Monday, April 11, 2016

Theonomy vs. Contemporary Christian Legal Norms

Using the Bible to define what laws are just and unjust can lead to a number of conflicts with contemporary legal systems and even legal systems favored by Christians today.  This post will mention two that I think are more controversial but under mentioned:

1) No Inchoate Crimes

The general rule of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is a principle of retributive justice.  In a case where a person attempts to knock out your tooth but misses (and doesn't harm you), there is no punishment in this system.  The same goes for attempted murder.  The principle is "he who sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" rather than "he who tries to shed man's blood ... ."

2) No Conspiracy, Solicitation Crimes

Also, there is no provision in the Bible for punishment of people who merely plot a crime or pay someone else to commit a crime.  Asking someone to kill someone else for you was not itself a crime.

There was one exception.  It was a crime to solicit apostasy (see Deuteronomy 13).

In both of the above examples, contemporary Christians are comfortable with punishing people both for inchoate crimes, like "attempted murder," and for distant participation in crimes, like "soliciting murder."  There are at least two good explanations for this: both of those activities are sinful (and heinously so) and they grew up in a place where those sinful activities are criminal.



Daniel said...

Is the theonomist committed to the idea that every case of morally justified legal punishment is to be found in Scripture? (It's one thing to say that, e.g., Mosaic penal law is normative, another that it's exhaustive.) If not, might this dispel some of the apparent conflict? For example, even if Scripture contains no penalty for hiring someone to murder, it wouldn't imply that it forbids such penalties.

Tim H said...

TFan, this is a most excellent contribution, and I hope it stimulates wide-spread reflection in the church.
1. The specific "regulative principle of law" (RPL) form of theonomy was promulgated early by Gary North, since it dove-tailed nicely with his libertarianism. But was that perhaps a false start?
2. Some sort of hermeneutic nevertheless seems to be necessary even in the RPL model. For example, they invariably cite pool fences as a modern application of the fence-around-the-roof ordinance. But there are several premises needed to get there which are not supplied by the text.
3. But if a sort of common-sense reasoning is necessary or permitted, should we not suppose that such was also the case in the old covenant? Perhaps if a suspect blurted out "I didn't kill him, I paid Hymie to kill him," so far from letting him off the hook, the jury would have taken that as an immediate admission of the crime. In other words, the force of the verb "to slay" does not NECESSARILY mean "physically have the implement in hand," or does it? Dictionary definitions do not necessarily settle such questions.
4. Compare this to Hegel's project in Rechtsphilosophie, where (purportedly) "without foundations," he deduces private property, the corporatization of society, a police force, the need for a personal head of state, and so forth. There does seem to be an immanent-aspect to ethical reasoning, whereby contexts and allowed/required states of affairs can legitimately be argued for, though falling short of strict syllogistic deduction.