty cool idea that we should be aware of to perhaps start adopting as a safety measure if censorship starts getting really bad. But now it’s more of “Hey, here’s some fascinating technology that is going to radically transform the entire internet, period. You can sit back and wait or be an early adopter, but it’s coming fast either way.”

So with that, here’s a reading/watching list:

  1. Freedom In the Cloud: Software Freedom, Privacy, and Security for Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing 2010 speech by Eben Moglen. Transcript. Start here to understand the big picture.
    1. Freedom Box: Internet Free of Government Control (CBS) Eben Moglen discusses his Freedom Box device
    2. Daplie a much more developed and consumer-friendly version of a Freedom Box. Note that this product has been in development and crowd-funding since I first looked into all of this a couple years ago. The company appears to be a couple of well funded (note the quality of the marketing videos) Mormons from Utah who have been adept at finding various new ways of drawing in funding (IndieGoGo campaign was 1195% funded in Jan 2017) without producing an actual product. Not sure if they’re just enjoying the ride or if they’re facing some kind of legitimate opposition.
  2. Diaspora What Happened to the Facebook Killer? It’s Complicated 3 young computer scientists who attended Moglen’s speech went on to develop Diaspora, a decentralized/federated social network. They gained a lot of financial support, but PayPal froze their account and their  Zuckerberg-like leader Ilya Zhitomirskiy “committed suicide” at the age of 22, shortly before the public beta version of Diaspora went online. Since then the project has floundered, being picked away at by volunteers.
    1. Planting a Seed: Diaspora’s Story (Part 1)
    2. Ilya Zhitomirskiy, Diaspora Founder, Murdered(?)
    3. Ilya Zhitimirskiy’s Suspicious “Death By ‘Suicide’”
    4. Was “Diaspora” Founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy Murdered
  3. Blockstack the two founders have been quietly working away for many years on a “new internet.” Web 1 and 2 are built upon specific communication protocols including DNS – Domain Name System (so that when you type in reformedliberarian.com your browser knows where to find the server hosting the blog). Blockstack is creating new protocol layers built upon a blockchain to change the way traffic flows (for example, using BNS – Blockchain Name System to direct traffic using the publicly distributed blockchain). They’re not trying to create a Facebook-killer like Diaspora. Rather, they are seeking to fundamentally change the structure of the internet to facilitate countless Facebook-killer, Twitter-killer Distributed Apps (Dapps) to be developed. They have a very long-range perspective and have gone about it in the right way. Unlike other blockchain-based companies, they’re not looking for your monetary investment via crowdfunding tokens. They already secured $50m in traditional venture capital investment. Their token system is designed to pay app developers. The more users an app has, the more profit they earn via a crypto exchange based on mining (since the base layer of the new protocols is the blockchain), thus seeking to solve the open source incentive dilemma.
    1. Blockstack – A New Internet for Decentralized Apps
    2. Blockstack: A New Internet That Brings Privacy & Property Rights to Cyberspace
    3. Blockstack Unveils A Browser For The Decentralized Web
    4. Checking Out Blockstack, The New Decentralized Internet
    5. Postly App Demo | Blockstack Berlin 2018
    6. Ryan Shea “A New Blockstack Internet” | Blockstack Summit 2017
    7. Block Zero #007 – Blockstack – A new internet for decentralized apps w/ Muneeb Ali
    8. Ryan Shea of Blockstack: “Web 3 and Decentralized Apps” | Blockstack Berlin 2018
    9. A Conversation with Naval Ravikant and Ryan Shea | Blockstack Summit 2017 some helpful “big picture” comments
  4. Misc
    1. Decentralising the web: Maintaining the momentum
    2. The punk rock internet – how DIY ​​rebels ​are working to ​replace the tech giants
    3. Understanding Mesh Networking, Part I
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Chrysostom on Romans 13 as Office

In a previous post I discussed the difference in interpretation between person and office in Romans 13, noting that the distinction went back at least to Chrysostom (347 – 407 AD see this timeline). Here he is:

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.”

Of this subject he makes much account in other epistles also, setting subjects under their rulers as household servants are under their masters. And this he does to show that it was not for the subversion of the commonwealth that Christ introduced His laws, but for the better ordering of it, and to teach men not to be taking up unnecessary and unprofitable wars. For the plots that are formed against us for the truth’s sake are sufficient and we have no need to be adding temptations superfluous and unprofitable. And observe too how well-timed his entering upon this subject is. For when he had demanded that great spirit of heroism, and made men fit to deal either with friends or foes, and rendered them serviceable alike to the prosperous and those in adversity and need, and in fact to all, and had planted a conversation worthy of angels, and had discharged anger, and taken down recklessness, and had in every way made their mind even, he then introduces his exhortation upon these matters also. For if it be right to requite those that injure us with the opposite, much more is it our duty to obey those that are benefactors to us. But this he states toward the end of his exhortation, and hitherto does not enter on these reasonings which I mention, but those only that enjoin one to do this as a matter of debt. And to show that these regulations are for all, even for priests, and monks, and not for men of secular occupations only, he hath made this plan at the outset, by saying as follows: “let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,” if thou be an Apostle even, or an Evangelist, or a Prophet, or anything whatsoever, inasmuch as this subjection is not subversive of religion. And he does not say merely “obey,” but “be subject.” And the first claim such an enactment has upon us, and the reasoning that suiteth the faithful, is, that all this is of God’s appointment.

“For there is no power,” he says, “but of God.” What say you? it may be said; is every ruler then elected by God? This I do not say, he answers. Nor am I now speaking about individual rulers, but about the thing in itself. For that there should be rulers, and some rule and others be ruled, and that all things should not just be carried on in one confusion, the people swaying like waves in this direction and that; this, I say, is the work of God’s wisdom. Hence he does not say, “for there is no ruler but of God;” but it is the thing he speaks of, and says, “there is no power but of God. And the powers that be, are ordained of God.” Thus when a certain wise man saith, “It is by the Lord that a man is matched with a woman” (Proverbs 19:14, LXX.), he means this, God made marriage, and not that it is He that joineth together every man that cometh to be with a woman. For we see many that come to be with one another for evil, even by the law of marriage, and this we should not ascribe to God. But as He said Himself, “He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh.” (Matthew 19:4, 5; Genesis 2:24.) And this is what that wise man meant to explain. For since equality of honor does many times lead to fightings, He hath made many governments and forms of subjection; as that, for instance, of man and wife, that of son and father, that of old men and young, that of bond and free, that of ruler and ruled, that of master and disciple. And why are you surprised in the case of mankind, when even in the body He hath done the same thing? For even here He hath not made all parts of equal honor, but He hath made one less and another greater, and some of the limbs hath He made to rule and some to be ruled. And among the unreasoning creatures one may notice this same principle, as amongst bees, amongst cranes, amongst herds of wild cattle. And even the sea itself is not without this goodly subordination; for there too many of the clans are ranged under one among the fishes, and are led thus as an army, and make long expeditions from home. For anarchy, be where it may, is an evil, and a cause of confusion. After having said then whence governments come, he proceeds, “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.” See what he has led the subject on to, and how fearful he makes it, and how he shows this to be a matter of debt. For lest the believers should say, You are making us very cheap and despicable, when you put us, who are to enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven, under subjection to rulers, he shows that it is not to rulers, but to God again that he makes them subject in doing this. For it is to Him, that he who subjects himself to authorities is obedient. Yet he does not say this–for instance that it is God to Whom a man who listens to authorities is obedient–but he uses the opposite case to awe them, and gives it a more precise form by saying, that he who listeneth not thereto is fighting with God, Who framed these laws. And this he is in all cases at pains to show, that it is not by way of favor that we obey them, but by way of debt. For in this way he was more likely to draw the governors who were unbelievers to religion, and the believers to obedience. For there was quite a common report in those days (Tert. Revelation 1, 31, 32), which maligned the Apostles, as guilty of a sedition and revolutionary scheme, and as aiming in all they did and said at the subversion of the received institutions. When then you show our common Master giving this in charge to all His, you will at once stop the mouths of those that malign us as revolutionists, and with great boldness will speak for the doctrines of truth. Be not then ashamed, he says, at such subjection. For God hath laid down this law, and is a strong Avenger of them if they be despised. For it is no common punishment that He will exact of thee, if thou disobey, but the very greatest; and nothing will exempt thee, that thou canst say to the contrary, but both of men thou shalt undergo the most severe vengeance, and there shall be no one to defend thee, and thou wilt also provoke God the more. And all this he intimates when he says, “And they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

http://biblehub.com/commentaries/chrysostom/romans/13.htm

I argue here that it may actually be better interpreted as referring to specific rulers and not to an office.

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McDurmon to Respond to RL Review of Bounds of Love

Just a heads up that I saw Joel McDurmon is planning on publishing a new book soon:

In the upcoming couple of months, I will be publishing a follow-up to my book The Bounds of Love, in particular, rebuttals to the criticisms of the cherem principle as I teach it… In addition to Selbrede’s review, I have heard of published criticisms or responses from Brian Schwertley (four sermons collected together here), a roundtable of Joel and Luke Saint and John Bingaman, and Brandon Adams at Reformed Libertarian. There was another from a young man which has been endorsed by Joseph Morecraft, Tim Yarbrough, and Paul Michael Raymond… I will address all of these criticisms together in one place in as thorough and systematic attempt as possible.

https://americanvision.org/15703/quick-notes-on-an-upcoming-theonomy-book-with-answers-to-critics/

I look forward to the ongoing dialogue.

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VanDrunen on Romans 13 & the Noahic Covenant

David VanDrunen has a helpful essay in the 2016 Journal of Law and Religion titled POWER TO THE PEOPLE: REVISITING CIVIL RESISTANCE IN ROMANS 13:1-7 IN LIGHT OF THE NOAHIC COVENANT. The abstract reads:

Romans 13:1–7 has been the most important text in scripture for Christian reflection on political authority, yet what it does not say has left Christian social ethicists and political/legal theorists with many lingering questions, especially about the proper response to unjust magistrates. To what resources should Christian thinkers look to illumine the gaps left by the Pauline silence, and just how absolute or relative did Paul intend his remarks in Romans 13:1–7 to be? This article presents a twofold thesis in response to this twofold question. First, it argues that the Noahic covenant, Genesis 8:21–9:17, is an important, although overlooked, background resource for interpreting Romans 13:1–7. Second, this article illustrates the practical benefit of reading Romans 13 in light of the Noahic covenant by offering a new argument for why Christians should not interpret Paul’s unqualified command to submit to civil authorities as absolutely forbidding resistance to unjust magistrates. Paul’s words about magistrates in Romans 13 have not superseded the obligation to pursue justice that God gave to the human community as a whole in the Noahic covenant. Thus the primal obligation resting in the people implicitly qualifies Paul’s instructions.

As I have shown in previous posts (here as well as these), the reformed tradition has taught that God establishes civil rulers mediately through the consent of the people. They have argued that Romans 13 must be qualified because God does not grant any man authority to act unjustly. Therefore Paul is only commanding obedience to rulers who act justly.

While not referencing the reformed tradition, VanDrunen furthers that interpretation by appeal to the Noahic covenant, wherein God grants authority and duty not to one group of human beings (magistrates) but to all human beings to enforce/administer justice. Thus there is apparent tension between Romans 13’s apparent grant of absolute authority to a subset of humanity and Genesis 9’s grant of specific authority to all of humanity. He argues that Paul’s apparent absolute statements in Romans 13 must be qualified by Genesis 9, such that resistance to tyranny is biblical.

[B]oth Romans 13 and the Noahic covenant portray civil authority as delegated from God for the purpose of enforcing justice, and specifically retributive justice… This expresses the lex talionis, the law of retribution, most famously known through the later biblical phrase, “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” (see Ex 21:23-25; Lev 24:18-21; Deut 19:21).

 

[D]oes the Noahic covenant shed any light on whether Romans 13:1-7 leaves space for disobedience or resistance to unjust magistrates?

If the Noahic covenant simply said all the same things as Romans 13:1-7 it would probably offer little help. But what if we explore how these texts differ? One very noticeable difference, I suggest, may hold the key for our inquiry.

The difference I have in mind is that in the Noahic covenant God delegates authority to the human race in general, while in Romans 13:1-7 God delegates authority to civil magistrates in particular… [Gen 9:5-6] might be rendered in this way: ‘Whoever sheds the blood of a human being, by a human being shall his or her blood be shed, for God made the human being in his own image.’ God entered this covenant with the survivors of the great flood, and with their offspring after them (9:9), and thus 9:6 gives a judicial commission to the human community as a whole, without further specification. According to Paul, in contrast, God commissions ‘authorities’ and ‘rulers’ (Romans 13:1, 3). As Paul describes it, only certain members of the human community bear the sword and carry out God’s wrathful vengeance on the wrongdoer (13:4). Sketching out a broad biblical theology of civil authority is a task for another day, but such a project would need to account for this movement from Genesis 9 to Romans 13. Somehow the authority residing in the human race generally comes to vest in particular people who hold civil office. In one way or another, the human community, to which God originally delegated authority, has in turn rightly delegated that authority to civil magistrates. Whatever the details, a theology of authority developed along these lines would have to acknowledge that Romans 13 does not simply supersede the Noahic covenant. The divine delegation of authority to civil magistrates, in other words, does not cancel out the original divine delegation of authority to the human race. This is because God established the Noahic covenant ‘while the earth remains’ (Gen 8:22). Christian thinking about social ethics and political/legal theory ought to recognize the Noahic covenant as still in force, as God’s ongoing means for sustaining the human community and the broader natural order. Thus the general human commission to enforce justice must continue to stand somewhere behind the magistrates’ specific commission to do so. And this general human commission implies that anyone who sheds human blood ought to be held accountable – even magistrates.

If these conclusions are true, then human community as a whole must retain a right – probably better, an obligation – to correct, resist, or remove magistrates who fail to perform their divine commission to enforce justice.

This is a very important point (I argued for it here). However, I have never quite been satisfied that revolution is proper, much less required behavior for Christians. VanDrunen seems to have the same impulse. He notes

[T]he residual authority of the people discussed above lies not in the Christian community, but in the human community. When Paul describes the moral life characterizing the ‘one body in Christ’ (Romans 12:4-5), he prohibits the enforcement of justice (12:17, 19) that he describes as the task of magistrates a few verses later (13:4). Furthermore, when persecuted for the faith, Christians’ great calling is not to secure justice for themselves but to suffer with patience and charity (Matt 5:10-12, 43-48; 1 Pet 2:13-25). The residual authority to enforce justice rooted in the Noahic covenant rests in the human race as a whole; it does not rest in the church as the body of believers.

I think that VanDrunen is on to something important in that statement. He notes “Sketching out a broad biblical theology of civil authority is a task for another day, but such a project would need to account for this movement from Genesis 9 to Romans 13.” I think that the account for this “movement” may be found in God’s command to Judah to subject themselves to Nebuchadnezzar’s rule. The Old Covenant commanded Israel to resist and overthrow any Gentile ruler. But as punishment for breaking the Old Covenant, God told Judah that they would not be destroyed if they submitted to Babylon’s yoke. Thus began life in exile.

Thus the Lord said to me: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck… ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: 5 “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. 6 Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him…

8 “‘“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. 9 So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ 10 For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. 11 But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.”’”…

12 To Zedekiah king of Judah I spoke in like manner: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live. 13 Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?

(Jeremiah 27)

Note that this command to submit to Nebuchadnezzar was special revelation positive law given to Israel. It was not general revelation natural law given to all mankind. Note also how Romans 13 echoes the language of Nebuchadnezzar being established by God. I will have to leave that as a tease for now. Lord willing I will flesh it out more in the future.

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How Cromwell’s Irish terror made a bloodthirsty preacher teach tolerance

John Owen scholar Crawford Gribben recounts Owen’s change in sentiment.

[I]n August 1649 [Cromwell] achieved, for the first time in hundreds of years of English intervention, the entire subjugation of Ireland. His goal was a massive extension of English power and Protestant religion. Cromwell’s military administrators pursued the pacification of Ireland with ruthless efficiency. Before their departure from England, his soldiers had been encouraged by the preaching of a young puritan to avenge the “blood of almost-expiring Ireland” – to avenge the deaths of Ulster Protestants that had occurred during the rising of 1641. And many soldiers took this encouragement to heart…

Owen’s experience of the conflict forced him to reconsider the language with which he had encouraged the campaign. His question centred on how best to represent the fact that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). So, he wondered, in an address to Westminster MPs, “How is it that Jesus Christ is in Ireland only as a lion staining all his garments with the blood of his enemies, and none to hold him out as a lamb sprinkled with his own blood to his friends?”

Owen’s answer to that question changed his politics. The invasion of Ireland had not really advanced “the sovereignty and interest of England,” he realised. “I could heartily rejoice, that, innocent blood being expiated, the Irish might enjoy Ireland so long as the moon endureth,” if “Jesus Christ might possess the Irish.” Owen would become a key theorist of religious toleration – and his theological convictions were formed during the chaos and trauma of the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland.

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Does “Abolish the Police” = “Abolish Law Enforcement”?

In my recent response to R. Scott Clark, someone replied:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 5.49.01 PMThis type of response just confirms my complaint that Clark and others are being too simplistic. They just beg the question. What is meant by “there should be no police”? Is it the same thing as “there should be no enforcement of the law” (i.e. “there should be no administration of justice”)? I highly, highly doubt that is what was meant (again, no source is provided to determine for sure). The error is that Clark (and Sanduleac above) are simply equating the police with law enforcement rather than seeing the modern police force as one possible type of law enforcement. The modern police force is modern. It has not always existed. Proponents of “social justice” are commenting on the modern police force in America, not Rome or ancient Israel or 16th century England (just as American colonists were commenting on King George specifically, not all civil government in general).

The idea of a professional, uniformed police force is so firmly ingrained into our concept of society that it’s easy to think of the police as one of the most ancient governmental institutions. It may be surprising, then to learn that the idea of police officers as we know them is an extremely young concept, dating back to only the 19th century. As did most governmental institutions, law enforcement agencies in society evolved slowly over time.

In ancient societies, there was no official law enforcement function and very little, if any, attempts at organization. Instead, individuals, families, and clans took it upon themselves to take revenge against those who may have injured or offended them. The idea of crime prevention was almost nonexistent in the early history of law enforcement and criminology…

After the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the responsibility for maintaining order fell once again to local authorities. In England, society reverted to the ancient notion that individuals were responsible for themselves and their own protection.

English law provided individual subjects with the authority and responsibility to use force in order to maintain control. Neighbors were expected to help each other. This form of social control was referred to as “Kin Policing” by English historian Charles Reith because it relied on the idea that families and clans were responsible for the actions of their own members.

Early History of Policing

God’s revealed law for Israel functioned in that manner (Num. 35:9-34; Deut 19:1-13; Josh 20:1-9). So did Ancient Greece. “No Greek community had a police force in a modern sense of the term.” There have been many different ways in which justice has been enforced throughout history. Law enforcement (the administration of justice) does not require a modern police force, which dates back to the Metropolitan Police Act 1829.

Early law enforcement was reactionary, rather than pre-emptive—the watch usually responded to criminal behavior only when requested by victims or witnesses… A new and improved law enforcement system [was] implemented first by England in 1829: a stronger, more centralized, preventive police force, designed to deter crime from happening, rather than to react once it had occurred.

The Early Days of American Law Enforcement

So when someone says we should get rid of this modern attempt at law enforcement because it’s not working, there is no reason to run screaming for Romans 13.

The concept of a centralized, professional police force was a tough sell initially and was met with a tremendous amount of resistance. The public feared that a police force would essentially behave as another arm of the military. As result, there was an understandable reluctance to agree to be controlled by what many assumed would be an occupying force… Over the next century and beyond, the concept of policing evolved in the U.S.

The History of Modern Policing: How the Modern Police Force Evolved

Note: “agree to be controlled.” That’s the consent basis of government. Some people today no longer consent to this modern version of law enforcement, which has evolved and become more militarized (as initially feared). For example:

For decades before the fateful Simi Valley verdict [the King riots], however, the LAPD had been the nation’s leading model of “professionalized policing.”

When the legendary Bill Parker took over the LAPD in 1950, he immediately began applying his experience as a decorated World War II veteran. Effectively, he made his police force into a kind of domestic military.

Seeing egregious problems with corruption and inefficiency, he slimmed down the force, creating an administrative structure that was meant to insulate his officers from political and public pressures. Parker wanted his department to set its own agenda, and he wanted his officers thinking of themselves as crime-fighting professionals, not on-call neighborhood boy scouts. On his watch, the sleek and imposing squad car replaced the friendly beat cop. His police academy trained recruits in tactics modeled on military peacekeeping efforts. Some credit the legendary chief with coining the term “thin blue line.”

How Expecting Police To Be All Things To All People Can Fuel Violence (The Federalist)

All arguments to “abolish the police” that I have read are arguments to abolish the modern, present day police force – not to abolish the administration of justice and enforcement of law.

We don’t consider the abolition of police a viable position to take because we believe they’re the only thing standing between upstanding citizens and the violence of the deranged… But does this mean we want police, or safety and security? Safety and security are ideas, ones that may never be fully achieved, and the police are an institution that have proved themselves capable of only providing the illusion of safety and security to a select few. The bulk of their jobs has nothing to do with violence prevention… The police are not performing the function we say they are, and there are real ways to achieve a world with less violence that don’t include the police. We simply haven’t tried.

Abolish the Police. Instead, Let’s Have Full Social, Economic, and Political Equality.

“our police is not working—we need to replace it with something new,” Jessica Disu says. “It’s more than a repair. We need something new.”…

The idea of police abolition can’t be understood separately from the wider prison abolition movement [Note Vern Poythress’ recognition that prison is unjust and unbiblical. -BA]…

“For me prison abolition is two things: It’s the complete and utter dismantling of prison and policing and surveillance as they currently exist within our culture. And it’s also the building up of new ways of intersecting and new ways of relating with each other….

That’s because Kaba, who recently moved back to New York after more than 25 years in Chicago, insists that abolition is not about destruction and anarchy—it’s about building alternatives…

“The closer you get to it, and the more you work on it, the more you realize that the system is not fixable the way it is,” says attorney Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, which has litigated civil rights lawsuits on behalf of Illinois prisoners for years.

Abolish the police? Organizers say it’s less crazy than it sounds.

They want to get rid of this modern system because they see the problem as systemic. There’s nothing unbiblical about that (though it is certainly possible to go about it in an unrighteous manner).

You may be thinking right about now: But what do I do if someone breaks into my house? Or if someone attacks me? How could peace circles possibly solve Chicago’s rampant gun violence problem?

Kaba says these kinds of skeptical questions are normal.

“The options when harm comes to you in this country are what?” she asks. “Call the police and get somebody from the outside involved in your process, or figure it out on your own. Doing nothing is not a good option for a lot of people . . . you shouldn’t have to choose between going to the state or doing nothing.”

Gosh, that sounds almost like the ancient practice mentioned above.

In fact, read this account of the very biblical alternative they are practicing in some instances (Ex. 22:3):

Ucker and other volunteer facilitators also make themselves available to help resolve conflicts for neighbors and friends seeking alternatives to calling the cops.

“There’s another infrastructure here, there’s another system here,” Ucker says, contrasting peace circles to policing. “But it can respond just as effectively to harm.”

Some people call this approach “restorative justice,” where the desires of the people harmed are prioritized alongside accountability for those responsible.

Ucker illustrates the idea with an anecdote:

“There was a robbery at this store in the community. One of the people at the store whose stuff was taken said, ‘Look, I don’t want to call the cops. Is there anything we can do? . . . They found on Facebook that this young person was selling their stuff, and that young person happened to go to a school where we’d done some circles, so I knew a teacher at the school and could say, ‘Hey, this is where we’re at.’ ”

Eventually, he says, robber and robbed were brought back together.

“That young person ended up returning what he had that hadn’t been sold, and then working at the shop in restitution for everything else,” Ucker says. “Then it turned out he really liked working there, and after this agreement was over, he continued to go there and volunteer. There was a relationship built there.”

As Poythress explains, this approach is much more biblical than the modern prison system that punishes people for crimes against “the state” rather than requiring restitution to the actual victim.

So enough with the knee-jerk superficial responses to this issue. Let’s roll up our sleeves a bit more.

(Just to be clear, as I said in the previous post, I do not necessarily agree with “social justice” assessments of current problems, and I definitely disagree with many of their proposed alternatives. This post is specifically about demonstrating “abolish the police” is not an unbiblical proposal).

 

For Further Reading:

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Is vigilantism forbidden in the Word of God?

After my post yesterday on Rothbard’s agreement with Scripture’s teaching on “private” vengeance, I read A Romans 13 Exposition on Church and State for Such a Time as This by Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (President and Professor of Practical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina). The exposition represents the typical gloss of the passage. One statement in particular jumped out, in light the above.

In Genesis, Noah receives a directive from God (Genesis 9.3-6), and this of course pre-dates the Mosaic Law:

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image (Gen 9.6).

Now of course this is interpreted with other Scriptures. When we take this into account with the principles of Leviticus and with this teaching in Romans 13; one sees the justification for the use of the sword against evil-doers who plot and commit murder, which is murder in the first degree. But vigilantism is forbidden in the Word of God. For a single man does not have the moral authority from God to carry the mantle of civil government, with its various laws, punishments and penalties. This is the role alone of human government, with its derived authority and its derived power.

Really? Scripture actually teaches precisely the opposite: a single man does have the moral authority from God to carry the mantle of civil government, with its various laws, punishments and penalties. That is precisely what the avenger of blood is: a single man executing punishment according to Genesis 9:5-6. Time to go back to the drawing board in interpreting Romans 13. Milton is correct that Romans 13 refers to the authority established in Genesis 9, but he is incorrect to think this authority is not equally given by God to all image bearers, but rather to a special class of humanity. The authority of Romans 13 is the authority given to all image bearers to execute justice. Precisely because this authority is given to all image bearers is why a pagan emperor can legitimately exercise it, even over Christians.

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Rothbard on the Death Penalty

In 1978, Rothbard wrote a brief piece in the Libertarian Review titled The Plumb Line: The Capital Punishment Question. “Libertarians can no longer afford to wait to come to grips with capital punishment. It has become too pressing a problem.” He concluded that it is just. His perspective is quite interesting in that he

  1. References mankind’s instinct
  2. Argues from proportionate retributive justice as the definition of justice (what one is due) and rights
  3. Argues for private administration of retributive justice by the victim’s legal representative

I believe that the instincts of the public are correct on this issue: namely, that the punishment should fit the crime; i.e., that punishment should be proportional to the crime involved. The theoretical justification for this is that an aggressor loses his rights to the extent that he has violated the rights of another human being. If A steals $10,000 from B, he should be forced, not only to return the $10,000 (the “restitutionist” position, with which most libertarians would agree), but he also loses his rights to his own $10,000; that is, he should be forced to pay the victim $10,000 for his aggression…

It is relatively easy to allot monetary penalties in the case of theft. But what about such a crime as murder? Here, in my view, the murderer loses precisely the right of which he has deprived another human being: the right to have one’s life preserved from the violence of another person. The murderer therefore deserves to be killed in return. Or, to put it more precisely, the victim — in this case his surrogate, in the form of his heir or the executor of his estate should have the right to kill the murderer in return…

But in any case, note that I did not couch my argument in utilitarian terms of deterrence of future crime; my argument was based on basic rights and the requirements of justice. The libertarian takes his stand for individual rights not merely on the basis of social consequences, but more emphatically on the justice that is due to every individual.

This is interesting because of how closely it aligns with Scripture (particularly the Old Testament).

  1. All image bearers have an innate sense of justice (Rom 1:32)
  2. Justice is defined as lex talionis (proportionate retributive; Ex. 21:22-25)
  3. The next of kin had the authority and duty to administer justice (Num 35:9-34)

Rothbard’s comments stand in stark contrast to many of the arguments heard from libertarians who oppose the death penalty. It is not unlikely that Rothbard’s firm commitment to this stance is related to his exposure to the Old Testament. Note not only his foundation of retributive justice, but also his understanding of restorative justice (___). I think it would be a mistake to assume that special revelation played no role in the development of his thought. This short essay stems from a longer 1977 essay “Punishment and Proportionality,” in Assessing the Criminal: Restitution, Retribution, and the Legal Process.

One aspect where Rothbard could be very slightly sharpened by Scripture, however, is his articulation of the interplay between the individual victim and society in the case of murder.

So far we have gone all the way with the proponents of the death penalty, ranging ourselves with the instincts of the general public and against the sophistries of the liberal intellectual elite. But there is an important difference. For I have been stressing throughout the right of the victim, not that of “society” or the state. In all cases, it should be the victim — not “society” or “its” district attorney — who should bring charges and decide on whether or not to exact punishment. “Society” has no right and therefore no say in the matter. The state now monopolizes the provision of defense, judicial, and punishment service. So long as it continues to do so, it should act as nothing more and nothing less than an agent for guarding and enforcing the rights of each person — in this case, of the victim.

If, then, a crime is committed, it should be up to the victim to press charges or to decide whether the restitution or punishment due him should be exacted by the state. The victim should be able to order the state not to press charges or not to punish the victim to the full extent that he has the right to do so.

While I think he is right that the murder victim’s legal representative has the primary duty and authority to administer justice, he does not have the exclusive authority. Genesis 9:5-6 was a command given to all mankind. We all have a responsibility to see that justice is done and the murderer is put to death. In the case that there is no legal heir or the legal heir is negligent, the community is obligated to act. In Mosaic law governing the execution of murderers, both the individual and the community play an important role. Neither has exclusive (monopolistic) authority. (Also, Mosaic law forbids levying a fine instead of execution in the case of murder).

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The Avenger of Blood in Modern Albania

In The Avenger of Blood I showed how Mosaic law (reflecting Genesis 9:5-6) authorized the next of kin of a murder victim to administer retributive justice – something not reserved for a special class called “rulers”. I noted that this was the common/default practice in ancient cultures. But the practice did not die out there. In fact, it has never died out. The pervasiveness of the role of the next of kin as an avenger of blood in cultures down through history is fascinating. It is found in ancient, medieval, and modern cultures everywhere that central power is weak. It’s almost as if the duty to enforce justice is an innate part of being an image bearer 🙂 (Gen 9:5-6, 4:14; Rom 1:32; Num 35:19).

It became commonplace throughout Europe in the Middle Ages following the collapse of the Roman Empire. In Albania “The norms were passed on from generation to generation by an oral tradition and were decreed by the council of elders. It is considered that the Code was rationalised by despot Lek III Dukagjin (1410 – 1481). This code was compiled throughout the centuries chiefly by adding new norms. It was studied by folklorist Shtjefën Gjecov and was published as late as 1933.” [1]  Following the collapse of communism in Albania, the customary law has been revived, largely due to the corruption and injustice of the standing government. “Blood feuds are not unique to Albania. They can be found in other isolated societies of the Mediterranean (such as Corsica) or in the Northern Caucuses. Carver tells us that this Albanian code most closely resembles the pukhtoonwali of Northwestern India.” [3]

There are several parallels between the Kanun and the relevant portions of Mosaic law (see Avenger post).

  • The next of kin is authorized to administer justice
  • Justice must be according to lex talionis (eye for an eye)
  • The manslayer (accidental killing) is innocent and is not to be killed
  • Only the murderer may be killed (not a member of his family)
  • There are sanctuaries (City of refuge vs asylum in a home)
  • Elders may become involved as a third party (originally to investigate/have a trial, now mostly to seek reconciliation) [3]

However, the text of the Kanuni is often contested and with many different interpretations which significantly evolved since 15th century. [2] At about 8:00 in the Aljazeera video an elder, acting as a mediator between two families, explains “The Kanun’s rules have been muddled with myths. You can’t trust anyone. Before, the Kanun was followed to the rule but as time changed so did its interpretation.” At around 2:00 the Journeyman Pictures video explains “The truth is that Kanun has accurate, concise, clear rules. An important rule is ‘the blood goes by the hand of the killer.’ It means only the killer could be killed. That’s how it was, so no other family member could be in danger. Later, the rule was changed and clarify that blood can be taken on family members.”

At first only other adult males in the family could be killed, instead of the killer. Then that was extended to include males of any age. More recently that has changed to include females as well (see the Aljazeera video). “The application of the ancient Kanun has been ousted by a distorted use of a modern Kanun in favour of personal revenge and settling old gangster scores. The range of vengeance killings now covers all members of Albanian society, including women and even children.” [1] The result has been disastrous. Entire families cannot leave their homes – not even to work – for fear of being killed.

Currently, we can notice a distinction between classic and modern vendetta respectively before and after the communist regime. The classic vendettas occur especially in the northern Albania and they follow the procedures of the Kanun more closely including the involvement of the elders of the village and the application of the period of liberty and security that the victim’s family grants to the murderer and his family. The modern type of vendetta reappeared after the end of the communist regime. The appearance of this new phenomenon can be
qualified as pseudo-traditionalism accomplishing a function that we can nominate semantic, since it permits to give a sense to the new political shapes. In this case, the manipulated tradition becomes the instrument to give a sense to new realities or to claim justice. The Kanun and its norms are not recognized anymore. Its application has been ousted by a distorted use of the Kanun in favour of personal revenge. The data-gathering shows how the Kanun applied in the nineties was illegitimate. [3]

Conciliators have emerged to try to help resolve modern problems resulting from this broken system. “What persons can become conciliators? D. Ch. recounted that in Krujë there was a special group consisting of men of senior age, well-familiar with the Kanun. The group’s members
should include influential figures – for example, members of Parliament, ministers, etc. Negotiators are elected among the inhabitants of the region once in 5 years. In the course of reconciliation, an agreement is signed between the two feuding sides, as well as by the warrant group, affirming that no one would break the arrangement.” [1] However, anyone may act as a mediator in individual cases.

At 20:45 in the “Prisoners of Kanun” video, a man involved in a blood feud since his grandfather was killed in the 1920’s says “If justice was applied correctly, both would work – the Kanun and government laws.”


This 2001 video from ABC Australia provides a helpful overview of the post-communist situation (16min).

This 2015 video from Journeyman Pictures provides a helpful synopsis of the role of Kanun and the current situation with blood feuds (7min).

Here is a longer, much more observational study of the people involved blood feuds (30min – same producer/footage as above, but more detailed).

Here is a 2017 Aljazeera piece (25min).

Here is a 2015 doc from VICE on the blood feuds (35min).

Finally, a 2012 Sundance Select feature film Forgiveness in the Blood tells the story of a blood feud in Albania.

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Red Sea Crossing as an American Seal

Daniel Dreisbach posted an image on twitter of a Seal of the United States proposed by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

DHtiqBoV0AIHpCs

In the Jefferson Manuscripts in the Library of Congress are two notes of suggestion on the Great Seal. One in the writing of Franklin, and the other in that of Jefferson.

Franklin’s note reads: “Moses [in the Dress of High Priest] standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharoah who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, [expressing] to express that he acts by [the] Command of the Deity. “Motto, Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

The note of Jefferson reads: “Pharoah sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand passing thro’ the divided waters of the Red sea in pursuit of the Israelites: rays from a pillar of fire in the cloud, expressive of the divine presence, [reach] and command, reaching to Moses who stands on the shore and, extending his hand over the sea, causes it to over whelm Pharoah. “Motto. Rebellion to tyrants is obedce to god.” Words in brackets were stricken out by the pen. Jefferson merely noted a version of the Franklin suggestion. In the Writings of Jefferson (Ford), I, 420 is what purports to be a scheme of arms made in 1774, but the date assigned to it is doubtful.

In a letter from John Adams to his wife, written August 14, 1776, he said: “Doctor F. proposes a device for a seal. Moses lifting up his wand, and dividing the red sea, and Pharoah in his chariot over whelmed with the waters. This motto. ‘Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.’ “Mr. Jefferson proposed, The children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night–and on the other side, Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs, from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.

I don’t necessarily agree with the motto, without further nuance (see the paragraph here). However, the suggested seal (or one part of the suggested seal – which was intended to be more than just this) demonstrates the common understanding that the American Revolution stood on biblical grounds.

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George R. Knight on Romans 13

In “Exploring Romans: A Devotional Commentary,” George R. Knight mentions that Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 were Hitler’s favorite passages. “One of those two texts had to be preached every year in every church in the Third Reich.”

Knight clarifies that Paul’s comments only apply to “rulers [who] are not a terror to good behavior, but to evil.” “That ‘good,’ of course, must fit God’s perspective rather than that of Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar, Hitler, Stalin, or some modern ruler.”

Thus Paul in Romans 13 is not seeking to cover every situation involving every government. Rather than speaking to every possibility, he presents the case in which a legitimate authority makes an appropriate demand on its citizens. In healthy times the apostle is correct. The government rewards people for doing right and punishes those who do wrong (verse 3, 4). Thus the Christian to whom Paul is writing should obey the government in its legitimate demands. He is firm that every Christian has a definite responsibility to the government under which he or she lives. Obedience to the state for a Christian is not an option. As T. W. Manson puts it, “resistance to legitimate authority legitimately exercised is wrong” (in Morris, Romans, p. 462).

Does Paul elaborate on precisely what that legitimate authority is? No. We get that from reading all of Scripture. A rulers’ legitimate authority is to wield the sword in defense and in the execution of vengeance according to lex talionis, period. Romans 13 does not require us to obey any demand beyond that narrow scope. But within that narrow scope, a ruler (even if a pagan who claimed to be god) is a servant of God and must be obeyed (which is Paul’s point).

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Riddlebarger on the Old Covenant Context of Romans 13

I am quite convinced that understanding the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is foundational to properly exegeting Romans 13:1-7. I call this the “legitimacy interpretation.” I believe Paul is applying Jesus’ words in John 18:36 to the situation in Rome. I touched on this a bit in a previous post and I will do so more in the future. Here are some worthwhile comments from Kim Riddlebarger.

Another reason debate arises about this section of Romans is due to the Old Testament background as to how the people of Israel were to relate to the pagan kings around them. Jews viewed all Gentile nations in light of Israel’s divinely appointed mission–Israel was God’s chosen nation and the object of God’s care and affection…

as God’s chosen covenant community, the nation of Israel was not to submit to any pagan king. In Deuteronomy 17:15, we read “be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.” Israel’s king must be a Jew. Thus it would be very difficult for Jewish converts to Christianity to adopt a Christian view of state…

As the covenant community, Israel was not to take for itself a Gentile king (much like its people were forbidden from inter-marrying with Gentiles), even though pagan kings were raised up by God according to his providential purposes. Jews could not but help think of their history and the Egyptian Pharaoh, from whose hand God had rescued Israel. It is because of Israel’s unfaithfulness that the nation came under the covenant sanctions, was conquered by the Babylonians and hauled off into captivity, and forced to submit to a Gentile king…

At the time Paul writes his letter to the church in Rome in the mid-fifties of the first century, the Roman empire was largely indifferent to Christianity. Throughout the Book of Acts, we read that Paul, a Roman citizen, is able to appeal to Roman authorities to protect him from those Jews who threatened to kill him. But there is also some indication that things were beginning to change. In Acts 18:2, we read that Paul “met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.” This is a reference to the famous “edict of Claudius” which was promulgated in AD 50. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, rioting broke out in Rome among the Jews, instigated by a certain “Chrestus.” Most scholars believe this to be a reference to Christian preaching about Jesus Christ in the synagogues. This produced a violent reaction from the Jews, which, in turn, lead to rioting. To keep the peace, emperor Claudius ordered all Jews expelled from the city of Rome. But his edict was eased when the rioting ceased and there were many Jews and Christians back in Rome soon thereafter. The Jews in the Roman church would have likely considered Rome to be an evil Gentile nation and if, whenever the emperor felt like it, a persecutor of the Jewish people. Jews would have been very leery of being told to submit to such a government…

Now, as for the reason as to why Paul addresses this subject in the way in which he does in Romans, the issue is primarily a pastoral one. There are Jews in this church who have converted to Christianity. How can they now be expected to submit to a Gentile king? And a pagan king whom they feared and who has already ordered them out of the city. Gentile Christians faced an entirely different situation. If Rome viewed Christianity as a branch of Judaism, Christians would be offered the same toleration the Roman government gave to Jews. But if Christianity was regarded as a different religion entirely, then what legal protections would Christians now have? And how should Christians view a state which did not grant them official standing? This means that the issue here is not theoretical–“what is the ideal state?”–but practical, “how should Christians in Rome view this pagan empire?”…

We must also keep in mind the specific situation Paul is addressing with this congregation. Paul is not dealing with the question of what a Christian should do if/when the state (or its ruler) becomes a tyrant. The apostle is not writing a systematic treatise on civil government. Rather, Paul is affirming to Jewish and Gentile believers in the city of Rome that the Roman state is a servant of God [insofar as it legitimately exercises its legitimate authority]…

In context, then, Paul is telling Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Roman church that the Roman government is a legitimate civil authority [under the New Covenant – unlike under the Old Covenant], because such authority come from God. Christians should, therefore, submit to the government. But the question about what to do if and when the Roman government exceeds this God-given authority is not addressed here…

In verse 2, Paul goes on to say that there is no basis upon which to rebel against legitimate civil authority… Again, the question as to whether and when the state forfeits such authority is not answered here. As one writer puts it, what Paul does say is “resistance to legitimate authority legitimately exercised is wrong.”

Thus Rome has legitimately authority over Christians (insofar as it exercises a very narrow task), unlike pagan kings ruling over Israel.

Riddlebarger has other good things to say, but his treatment suffers one significant flaw. He believes “established by God” refers to God’s providence. I believe he is wrong and contradicts himself. If our submission stems from providence, then it is not limited. God establishes tyrants, just as he did against Israel in the Old Covenant. But Riddlebarger rightly notes that we are not required to submit to them. Thus, the simple fact that a ruler rules, according to God’s providence, is no reason that we must submit to them. Israel was not required to submit to foreign rulers who exercised dominion over Israelites at various times. Rather, God blessed their rebellion against foreign rulers to the extent that they obeyed Mosaic law (2 Kings 18:7, etc).

“Established” here, in my opinion, refers to the authority of sword given to all image bearers to defend and exercise vengeance according to lex talionis, as articulated in Genesis 9:6. Anyone who exercises that God-given authority, whether pagan or Christian, is exercising God-given authority and must be submitted to.

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Ecclesiastes 8:2

I heard a sermon yesterday on Ecclesiastes 8:1-9. Verse 2 says

I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. (NASB)

The sermon observed that this passage was about seeing wisdom in the world and that one primary effect of having wisdom is submission to authority.

If you go to the New Testament, to Romans 13, the authorities that exist are appointed by… man? No, they’re appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God and those who resist bring judgment on themselves… Honor the king. The kings back in the New Testament, they were dirt bags. I don’t know how else to put it. They were killing Christians. They had no ethics whatsoever… Remember, those authorities placed over us are for our good… Wisdom respects authorities. It’s also a test of faith. Do you have faith or not?

The verse is not immediately clear. What is the “oath” referring to? Translations vary quite a bit. The ESV says “I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him.” This translation would seem to fit with the above exhortation and with the view of most Christians today. But the NASB seems to refer not to God’s oath to the ruler, but to some kind of oath of man before God. The sermon recognized this, but wasn’t entirely clear about its meaning.

What makes this verse so serious in regards to keeping the king’s commandment is that he says for the sake of your oath to God. He brings God into the mixture. If we were simply to obey those in authority over us because we were afraid we were to be guillotined, or electrocuted, well, that’s restraint, that’s good, but if there’s resentment in the heart, if there’s hatred towards those leaders that are over us, that could be a dangerous thing.

Now, granted, during the time that this sermon was preached, it was a theocracy. God was on the throne, so to speak. God spoke to the king. Kings were inspired at times and we had the Word of God given through kings. Hopefully they were not corrupt. A lot of them were. But it was a theocracy so the Jews there had a commitment to God. They made an oath to serve the king and therefore they were serving God. So Solomon is saying, “Just remember, you are to obey me, but not for the sake of me, but because of the fact that you made an oath. You made an oath that you would obey the king and therefore you would obey God.

Now, those of us that are born again – those of us that are Christians – we desire not to go the way of the broad path. We desire not to go the way that everyone else is going. Everyone else loves to slam the president… We are Christians now, we joined ourselves to the church. We joined ourselves to saints. And if you join this church, we make an oath, a vow to live a life worthy of a follower of Christ. It means we’re not going to be insurrectionists. We’re not going to be rebelling against the authorities…

Obey the king for the right reason, is what Solomon is saying here. It is because of your oath to God.

So the “oath” in question is interpreted as an oath to obey God. In the Old Covenant, this oath to obey God meant an oath to obey the king because the king spoke for God and it refers to a specific oath the Israelites took. In the New Covenant, this oath refers to the commitment of every Christian to obey God. Our obedience to God means we obey the commands of the president.

Again, this is a difficult verse, so I don’t mean to single out this sermon. I comment only to try to bring out some clarity. The above explanation does not seem to be consistent or clear. If the Israelite’s duty to obey the king was because the king was a prophet, then how can that apply to us today? Our oath to obey God would not translate into any requirement to obey our rulers, who are not prophets. The root of the confusion is a misunderstanding of what the “oath” in question refers to. It does not refer to an oath or vow to obey God. It does not refer to an oath to God, but an oath taken before God.

What, then, was the oath? First, note that for several generations God was the king of Israel. God was their earthly king who sat on his throne in the tabernacle making judgments and leading the Israelites in battle. But the Israelites lusted after the other nations and wanted a king like theirs (1 Sam 8:1-9; 19-22; 10:19). God knew this would happen, despite his warning not to (1 Sam 8:10-18), so in the Mosaic law, he provided direction for the establishment of a king.

When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. (Deut 17:14-5)

Note that it is the people who will be setting the king over themselves. God is said to choose the king, but the people set the king over themselves. God chose Saul by anointing him by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 10:1). God’s choice was revealed to the people through the drawing of lots (1 Sam. 10:20-24). Once this occurred, the people accepted Saul as their king (1 Sam. 10:24). Saul disobeyed God, so God rejected him as king an chose David instead (1 Sam 16:12). But Saul remained king over Israel until the people anointed David king (which was many years after God anointed David).

And Abner conferred with the elders of Israel, saying, “For some time past you have been seeking David as king over you. Now then bring it about, for the Lord has promised David, saying, ‘By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines, and from the hand of all their enemies.’”

And Abner said to David, “I will arise and go and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.”(2 Sam 3:17-18, 21)

So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.” (2 Sam. 5:3)

Solomon was made king in the same manner.

And they made Solomon the son of David king a second time, and they anointed him as ruler for the Lord and Zadok as priest. Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father; and he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him. All the officials, the mighty men, and also all the sons of King David pledged allegiance to King Solomon. (1 Chron 29:23-24)

Commenting on these passages, as well as Ecclesiastes 8:2, Samuel Rutherford said “There is an oath betwixt the king and his people, laying on, by reciprocation of bands, mutual civil obligation upon the king to the people, and the people to the king (2 Sam 5:3; 1 Chron 11:3; 2 Chron 23:2, 3; 2 Kings 11:17; Eccl. 8:2)” (Lex, Rex). The NET translates the verse “Obey the king’s command, because you took an oath before God to be loyal to him.” Matthew Henry notes

We must be subject because of the oath of God, the oath of allegiance which we have taken to be faithful to the government, the covenant between the king and the people, 2 Chron. 23:16. David made a covenant, or contract, with the elders of Israel, though he was king by divine designation, 1 Chron. 11:3. “Keep the king’s commandments, for he has sworn to rule thee in the fear of God, and thou hast sworn, in that fear, to be faithful to him.” It is called the oath of God because he is a witness to it and will avenge the violation of it.

The oath is a contract. It neither implies divine authority for the ruler, nor obligates the people beyond the terms of the contract. Solomon says you should obey the king for the same reason you should obey your boss: because you agreed to. Unlike your boss, the king might kill you if you don’t. The rest of the passage is Solomon’s wise reflection on how to act before an almighty king who can kill any who disagree (note v9). Henry says “In short, it is dangerous contending with sovereignty.”

Thus this passage does not obligate us to obey every command of a ruler from the heart as part of our obedience to God.

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Romans 13 – Where is the Exception?

The following is from Douglas Moo’s NIV Application Commentary on Romans.

Where is the exception?

As we noted above, the key question most of us ask when we come to Romans 13 is not “What does it mean?” but “Where is the exception?” Since it is taught so consistently in Scripture, we do not have much difficulty coming to grips with the idea that God has ordained all governing authorities and that we must recognize that we stand under them. But we do have difficulty with the apparent demand of Romans 13 that we always do whatever any governmental authority tells us to do. We know there are exceptions in Scripture itself, and we believe deeply that it was contrary to God’s will for Germans to obey their rulers and help the Nazis kill millions of Jews, Poles, Russians, and so on. But how can we justify any exceptions in Romans 13? On what basis can we allow exceptions without doing violence to these verses? Seven possibilities deserve to be mentioned – listed here in order of least probable to most probable.

[…]

(6) In our interpretation of verses 3-4, we suggested Paul admits only of the possibility that states will reward good and punish evil because he is implicitly thinking of the ideal state – the state when it operates as God intends it to. Paul may, therefore, be calling on Christians to submit to governing authorities only as long as they are fulfilling their mission, under God, to restrain evil and encourage good. When a state ceases to do so, Christian are free to disobey its mandates.

The problem with this view is that Paul does not explicitly qualify his command with any such restriction. Yet this idea has merit, for it is difficult otherwise to explain why Paul ignores the possibility that the state may punish good and reward evil. He is describing how the state is supposed to function under God and is calling believers to submit to states that function in that way. Perhaps there is room in what he says to allow believers to turn against the state when it turns against God – as it does, for example, in Revelation.

[Compare with Hodge “It was his object to lay down the simple principle, that magistrates are to be obeyed. The extent of this obedience is to be determined from the nature of the case. They are to be obeyed as magistrates, in the exercise of their lawful authority. When Paul commands wives to obey their husbands, they are required to obey them as husbands, not as masters, nor as kings; children are to obey their parents as parents, not as sovereigns; and so in every other case.”]

(7) In demanding “submission” to the state, Paul is not necessarily demanding obedience to every mandate of the state. Key to this restriction is the recognition that the word “submit” (hypotasso) in Paul is not a simple equivalent to “obey” (hypakouo). To be sure, they overlap, and in some contexts, perhaps, they cannot be distinguished (cf. 1 Peter 3:1, 6). Moreover, submission is usually expressed through obedience.

Nevertheless, submission is broader and more basic than obedience. To submit is to recognize one’s subordinate place in a hierarchy established by God. It is acknowledged that certain institutions or people have been placed over us and have the right to our respect and deference. In addition to rulers (see also Titus 3:1), Paul also calls on believers to submit to their spiritual leaders (1 Cor. 16:16) and even to one another (Eph. 5:21; i.e., in the ways Paul outlines in 5:22-6:9). Christian slaves are to submit to their masters (Titus 2:9), Christian prophets to other prophets (1 Cor. 14:32), and Christian wives to their husbands (1 Cor. 14:45 [?]; Eph. 5:24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5). In each case, one person is to recognize the rightful leadership role that another human being has in his or her life.

But implicit always in the idea of submission is the need to recognize that God is at the pinnacle of any hierarchy. While not always explicit, Paul assumes that one’s ultimate submission must be to God and that no human being can ever stand as the ultimate authority for a believer.

The parallel between a Christian’s submitting to government and a wife’s submitting to her husband is particularly helpful. The wife is to recognize that God has ordained her husband to be her “head,” that is, her leader and guide. Thus, she must follow his leadership. But Paul would never think that a wife must always do whatever her husband demanded.

I once counseled a Christian woman who took her need to submit to her husband so seriously that she felt obliged to obey him by engaging in sex with him and another woman at the same time. I urged her to recognize that her ultimate allegiance was to God, the authority standing over her husband. She needed to follow the higher authority in this case and disobey her husband. But this did not mean that she was simply to dismiss her husband or to renounce his general authority over her.

In a similar way, it seems to me, we can also, as believers, continue to submit to governing authorities even as, in certain specific instances, we find that we cannot obey them.

[In other words, Paul tells us not to overthrow the rulers, but to be subject to them. He does not tell us they have divine authority that must be obeyed in whatever they command.]

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VanDrunen’s Argument for Religious Liberty

Though I believe VanDrunen’s epistemology and understanding of natural law have significant problems, I believe his covenantal perspective as it relates to political philosophy is basically correct. At the end of Divine Covenants and Moral Order, he tries to apply his general framework to more practical conclusions, including the question of religious liberty.

[C]ivil government [is] the natural institution most prone to usurp authority and to exercise raw power… The promotion of justice… is the very basis for civil government’s legitimacy. Thus its authority is inherently limited by the obligation to do what is just. Any injustice is usurpation… [J]ustice grounded in the natural law should be proportionate, retributive, restorative, and forbearing (and therefore flexible in application)…

To defend this claim [of religious liberty] I turn again to Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his image.” Of the many significant things about this verse, perhaps most profound is the fact that God, the supreme governor and judge of the world, has delegated aspects of the administration of justice to human beings… Though dispensing retributive justice against fellow humans would have been unnecessary in an unfallen world, in a fallen world imposing just punishment upon wrongdoers becomes a necessary aspect of human rule. To rule a sinful world means, in part, ensuring that those who injure another human person receive appropriate and proportionate retribution.

What God delegates to human beings here is the administration of intrahuman justice. To put it another way, God ordains that human beings should impose punishments for injuries inflicted upon each other. God does not delegate authority to impose just punishment upon wrongs that a human being commits against God himself. From one perspective, of course, any injury inflicted upon a human being is a wrong against God whose image that person bears, so I will modify my claim in this way: God delegates to human beings the authority to impose punishments for wrongs insofar as they are injuries inflicted upon each other, but not for wrongs insofar as they are inflicted upon God.

Thus to return to the question at hand: Does the Noahic covenant shed any light on whether human society might prohibit or penalize the worship or instruction of a particular religion? Yes, and it indicates that human beings do not have such authority. According to the Noahic covenant, human beings have the authority to use force against one another in order to impose proportionate penalties for intrahuman wrongs. For intrahuman crimes such as murder or theft, there are concrete and definable injuries, and just legislators and judges can design penalties that match their severity. But acts of improper religious worship are offenses against God. In such cases human beings are inherently incapable of imposing a proportionate penalty. What sort of human punishment is proportionate to a wrong done against an infinite and eternal God? Even if one were to claim that a teacher of false religion is corrupting the religious sensibilities of the youth, for example, and thus is guilty of an intrahuman injury, it is difficult to perceive how any human court could objectively determine the character and extent of this injury so as to impose a proportionate penalty.

First, VanDrunen’s distinction between crimes against man and crimes against God (which he applies to the Mosaic Covenant) is precisely how I have explained lex talionis’ function in the Mosaic Covenant.

Second, VanDrunen is correct that religious persecution is a violation of lex talionis and is not an administration of retributive justice. Therefore no one may use force against anyone else for practicing a (non-violent) false religion. To do so is usurpation. This is the only non-contradictory way to argue for religious liberty. Every other attempt to justify religious liberty undermines itself by inconsistencies.

Third, if humans may only use force against other humans to administer retributive justice for physical harm done to humans (that is – if “public utility” is no justification for the use of force), then the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of what the United States and other nations currently do is usurpation not backed by any God-given authority.

In other words, the non-aggression principle is biblical and it is the only consistent defense of religious liberty.

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John Murray on the Church Rebuking the State

When it is maintained that the church is concerned with civic affairs, is under obligation to examine political measures in the light of the Word of God, and is required to declare its judgments accordingly, the distinction between this activity on the part of the church and political activity must be recognized. To put the matter bluntly, the church is not to engage in politics. Its members must do so, but only in their capacity as citizens of the state, not as members of the church. The church is not to create or foster political parties or blocs. The proclamation of the church may indeed induce the members of the church and others to affiliate themselves, in their capacity as citizens, with one party rather than with another or, perhaps, to form a political party for the promotion of good politics. If the proclamation of the church is sound, the church has no need to be ashamed of the influence its proclamation exerts in this direction, nor does it need to be troubled by the charge that may be levelled against it to the effect that it is engaged in politics. In such circumstances the church must be prepared to pay the price for its faithful witness to the political implications of the message committed to it (256).

The question remains: how is the church to proclaim the counsel of God as it bears upon civil affairs? It is obvious that there are two means, in particular, of proclaiming the Word of God, namely, the pulpit and the press. The church lives in the world and it lives within the domain of political entities. If it is to be faithful to its commission it must make its voice heard and felt in reference to public questions. The church may not supinely stand aside and ignore political corruption, for example, on the ground that to pronounce judgment on such issues is to intermeddle in politics. Political corruption is sin, it is public sin, and the church denies its vocation if it does not reprove it. When there is political revolution which contravenes the principles of God’s Word and is directed against the kingdom of God, the church may not be an idle spectator on the round that the powers that be are ordained of God. It must assess the revolution for what it is in the light of the Word of God and proclaim in pulpit and press what the judgment of the Word of God is. If political revolution is right; if it displaces usurpation and tyranny, and is in the interests of equity, the church may not refrain from expressing by like media the favourable judgment which the principles of the Word of God dictate (257).

– John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray 1: The Claims of Truth (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), 256, 257.

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David Dykstra on Church & State (and Isaac Backus on Romans 13)

Reformed Baptist pastor David Dykstra’s series on Church & State is worth listening to, particularly the historic overviews of the reformation and American eras.

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 1

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 01/12/2003

580+ | 37 min

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 2

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 01/19/2003

1,020+ | 39 min

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 3

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 01/26/2003

480+ | 48 min

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 4

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 02/02/2003

320+ | 36 min

 

In Part 4, Dykstra explains that Romans 13 describes how Christians should relate to a government that is doing its job. It does not say how Christians should relate to a government that has become tyrannical. He quotes from Isaac Backus’ diary explaining how he preached in the time leading up to the American Revolution (April 23, 1775 – Backus was a prominent New England baptist pastor who testified before the Continental Congress and other political bodies lobbying for religious liberty. Scholars note he has a place beside Jefferson in the shaping of America).

“I noted that in Romans 13, the powers that be were required to submit to were ministers of God to the people for good.”

Backus would argue that Romans 13 could not be pressed into service by tyrants for use. He’s saying this passage only deals with a situation where a Christian is under a government that for the most part is doing a decent job of rewarding good and punishing evil. It does not give us specific directions as to what to do in those situations where a government, instead of rewarding good and punishing evil, rewards evil and punishes good. You see his point? He was saying that’s the kind of government the New Testament requires us to submit to, not to governments that are tyrannical!

But yet, over the centuries, tyrants made use of this passage of Scripture in Romans 13 to brow-beat people into submission. Tyrannical husbands have made use of Romans 13 to brow-beat wives into submission. Tyrannical parents have made use of Romans 13 to brow-beat children into submission. Tyrannical elders of churches have made use of Romans 13 to brow-beat their people into submission. But none of these passages deal with that specific problem as to what to do when you live under an authority is tyrannical. And the essence of a tyrannical authority is an authority who says “I am not subject to law.”

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, this was not eisegesis on the part of an American Revolutionary. It was the historic reformed interpretation of the passage. But if that’s not what Romans 13 is addressing, then what is it addressing?

Why was it necessary to say to the Christian people at the time, “Listen, be obedient citizens. Obey the laws of the state. Be exemplary in how you live.” Why did they have to write that way?

  1. Jewish leaders in Paul’s day rebelled against the very notion they were subject to Rome and that they were not free… John 8:31-33…
  2. Jewish leaders questioned Rome’s right to tax them. Matt 22:15-17…
  3. Some Jewish leaders had risen up in rebellion against Rome. Acts 5:34-37… Here were Jews that rose up in rebellion against Rome. Here were leaders that rebellion – official, organized rebellion against Rome. This is one of the reasons Paul had to write as he did to the Christians. You are not to live that way. You are to be God’s different people in your life in the world. Israel was a difficult province for Rome to rule. Armed conflict was a fact of life between Roman forces and the Jewish zealots, predictably. Remember how in Luke 13:1… Barabbas…

So there were reasons for Paul to write as he did, for Peter to write as he did, because these were difficult times. The danger posed to the church was this – and I think you can appreciate it with just a little bit of thought – that Rome might not be able to discern between Jews and Jewish Christians at this early date. And Paul and the other Apostles wanted Christians to be exemplary in their conduct in relation to Roman authority… Matthew 5:41

In other words, these words of Paul and Peter arose from the fact that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, unlike the earthly kingdom of Israel. God’s direct reign as the king over the kingdom of Israel, sitting on his thrown in the temple (see here) meant that any foreign ruler was a usurper who had no authority over Israel. That’s why the history of Israel is God raising up men to overthrow foreign rulers again and again and again. It was called “salvation” (1 Sam. 11:13; 1 Chron 16:35; 2 Chron 20:17). Not so with the kingdom of Christ, which was inward, spiritual, and not of this world. Paul’s point is that earthly, unbelieving rulers still have authority over Christians, insofar as they rule lawfully (as Paul explains).

Starting with John the Baptist and continuing throughout Jesus’ ministry, the Jews were warned of the coming end of the Old Covenant when God would pour out the full wrath of the covenant on those who had broken it. The only refuge was to flee to Jesus, as Jesus explained in John 15:1-6 (a passage about Old Covenant curse, not about church membership). This looming judgment was still imminent when Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans (56-57AD – note, this was before Nero began persecuting Christians, thus Paul is not addressing that. In Part 5, Dykstra notes “At the time, it was still good government. 30 years from the time he wrote this, no New Testament writer would have been able to write this way. In 30 years from when this letter was written, the good government that was Rome would be the evil beast rising from the earth and the sea of Revelation 13 and Revelation 13 becomes almost the mirror image of Romans 13.”). Paul wrote to Jewish and Gentile Christians living in the capital city. Things were heating up between Jews and Rome and Paul wrote to clarify how Christians in the New Covenant should relate to Roman authority.

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD -- a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).
The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD — a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).

Luke 21:20-22 “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that the time of your judgment has come.” And what are you, as my people, supposed to do at that time when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies? You are to flee into the mountains. Do not become a part of this Jewish rebellion. Don’t get involved in this insurrection, this rebellion against Rome. Don’t go even back into the city. When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, don’t take part in that. You get out. And thankfully Christians did. And in the Jewish war of rebellion that began in 66AD and was utterly and finally squashed by Rome in 70AD, the Christians were spared because they listened to their Lord.

[I would not necessarily agree with Dykstra’s concluding applications in Part 4, nor the points in Parts 5-8.]

 

Dykstra also has a more recent two-part series on rebellion.

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