Re: Shapes of a Wedge

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Jun 08 2004 - 10:27:21 EDT

Dennis -
        I'm going to abbreviate in the following so that it doesn't get too
unwieldy. If you wish you can have the last word on most of it but I
reserve the right to respond if you want to continue on the papacy.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Innovatia" <>
To: "ASA Listserver" <>
Sent: Friday, June 04, 2004 2:01 PM
Subject: Re: Shapes of a Wedge


> I have given you (and Dave) the impression that I am arguing for
> strict adherence to the letter of the OT law. As I have been trying
> to convey, I am making a somewhat different argument, namely that, in
> view of the NT treatment of the law, American Christians have tended
> to discount its applicability to church-state doctrine. I agree that
> obedience to the letter of the law ("torah") is not the same as
> retaining the validity of its intent. But in discounting the former,
> the latter is often not distinguished from it, and is also
> discounted. Hence my emphasis upon retaining the law, but not in the
> manner attributed to me.
> I recognize that the value of the law to us is in its intent, and
> that includes the intent of Deut. 4:2 as a general principle about
> law itself. By upholding the intent of the law, it is possible to
> claim a biblical basis for one's moral conclusions for today. I am
> not intending to argue that most of OT law can be applied verbatim.
> That misses the larger point.
> To disregard the law's intent is what I take to be subtracting from
> the law. My concern about adding to the law is that legislators,
> making laws, are engaged in an exercise that is a form of original
> sin. When Adam determined to know good and evil for himself (i.e.,
> make up his own laws), he commited the mother of all sins. Case law
> is different in principle than legislative law because the former
> acknowledges the authority of an existing body of law from which to
> interpret for particular cases, while the latter leaves it up to
> humanity (legislators, kings, the people) to determine right and
> wrong for themselves. This is how I understand Deut. 4:2, not in the
> sense that the letter of the torah must be followed as such today.

        I think your position would be much clearer if you would simply drop
the appeal to Dt.4:2. I agree that we should focus on the intent of torah
regulations rather than the letter of the law but that's not what "You must
neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it"
means. That means that when the law says you don't do any work on the
Sabbath, you just don't do any work on the Sabbath, period.

        But OK, what is the intent of the law? The 1st Commandment, which
is the basis of the rest, says that we are to have no other God's than YHWH.
All the cultic regulations that provide details about how YHWH is to be
worshipped may perhaps be dispensed with, but surely the intent of the law
must include having YHWH as our only God.

        & of course Babylon & Rome - in my examples below - didn't. Their
laws would have to be judged to have taken something essential from the
intent of the law, which doesn't just say (as some people imagine the 1st
Commandment to read) "You shall have some god." They didn't forbid the
worship of YHWH, but of course did not give it preeminence, as the 1st
Commandment requires. Nevertheless, Jeremiah could tell Jews to live
peaceably in pagan Babylon & Peter & Paul
could tell Christians to be obedient to the pagan emperor of pagan Rome.

        So maybe we'd better focus on the 2d table of the law. This gets us
closer to a realistic view. Honor parents, don't kill, commit adultery,
steal, bear false witness, covet. Interpreted quite broadly, this describes
the kinds of things the state should do - but one does have to interpret the
laws quite broadly, as Luther, e.g., does in the Small Catechism. "Honor
your father and mother" includes obedience to all lawful authority, "Murder"
includes all kinds of harm to neighbor, &c. In some cases their are pointers
to such expanded meanings in the Bible & in some cases there aren't.

        Furthermore, the state can only deal with external obedience to the
law. Jesus said that the command against murder included being angry with a
brother or sister, but the state can't (unless we get into 1984's category
of thoughtcrime) regulate that.

        At this level of external obedience to the 2d table there is really
nothing distinctively Judaeo-Christian about the law. Most societies have
such laws, & I think it can be argued _have_ to have them if they're going
to survive. How far one wants to try to explain that in terms of a "natural
law" concept is another matter.

        & there may come a point at which a state so blatantly violates
these laws that resistance becomes appropriate. But that is not likely to
be a point at which any distinctrively biblical laws come into play. Plenty
of people outside the Judaeo-Christian tradition would agree with Bonhoeffer
that the 3d Reich was so clearly in violation of "You shall not murder" that
it had to be resisted.

> No ruler is consistently good or bad, so the authorities P & P speak
> of must be identified in their individual acts/laws. That means we
> are to submit to Caesar when he upholds what is (biblically) good,
> and disobey him when he violates God's law (or NT morality, if you
> prefer to call it that). I see no other way to arrive at a consistent
> position. Paul says submit to good rule, yet he was executed by the
> Roman state for a capital offense against it. Was he inconsistent? I
> don't think so. He didn't submit to bad rule.

        I've commented on this above. As to Paul's situation, we know
nothing about whatever Roman capital charges that were brought against him.
If indeed he was killed as part of Nero's persecution his "crime" may simply
have been being a Christian. Similarly, the "capital crime" that Jews in
Nazi Germany committed was simply being Jews.

> > 1st, Paul's opponents in Galatia were not trying to replace faith
> > Christ with obedience to torah.
> They appeared to be in danger of it; hence the letter: Galatians 1:6 (ESV)
> I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called
> you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-

        No, the heresy to which the Galatians were tempted was what Lewis, I
think, called "Christ and ...". I.e., you've got to believe in Jesus
Christ - _and_ do some other things.

> It might be best to defer this strand of discussion on early church
> practices, which might involve a forerunner of the papacy, a
> contemporary of Justin in Rome, Simon Magus. I would agree that many
> early churches met on both Saturday and Sunday, but more on Saturday
> if the Church of the East and the "barbarians" are included.
> > Furthermore, one
> > doesn't show that some practice is in error simply by attributing it to
> > papacy, which for all its mistakes has often exercised its authority
> > good - cf.. Chalcedon.
> Of course. But it appears to have originated in the gnostic
> influences of the generic papacy - a possibly different discussion.

        I don't know where you're getting these strange ideas about the
papacy and I wish you'd drop them.. There is no remote justification for
saying that Simon Magus was a "forerunner of the papacy." What in the world
is the "generic papacy"? I am not a Roman Catholic and can certainly find
things to criticize in Roman Catholic theology & practice, but the kind of
comments you're making about the papacy are neither true nor helpful.


> The tax issue is not as simple as it appears, though your point as it
> stands is well taken. Paul in Rom. 13: 7 says: "... If you owe taxes,
> pay taxes; ..." One consideration is whether taxes are biblically
> owed. Paul at the same time urges Christians to be as free of such
> obligations as is possible (v 8). For U.S. taxation, the matter is
> complicated to the point where I will only refer those interested to
> XLM or off-list discussion. It is not without good reason that in
> recent years, Congress has considered abolishing the federal income
> tax.

        What are "biblically owed" taxes within the context of the broad
intent of the law in the 2d table? The only reasonable sense in which one
might say that a tax is _not_ "biblically owed" is if it is going for a
clearly immoral purpose. It's on such grounds that some people have tried
to withhold payment of income taxes that go to support the military. But
other than that the Bible tells us nothing about whether or not the US
should have an income tax.

> > > I agree that we have a certain freedom in regard to OT law in that
> > gives
> > > us a role in adjudicating it, and that of course includes its
> > > interpretation. My concern is that I see AmXny largely doing what the
> > > of Nine in DC do - legislate from the bench, as it were.
> >
> > It seems to me that even though you claim to be neither adding
to or
> > subtracting from biblical law, you are in fact interpreting it in a way
> > rather like the way the Warren Court sometimes interpreted the

> >> The law of stoning
> > > bad youth actually has some stiff legal requirements - not a casual
> > > undertaking. If such an event were to occur today, I suspect that the
> > spirit
> > > of lawlessness grown up between generations would not be nearly as
> > > pronounced as it is. Why did God give this law, anyway, if not to aid
> > > preserving society? I'm not saying parents necessarily should do this
> > today,
> > > but I wouldn't discard it simply because it bothers my 21st-century
> > > conditioning.
> >
> > What "stiff legal requirements"? Dt.21:18-21 says that if a son is
> > stubborn & rebellious & won't obey his parents they should take him to
> > elders of the city, tell them that he's stubborn & rebellious &
> > & they shall stone him to death. It's pretty simply. And it's not
> > optional. So if you really take Dt.4:2 seriously you _should_ say that
> > parents necessarily should do this today.
> First, both parents must agree. (That's not always so simple!)
> Instead of stoning him immediately, they must do it publicly and
> before the city leaders, which means that they are not going to be
> inclined to do this on an emotional whim if they want to keep their
> social standing. Social pressure is involved. Furthermore, if their
> judgment is faulty, the city leaders have a chance to talk them out
> of it (though the parents retain the authority in the matter).
> Finally, they must be the executioners of their own son. Under these
> conditions, I doubt that this happened very often, only in clear-cut
> cases. I can't recall any instances of it in OT history.
> Parents should have this kind of authority. In America, they do have
> it in a perverted sense, as abortion rights. Even if it were not
> exercised but only known in families that it could be, it would have
> a profound effect on how rebellious children related to their parents.

I really can't take this seriously. Trust me, "I can have you stoned" is
not a good way to deal with teenagers.

> Parents should have the authority to do this today, but they don't
> because they don't live under biblical govt, unlike the situation in
> ancient Israel. Deut 4:2 as a legal principle applies in that we
> would be motivated to not disregard the rebellious-child law. (Again,
> I'm not ignoring the fact that in the light of the NT, how the intent
> of this OT law is implemented need not be exactly the same.) One of
> the consequences of govt suppression of biblical law is that
> Christians cannot live as they could under biblical govt - hence the
> desire for biblical govt. (How it is achieved is a different
> discussion.)
> An example somewhat like this that is operative today is child
> discipline by spanking. Proverbs explicitly condones it. Yet the
> state govts take children away from Christian parents because of it.
> Xn parents are faced with the choice of raising their children under
> their authority as they see fit or else having them taken from them
> by the state. It's a lose-lose situation for them and the parents
> cannot be as righteous (assuming you agree with spanking) as they
> otherwise could be under a less evil govt.

        You're trying to have it both ways. You said that you're not
talking about the letter of torah but its intent, but now you're back to the
letter of Dt.21:18-21 when you say that "parents should have the authority
to do this today."

        I don't think that spanking ahould be outlawed. Not all corporal
punishment should be considered abusive in a legal sense, but there is a
great deal of genuine abuse - ranging all the way up to murder - of children
which in no legitimate sense can be considered disciplinary. The state has
a proper role in preventing &/or punishing such abuse. Precisely where to
draw the line is a judgment call, & one about which the intent of torah
doesn't help us much.
Received on Tue Jun 8 10:41:56 2004

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