Old Testament Law

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Just back from Houston, and had a time wading through the accumulated email. Just a few general comments, and then a few specific answers to the questions put to me by Steve.

First, in response to some general laments, I would be happy to agree to a cease fire (in this forum) on this issue. This means that this post will be my last in this particular imbroglio — unless someone else opens it all up again. What this cease fire amounts to is my cheerful agreement to stop defending myself against charges of racism when people stop recklessly making them.

Now, some answers to Steve’s questions. He said the paper reported me to have said that “slavery is not a sin if the slave owner treats the slaves humanely.” In my response in the same paper I said that the article had “accurately stated” my position. Steve wants to know if I believe that slavery is acceptable in such cases?

My position is that the slave trade was wicked and abominable. The institution of slavery generally as it was practiced in the South was sinful, both overall and in a number of particulars. Nevertheless, in that setting it was possible for a Christian individual to own a slave without sinning individually. Nevertheless, as he followed the instructions of the New Testament concerning his slave, he would find himself peacefully subverting an institution that need to be subverted because it was generally sinful. Had this been done more widely, slavery would have ended here in America the same way it was ended throughout the rest of the Western world — peacefully. The evangelicals who ended the slave trade in the British dominions (e.g. William Wilberforce) are rightly considered heroes of the Christian faith. The bloodthirsty scoundrels in our nation who wanted over 600,000 dead if that is what it took to achieve their revolutionary goals immediately are not.

Steve also wants to know if death and exile were the biblical punishments for homosexuality? And, he wonders further, if I think these punishments should be applied today? If so, when should each be used? He acknowledges that the Bible is clear about the death penalty (Lev.20:13), but wonders about where it says that homosexuals may be exiled?

In reply, I would note there are two civil punishments that are mentioned explicitly. Exile is found in 1 Kings 15:11-12 & 22:46. In another instance, King Josiah simply took away their privileged status in the cultus of Israel (2 Kings 23:7). For more on this see the answer to the next question.

Steve acknowledges that I say “we are not interested in burning people at the stake in Friendship square,” and asks whether I am opposed to burning people to death as form of punishment in all cases? “How about the situation described in Lev.20:14? Would Friendship Square be an appropriate place to carry out the punishment in that particular case?”

Yes, I would be opposed to that form of punishment today. But I do not think its application at that time under Lev. 20:14 was in any way unjust or wicked. In short form, the reason I would not want that kind of punishment today is that the system of biblical law is a case law system, the kind of system that inspired our common law system. It is designed to change in its applications, while the central principles of justice are assumed to remain constant. This can be plainly shown in the changes from the Mosaic code, to the law under Samuel, and then again under David. And the ultimate transformation of law of course came with Christ. The definition of sin does never changes, but other administrative issues surrounding it do change. I would be happy to develop this further off-line if anyone is really interested. But the brief answer is that when Christians worship on the first day of the week and eat bacon, they are not doing so because of their ignorance of the Old Testament. The flow of redemptive history is important in understanding the whole Bible, which is a glorious book — not disgusting at all. See the next point.

Steve thinks it would help if people could know our position on these issues. But he goes on to say that if we are “too embarrassed by some of the stuff in the Bible,” he understands. He says that “some things are just too disgusting to even try to defend.”

I understand the point he is trying to make. But what is really disgusting are those Christians who claim that the Bible is the Word of God and is verbally inspired, but who are then somehow intimidated by statements like these, and who back away from what the Bible plainly states and teaches. If the Scriptures are the Word of God, then we should accept them. If the Scriptures are not inspired, then we should not. It is really that simple. If Baal is god, serve him. If the Lord is God, then serve Him.


Douglas Wilson

Apologetics in the Void” are repostings from an on-going electronic discussion and debate I had some time ago with members of our local community, whose names I have changed. The list serve is called Vision 20/20, and hence the name “visionaries.” Reading just these posts probably feels like listening to one half of a phone conversation, but I don’t feel at liberty to publish what others have written. But I have been editing these posts (lightly) with intelligibility in mind.

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4 years ago

Douglas Wilson,

I am certainly late with this post… In fact, the time it was written I may have been standing at a full 3 foot 5 inches. Additionally, I am sure there has been further development since 2005. Maybe you could recommend an author or two (yourself potentially) that offers a faithful understanding of Old Testament Law and its application, while submitting to the text.

29 days ago

This is a letter to the editor of the Moscow/Pullman Daily News that I submitted today: In Doug Wilson’s response (Daily News, 20 Apr) to Nick Gier’s column, he referred to an article on his website entitled “Old Testament Law.”  I was surprised to see that it was a response to questions that I asked him nearly twenty years ago. Apparently, it still reflects his views on the subject. Doug began the article with a question I asked him about slavery. May a Christian man own slaves if he treats them humanely? But rather than answer that question, he expressed his… Read more »

25 days ago
Reply to  Steve

I wonder if I will have to wait another 20 years for Doug (or anyone else in his church) to answer my question – either here or at the Daily News.