1) Limited Agreement on the Church-State Distinction
I agree that the church and state are not one and the same thing in the New Testament.
a) However, I should note that Mr. Keister (because of his Redemptive-Historical framework) has failed to notice that church and state were not one and the same thing in the Old Testament. A redemptive-historical approach is so focused on the earthly ministry of Christ that it tends to lose sight of the original context of Old Testament passages. While there are redemptive-historical themes and a significant amount of typology in Scripture, we must never permit these themes to prevent us from understanding the literal sense of Scripture.
b) Additionally, I should note that Mr. Keister has failed to notice that even in the New Testament the civil government (whether that be king, governor, or whatever) is considered a "minister of God" (just as in the Old Testament, see Exodus 24:13 and Romans 13:4). In fairness, Mr. Keister does mention Romans 13 (and even mentions that the magistrate is ordained by God), but argues that there is nothing in Romans 13 that cannot be argued on the basis of natural law, which brings us to the second point of limited agreement.
2) Limited Agreement on the Natural Law
I agree that God has provided information about himself through the created order and especially through the conscience, which we can refer to as "Natural Law" and that we must not go contrary to Natural Law any more than to any other divine revelation.
a) However, Mr. Keister overlooks that the Natural Law is necessarily universally applicable. That is to say, God's revelation of himself through Nature and Conscience was also applicable to Old Testament Israel.
b) Additionally, Mr. Keister overlooks that the Natural Law tends not to be propositional. Thus, for example, Natural Law can tell us that crime must be punished, but it may not be able to tell us whether theft should be a capital offense. This actually brings us to a point of disagreement with Mr. Keister.
3) Mr. Keister's Arguments Against Capital Punishment for Violation of Second-Table Commandments are Unsupported and Unsupportable Either from Scripture or Natural Law
Mr. Keister states:
However, it is not the civil magistrate’s job to execute a boy for cursing his parents (as was true in the Old Testament civil laws). It is the church’s job to instruct and to exercise church discipline.There are two problems with this claim:
a) Mr. Keister is arguing for church discipline to handle the affairs of civil government. Although he doubtless does not intend to do so, Mr. Keister is violating the two-kingdoms principle that civil affairs are within the authority of the civil magistrate: attempting to take this away from the civil magistrate and give it to the church. However, the church is not charged with punishing crime: that is not within its sphere of authority.
b) The issue of insubordination of children to parents is an issue of civil law, as is recognized by the Old Testament and in the Natural Law. The Old Testament explicitly ordains the death penalty for cursers of parents and places it, contextually in this list:
i) Regulation of Slavery (Exodus 21:1-11);
ii) Capital Punishment for Premeditated Murder and Relief for Accidental Homicide (Exodus 21:12-14);
iii) Capital Punishment for Battery of Parents (Exodus 21:15);
iv) Capital Punishment for Kidnap (Exodus 21:16);
v) Capital Punishment for Cursing of Parents (Exodus 21:17);
vi) Restitution for Battery (Exodus 21:18-19);
vii) Application of (ii) and (vi) in the case of slaves (Exodus 21:20-21);
viii) Punishment for Battery of Pregnant Woman (Exodus 21:22-25);
ix) Further application of (vi) in the case of slaves (Exodus 21:26-27);
x) Punishment of Homicide by Chattels (Exodus 21:28-32);
xi) Punishment for Damage to Chattels by Pit-digging (Exodus 21:33-34); and
xii) Punishment for Damage of Chattels on Chattels (Exodus 21:35-46).
Within that context it should be fairly clear that cursing one's parents is part of the civil code of Israel, and it is the responsibility of the civil magistrate (the "judges" mentioned, for example, in Exodus 21:6) to address these issues. It is not a matter governed through the church (i.e. through the priests) and it is not a matter connected with the ceremonial law or with an issue unique to the nation of Israel (as, for example, the land of Canaan).
c) It is worth noting that, in this instance, Mr. Keister has gone beyond even many fairly radical non-theonomists in suggesting that a second table offense should not be governed by the civil government.
d) Mr. Keister does not provide any real argument from the Natural Law in support of his contention that the Natural Law does not suggest such a penalty. On the contrary, Natural Law teaches that men must obey their parents, that parents deserve a special dignity, and that the greater the dignity of the offended party the worse the punishment should be on the offender. In short, while someone might argue that the specific punishment of death for cursers of parents cannot be gleaned from the Natural Law (given the inspecific nature of Natural Law), nevertheless the Old Testament civil law provides an example well within the bounds of Natural Law and fully consistent with it and certainly Mr. Keister's opinion that death penalty is inappropriate cannot be supported by natural law, even if the natural law does not clearly require such a penalty.
4) Mr. Keister's Situation-Specific Dismissal Is Too Unspecific
Mr. Keister asserted: "Now, the theonomist will probably reply that the civil law of Old Testament Israel is of a piece with and is the outworking of the moral law given in the Ten Commandments. True, it is. But it is an outworking of the Ten Commandments for a particular place and people." (emphasis in original)
I certainly agree that it was for a particular place and people. That's a very true statement, and yet it does not follow that therefore the civil law of Israel would not be a good law for other places or peoples. There's nothing in the Bible or in the Natural Law to suggest that the hearts of post-Pentecost men are less hard than the hearts of the Jews from the time of Moses to the time of Pentecost (or till A.D. 70 or whenever it is alleged that the civil law of Israel ceased to have effect by those who reject what they refer to as "theonomy"). Furthermore, the Bible does tell us that the civil laws of Israel were given good laws:
Nehemiah 9:13 Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:
In fact, they are set forth in Scripture as the paragon of all laws for governing nations:
Deuteronomy 4:8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
In principle, I agree that where the judgments are specific to Israel they are naturally not applicable to us - but judgments like those on honoring one's father and mother are not specific to Israel.
5) Mr. Keister Overstates His Point in Abandoning Old Testament Principles
Mr. Keister stated:
In other words, Jesus Christ is the apex of the trajectory of Old Testament Israel, and the church is in Christ. Therefore, it does not make sense to say that modern-day governments should run themselves according to principles that were given to Old Testament Israel as Old Testament Israel.Surely, Mr. Keister is right that Jesus Christ is the focal point of the Bible. It does not follow, however, that the good laws given to Old Testament Israel are not based on principles that must be followed by any government that wishes to follow the law of God.
Mr. Keister has plainly overstated his point here, since Mr. Keister acknowledges the role of Natural Law. Nevertheless, since God cannot be inconsistent with Himself, and since the Natural Law is a Creation ordinance (at the latest, upon the Fall and the obtaining of the knowledge of good and evil), therefore the "principles" of the civil law of Israel must be the same principles found in the Natural Law (otherwise the civil law of Israel would not be good laws).
6) Mr. Keister's Redemptive-Historical Framework Causes Him to Conflate Categories
We see a conflation of categories in Mr. Keister's comment:
And yet the principles in the New Testament for church government say nothing of the sword. Instead, the weapons are spiritual, for we fight not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual enemies. Ephesians 6, by the way, is one reason why I believe the application of Old Testament Israel’s holy wars draws a straight line to spiritual warfare today in the church.(emphasis in original, link omitted)
Mr. Keister is right in one way: the church (either of the Old or New Testament) was not entrusted with the sword. That's the duty of the civil magistrate - the king, governor, judges, etc. depending on the applicable form of government. On the other hand, in both the Old and New Testament the civil magistrate does bear the power of the sword (See Romans 13:4).
The roles and duties of the church and the state are different, just as the roles and duties of the parents and the state are different and the roles and duties of the parents and the church are different (although there are various overlaps at pints).
This leads me to the final point (prior to the conclusion).
7) Mr. Keister's Conflation Actually Undermines the Proper Two(or Five) Kingdoms Distinctives
Elsewhere I've discussed how there are not just two, but actually five, kingdoms (link). Each has its own proper sphere of authority, and the existence of one sphere of authority does not negate or invalidate the other spheres. Mr. Keister's emphasis on the duties of the church with respect to sin (i.e. church discipline) seem to suggest that because the church has some responsibilities with respect to sin "X" that therefore the civil government does not also, and in parallel, have responsibilities.
Specifically (so the argument seems to go), because the church is called on to excommunicate those who curse their parents, the civil government has no responsibility to put such villains to death. This flawed reasoning would seem to destroy the proper multiple kingdoms distinctives and cause the church to usurp the roles of the other spheres, especially the civil sphere.
Let me give some illustrative counter-examples.
Example 1: Man commits adultery, two witnesses observe this, and the offended wife brings the matter before the judges.
Reaction by State: It would be appropriate for the state to punish this man for his crime. I see no reason (notwithstanding the Pericope Adulterae) why that punishment must not be death.
Reaction by Church: Discipline, up to and perhaps including excommunication (upon following the appropriate protocols).
Reaction by the Adulterer's Father: Condemnation of his son's misdeed, and exhortation to repentance.
Reaction by the Adulterer's Spouse: In this case, the offense has destroyed this particular sphere of authority. Thus, the woman is not required to "submit" to the adultery, although she ought to seek to forgive this man who has sinned against her.
Reaction by the Adulterer's Employer: Condemnation of his employee's misdeed, and exhortation to repentance.
Example 2: Man (out of hate) kills someone who works for him, two witnesses observe, and the family of the deceased brings it before the judges.
Reaction by State: Death for the murderer.
Reaction by the Church: Discipline, up to and perhaps including excommunication (upon following the appropriate protocols).
Reaction by the Murderer's Father: Condemnation of his son's misdeed, and exhortation to Repentance.
Reaction by the Murderer's Spouse (if applicable): Exhortation to Repentance.
Reaction by the Murderer's Employees: Exhortation to repentance.
We could go on and on with other examples. The point of these examples would simply be to show that each sphere of authority generally can react to any given sin. That reaction may be different in one sphere of authority or another. Thus, the fact that the state is going to execute the death penalty for murder does not preclude the church from acting to discipline the man, perhaps even excommunicating him if the circumstances warrant. Likewise, a father need not remain silent when his son does something wrong, but can condemn him for his sin and exhort him to repentance.
In some spheres, the ability to exhort to repentance may be limited: for example, one may be able to exhort one's employer or husband to a godly life of repentance largely through example. Nevertheless, each violation of God's law should provoke the appropriate reaction from each of the sphere's of authority.
Accordingly, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Keister's contention regarding theonomy (in general - as opposed to a specific flavor of theonomy) being Biblically and/or Theologically Wrong. I must, of course, qualify that disagreement. If theonomy causes one to lose sight of the preeminent role of Jesus in the Bible, then theonomy (in that instance) is wrong. If one is so focused on the duties of the civil magistrate that one commits the opposite error from that identified above, and places all the responsibility for reacting to sin in the hands of the state, then that species of theonomy is wrong.
But a true, Biblical theonomy embraces the multiple (two, five, or however many) kingdoms and the ministers of each of those kingdoms: the father has his duties, as does the parent, the spouse, the employer/employee, the elder/deacon/layman, and the king/subject. One does not trump the other, and one does not usurp or supplant the other. The King must be honored, so must the master, the father, the husband, and the elder. Each is to be honored and obeyed and each has certain responsibilities. God has given these spheres of authority, and each should be governed according to the word and law of God, as revealed both in Nature and Conscience but also in Scripture.