Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Death Penalty for Idolatry?

Lane Keister, at GreenBaggins has posed a question:
I know that I have at least two theonomists who regularly read my blog, and so this is a question addressed to them. The sin of idolatry, in the Old Testament, was punishable by death. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Hindus, and many other religions practice idolatry. One can even make the case that Muslims and Jews are idolaters, since they do not worship Jesus Christ as God.

America was founded on a principle of liberty of religion. The issues get complicated in a hurry, of course, but my question is this: if Christian Reconstruction were to win out in America, does that mean that the members of these other religions should be executed? Or is the principle of death for idolatry changed in the NT, according to theonomists?
I answer:
a) I'm not sure if Lane had me in mind - in fact I wouldn't flatter myself to suppose he had thought of me. Nevertheless, since I self-identify as a theonomist, and since I regularly read his blog, I'll take up his question.
b) Lane states, "The sin of idolatry, in the Old Testament, was punishable by death." I had previously (link) discussed the issue of how we know justice. Also, I had previously (link) addressed the issue of what crimes in the Old Testament were subject to capital punishment. I didn't come across the death sentence for idolatry, as such. I wonder if Lane could point me to it.
c) Lane states, "Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Hindus, and many other religions practice idolatry." In order to discover whether this is the case, we'd need to see the specific prohibition on idolatry accompanied by the death penalty that Lane has found. Once we see it, we can confirm or deny this claim. I was a bit surprised that Lane omitted Romanists from his list, but perhaps it was just an oversight.
d) Lane states, "One can even make the case that Muslims and Jews are idolaters, since they do not worship Jesus Christ as God." Muslims and at least traditional Jews are (like Christians) aniconic in their religion: they do not make graven images or likenesses of their god. Thus, they would not be guilty of idolatry within the proper sense of the term. However, perhaps the passage Lane has in mind that prescribes death for idolatry uses the broad sense.
e) Lane states, "America was founded on a principle of liberty of religion." No, it wasn't. Rhode Island was, but not "America." I'm not sure it makes a world of difference, though, to the theonomic question.
f) Lane asks, "The issues get complicated in a hurry, of course, but my question is this: if Christian Reconstruction were to win out in America, does that mean that the members of these other religions should be executed?" Of course, while I consider myself a theonomist, I don't consider myself a reconstructionist. The answer, unless there is Biblical mandate that I have overlooked, would be no. There was a special genocidal command to the Israelites to destroy the nations of Canaan, but that was (i) a specific judgment on the Canaanites and (ii) a means to fulfilling a land promise to Abraham that is fulfilled for us in heaven. If that is all Lane has in mind, then the answer would be a resounding, "no."
g) Lane asks, "Or is the principle of death for idolatry changed in the NT, according to theonomists?" I guess this would depend on the specific command, which apparently I have overlooked. Once Lane points it out, I'll update.

-TurretinFan

3 comments:

luvvom said...

I guess I don't know what theonomy is. What is it in a nut shell?

Turretinfan said...

Luvvom,

That is a tough question. The problem is that theonomy has a lot of different connotations to a lot of different people. The word derives from the Greek words for "God's Law."

Generally speaking, theonomists tend to be people who see value in considering the underlying moral principles of justice set forth in the national laws for Israel. This seems to be the clear teaching of the Westminster standards on the issue.

The problem is, some theonomists would want to go much further and simply impose all the laws of the old testament (except, I suppose, those specifically related to temple worship) on Christians.

I'm certainly not in that latter camp.

-TurretinFan

Gordan Runyan said...

My definition of my own theonomy is related specifically to how we are to approach the Law of God:

We are obligated to obey the commands until the Lawgiver Himself releases us from that obligation.

(In distinction from Dispensationalism and/or New Covenant Theology, whose thumbrule is more like: We are under no obligation to the old Law and its commands unless those commands are repeated in the New Testament.)

Of course, the rub is always the civil law, the casuitry of the Old Testament, and how to apply it. On that point, I agree with you, TF, that it's about adopting the underlying principle of righteousness, and not about cutting-and-pasting an agragrian, Jewish code into modern American law (which is the slanderous straw man that is most often made of theonomy...)