Somehow I managed to get through seminary without ever hearing the term “theonomy.” I don’t think I ever sat through a serious lecture or discussion on biblical law and how it applies to civil authorities, the church, the family, and the individual. Since seminary I’ve been introduced to theonomy and one of its proponents, Greg Bahnsen. I came across this article today by Bahnsen which is a good introduction to theonomy and why it is helpful for thinking through how the Law applies to us today.
So what do we do with biblical law? Are all laws still applicable? Are any still applicable? I’ve been taught the only parts of the law still applicable are those repeated in the New Testament, which is the opposite of how we should think. Greg Bahnsen explains:
Theonomy thus teaches that we should presume that Old Testament laws continue to be morally binding in the New Testament unless they are rescinded or modified by further revelation. Theonomy’s methodology stands squarely against that of dispensational theology which maintains that all of the Old Testament commandments should be deemed — in advance of exegesis — to be abrogated, unless they are repeated in the New Testament.
One of the strengths of theonomy, in my opinion, is that it recognizes the wisdom found in the Law, especially for civil government. Bahnsen writes, “So theonomy teaches that civil rulers are morally obligated to enforce those laws of Christ, found throughout the Scriptures, which are addressed to magistrates (as well as to refrain from coercion in areas where God has not prescribed their intervention).” Bahnsen provides, in this short article, plenty of support for his viewpoint from the New Testament. Bahnsen writes, “The Apostle Paul affirmed that one of the uses of the Old Testament law which we know to be good is the restraint of criminal behavior (1 Tim. 1:8-10). Jesus endorsed the penal sanctions of the Old Testament law, condemning those who would make them void by their own human traditions (Matt. 15:3-4).”
Finally, I’ll close with this prophetic quote for those opposed to theonomy:
Those who do not favor taking God’s law as the ultimate standard for civil morality and public justice will be forced to substitute some other criterion. The civil magistrate cannot function without some standard of good and evil. If that standard is not the revealed law of God, then in some form or expression it will have to be a law of men — the standard of self-law or autonomy. Men must choose in their civil affairs to be governed by God’s law (theonomy), to be ruled by tyrants, or acquiesce to increasing social degeneracy.
Here’s the link to the full article: