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Friday, January 18, 2013

John Robbins on 1st Table of The Law


 In Slavery & Christianity, John Robbins penned these words:

“In Romans 13 Paul makes it clear that the proper role of civil government is the enforcement of the so-called second table of the Ten Commandments: Romans 13:9 explicitly mentions adultery, murder, theft, false witness, and covetousness. Civil governments have no power over the mind, and so they have no authority to enforce the first table of the law.”

It’s often difficult to know where to begin untangling enthymemes due to the nature of unspoken premises. We can add to those difficulties the ambiguity of such phrases as “no power over the mind,” noting that whatever the phrase was intended to mean a consistent use of the phrase - the same meaning throughout the relevant context that is, may be demanded.

Robbins does not seem to be arguing:  “Romans 13 only teaches that government may enforce the second table of the law; therefore, government may only enforce the second table of the law.” That, of course, would be an argument from silence of the fallacious variety and to transfer the word "only" most improperly.
At the very least Robbins appears to be arguing that Romans 13 only teaches that government may enforce the second table of the law and since civil governments cannot extract what is in a man’s mind they cannot possibly enforce the first table of the law, nor can God expect them too.

A few observations are in order:
1. Although the second table reference pertains to all relationships, which would thereby include relationships with individuals who are to wield the sword, in verses 8-10 the persons in view are not qua state persons but merely all individuals without distinction. John Murray is correct that a transition occurs in verse eight of Romans 13, from whence man’s relationship to the state gives way to an imperative pertaining to all relationships. Verse seven brings a line of thought to its conclusion, underscored by the translation “therefore”.  In verses 8-10 the apostle moves on to address love toward neighbor as the fulfillment of the law (hence the reference to second-table law), and love for neighbor has little to do with the state’s responsibility to punish criminals, a prime import of verses 1-7.

2. Robbins seems either to base, or at least corroborate and bolster, the conclusion that civil governments have no authority to enforce the first table of the law upon the premise that civil governments have no power over the mind. Robbins: “Civil governments have no power over the mind, and so they have no authority to enforce the first table of the law.” [Bold emphasis mine.]

Yet if a lack of power over the mind (insert your own definition of what that means) is a sufficient condition to prohibit the enforcement of the first table of the law by civil governments, then either God was wrong to require Israel to enforce such laws, or else power over the mind was some sort of supernatural gift given under the Law that has now ceased in the newer economy.

Moreover, three of the four laws contained in the first table are not typically (and two can't be) confined strictly to the mind but are manifested in observable actions, not unlike second table tansgressions that demand civil sanctions. Therefore, it would be hasty to conclude that sins against the first table cannot be sanctioned because they are only confined to the mind - as if they do not entail observable displays of blasphemy and rebellion which, by the way, can be an immediate source of second table sins. (i.e. Erode the first table and the second goes with it.)

3. Robbins takes the references to second table sins as either establishing or at least corroborating his view that the civil magistrate is to be concerned with the second table. And although it is true that the civil magistrate is to be concerned with the sins contained in the second table, not all sins mentioned in verse 9 are punishable by civil magistrates, like covetousness. Covetousness is a sin of the mind, over which (Robbins informs) the government can have “no power” (again, whatever that means). Accordingly, the references to the sins from the second table cannot successfully be used to argue that sanctions are to be confined to the second table simply because covetousness is not a punishable sin, though its manifistation in action can be.
Robbins does footnote:

“They [civil governments] do have the obligation to obey the so-called first table of the law. God’s law governs all individuals and institutions. There are no exceptions for presidents and kings.  That means, for example, that no one should be permitted to take an oath – either in court or on being inaugurated into office – on any book other than the Bible. Swearing by Allah or Zeus is worse than useless: They are not the truth.”

Robbins does not merely state that no one should take an oath on any book other than the Bible. No, Robbins clearly states that not one should be permitted to take such an oath. But doesn’t that presuppose some form of enforcing the first table of the law, the very thing Robbins says governments may not do?!
Generally speaking, I find it rare to find such inconsistency within such close proximity of itself; yet it's my experience that such is common place when one tries to escape the civil demands of God’s law, whether first or second table. That is not intended to be a slight against John Robbins, to whom I am exceedingly grateful for having faithfully promoted the works of Gordon Clark. Rather, I would simply use Robbins as an illustration of the obvious inconsistency and arbitrariness that results from denying the authority of God's law over civil rulers.

Heidelberg Catechism

Question 100. Is then the profaning of God's name, by swearing and cursing, so heinous a sin, that his wrath is kindled against those who do not endeavour, as much as in them lies, to prevent and forbid such cursing and swearing?

Answer: It undoubtedly is, (a) for there is no sin greater or more provoking to God, than the profaning of his name; and therefore he has commanded this sin to be punished with death. (b)

(a) Prov.29:24 Whoso is partner with a thief hateth his own soul: he heareth cursing, and bewrayeth it not. Lev.5:1 And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity. (b) Lev.24:15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. Lev.24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.
Westminster Larger Catechism

Question 108: What are the duties required in the second commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one's place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.

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2 comments:

ron said...

You misrepresent what Robbins wrote, which is, "no one should be permitted to take an oath – either in court or on being inaugurated into office – on any book other than the Bible."

You state, "Robbins clearly states that not [sic] one should be permitted to take such an oath." This is a straw man, as your provided quote from Robbins goes on to say "--on any book other than the Bible."
You should correct this misrepresentation.

Reformed Apologist said...

I wrote: "Robbins does not merely state that no one should take an oath on any book other than the Bible. No, Robbins clearly states that not one should be permitted to take such an oath. But doesn’t that presuppose some form of enforcing the first table of the law, the very thing Robbins says governments may not do?!"

That's hardly a straw man. Of course he meant Bible. That's what his quote states AND the preceding sentence to the one you find objectionable makes that abundantly clear. My point, in fact, is based upon that very assertion of his. I'd be arguing against a straw man only if my argument somehow hinged upon a misrepresentation entailing that Robbins meant any book, which he didn't.