Theonomy and Women Breaking Up Fights

Here is another difficulty with theonomy.   Maybe it’s not with theonomy the idea, but it does invite young theonomists to reflect more deeply on what they are actually saying.  Here is Deuteronomy 25:11

“When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, 12then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.

There are several problems here if we take it at face value and apply it to a modern Western law code:

  1. Just think about it:  how likely is something like this ever going to happen?   I am a school teacher and I break up fights all the time.   It’s not that easy to get between two people in a fight (and I’ve been hit before, though I was so pumped up with adrenaline I didn’t feel it).
  2. If two guys are moving rapidly and throwing punches, how likely is it that a woman is going to go low and grab the private parts of the other guy?
  3. And would you really apply this?  If a bad guy broke into your home and the wife was able to help out by “disabling” him (and for the sake of argument, save your life), are you really going to reward her by cutting off her hand?  Really?

Someone could say, “Well, that applies to the Mosaic covenant when it was important to provide an heir.”  Maybe.  The text doesn’t say anything about that, so it’s just ad hoc and speculation.  There is still the justice of the matter, covenant heir or no.

And then there is the equity of the matter.   Well before that:  is this law moral or civil/judicial?   It’s obviously judicial since there is a penalty attached to it.   So what’s the equity for today for theonomists?  Remember, on the theonomic gloss the “judicial law abides in exhaustive detail.”    The Reformed Confessionalist does not have this problem.   The Confession only says “allows” the equity and no more.  Which is a nice way of saying that this law would never be applied.  The theonomist has to apply the law.

Good luck with that.


8 comments on “Theonomy and Women Breaking Up Fights

  1. Angela Wittman says:

    I think it’s safe to say I won’t be jumping in any fights. 🙂

  2. Benjamin P. Glaser says:

    We’ve been reading through Deuteronomy in evening worship and I just spoke on this passage. Matthew Henry’s commentary is pretty interesting in the ways he tries to basically “skip” over applying this verse, going in a “modesty” angle on this passage.

    • I have some tentative conclusions on this passage. Long story short, much of Torah is prophecy, which is another reason it defies easy categorication. I am still working on my conclusion.

  3. Yaakov says:

    So you have a problem with God’s Law?

    Of His Law God says it is perfect, holy, just. Maybe He doesn’t know what He’s talking about?

    Or is the problem with your/our understanding?

    I have seen this tendency among mankind that, if there is something in the Bible that is not readily apparent, there is doubt cast not upon our understanding but rather on God’s Word.

    • You are right. I secretly hate God’s law.

      This is why I think modern theonomy is an intellectual dead-end. Whenever people who truly love Torah suggest to theonomists alternative models for understanding a text, the theonomist’s have the patent reply: “You just hate God’s law.”

      My point in these posts was that Moses didn’t intent the Torah to be read as a late Western law code. Can aspects of it function that way? Sure.

  4. Colin says:

    Jacob, you just said that this Deuteronomy law in question was a “judicial law”, so then how does point #3 make any sense if you say that the husband is personally going to “reward” her by cutting off his wife’s hand? If this really were a judicial law, it would not be enforced by the husband himself, but by the state who alone is the bearer of the sword of justice.

    Secondly, Theonomy has never taught that the “judicial law abides in exhaustive detail”. Theonomists, including the late Dr. Bahnsen, are reformed confessionalists, and have always agreed with WCF on the general equity limits of the judicial law.

    Thirdly, to assert that Theonomy is an “intellectual dead-end” is to equally assert that the Westminster Confession’s view of the law is an “intellectual dead-end”. Since the WCF and Theonomy both stand or fall together. They are not opposed to each other.

    Lastly, If this law in Deut. 25:11 is really part of the continuing moral law (as many OT judicial laws are), then who are we to disagree with its modern civil application? The problem then is not with “Theonomy”, but with us. But if it can be exegetically shown that its not part the abiding moral law, and thus not to be applied today, then Theonomy has no problem with that conclusion either.

    The central point being is that we must not come to any OT law with a presumption of its abrogation, but rather one of presumption of its continuing moral obligation, unless we find NT warrant to do otherwise. IOW only God has the right and authority to overturn or modify this law and any other OT law and not us.

    And even if all Theonomic writers were incorrect with their interpretation of Deut 25:11 (whether abrogated or continuing), it would not refute the central point of Theonomy as stated previously.

    • 1. The husband isn’t cutting off her hand. The magistrate presumably is. The husband is obligated to report her (or so seems the text).
      2. Anyway, I don’t approach Torah with the primary intent of asking, “Is this continuity or abrogation?” Torah isn’t just law. It’s story, song, and prophecy. No serious modern law code includes story, song, and prophecy. That should make us pause and ask, “What else is going on here?”

      3. “Since the WCF and Theonomy both stand or fall together” WCF includes “equity,” which is a natural law concept by definition. That doesn’t refute theonomy, but they need to read their sources better.

      You wrote,

      Secondly, Theonomy has never taught that the “judicial law abides in exhaustive detail”

      Bahnsen begins his book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, with a 50 page discussion of Mt. 5:17-19 which he entitles, “The Abiding Validity of the Law in Exhaustive Detail.

      • Colin says:

        1. Jacob, about point 1, you might consult Rushdoony’s Institutes Vol. 1., pp.189-190 regarding Deut 25:11. After all, if you’re going to assert a scripture passage against Theonomy, at least address what some of them actually say about it and then interact with that. Just a suggestion.

        2. i think almost every Theonomic book on the Torah asks that very same question as you do. E.g. Why else would Gary North write a 1200 page exposition on Exo..21-23? And Rushdoony’s Institutes is a 700 exposition of the decalogue itself. And its only volume 1 of 3.

        3. Since “natural law” equity in the WCF and revealed moral law are the same thing, then this is not an issue with Theonomy. Which is why most Theonomists gladly adhere to the WCF.

        4. Greg Bahnsen never specifically discusses the “judicial law” in that “Exhaustive detail” chapter you are referring. He does refer to the “penal sanctions in the following chapter, but doesn’t really expound them until chapter 21. The expression, “exhaustive detail” is simply Bahnsen’s way of referring to the “jots and titles” of the whole unqualified OT law in Matt 5:18, which also includes the ceremonial law, which like the judicial law, was yet to be qualified by further NT revelation.

        Here is how Dr. Bahnsen addressed it:

        The appropriateness of theonomists summarizing or generalizing their thesis that the entire law continues to be binding in the New Covenant, yet not immediately adding the qualifications, is nowhere more strikingly obvious and grandly sanctified than in the words of our Lord Jesus Himself. He is the one who categorically asserted the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail, without at that point explaining the presumptive sense of His words or the exceptions to the generalization given. (To gain the fuller interpretation, we must go to other texts.)

        In Defense of Theonomy Counsel of Chalcedon magazine July-Aug 1992

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