From the Nature of Revelation to the Nature of Law
This so far was a long introduction to the issue of comparing the two legal systems, but it is unavoidable if our analysis is to be a thorough presuppositional analysis. Unless we know the nature of the god of the system, and then the nature of his revelation, and have a cogent and coherent system of interpretation based on it, we won’t be able to conduct a consistent analysis of any system of religion and thought; we will end up making absurd statements that only touch the surface, but never really give any knowledge. That White made the statement he made shows that he has never made such presuppositional analysis in the first place: He either doesn’t know how to make it, or prefers base propaganda to thorough, professional academic work. Had he made such analysis, he would know that Theonomy and Shariah not only do not belong together, but they are actually polar opposites; and in fact, it is his own anti-Theonomy that is much closer to Shariah, and that Shariah is in fact consistently applied anti-Theonomy with a vengeance. It would be obvious to him that the two systems, Theonomy and Shariah, having absolutely opposite presuppositions, will inevitably have absolutely opposite concepts of law, and therefore opposing legal systems; and in fact, given that anti-Theonomy shares some presuppositional points with Shariah, they are much closer to each other.
To push the antithesis at the beginning of the discussion on the law: A God Who is both One and Many, transcendent and immanent, Who can and wills to deliver revelation that is perfectly representative of His character (Heb. 1:3) and yet perfectly meaningful to man (2 Tim. 3:16-17), will deliver a radically different law from a god who is only unspecified and distant oneness, who can’t be known to man, whose character remains hidden, and whose presence is only detected through mystical and vague “awareness.” Thus, while both deities will use revelation to give their respective covenant communities a system of ethical/judicial rules, the two systems will have no fundamental resemblance to each other. On the surface, certain visible features may look similar. In reality, there won’t be even basis for comparison.
In our analysis, now, I will include anti-Theonomy as well, to make it clear which of the two teachings, Theonomy or anti-Theonomy, is closer to Shariah.
Theonomy: The Law Is Theocentric
As we said, the God of the Bible not only can represent His very character in terms meaningful and accessible to man, He also wills to do it. But the way the Bible starts its revelation of God, it presents Him as primarily an ethical Being: a Being, that is, primarily concerned with the issue of good and evil. Now, of course, other aspects of knowledge and experience are also hidden—and revealed—in God: beauty and harmony, rationality and logic, order and the cause-and-effect principle, etc. In the hidden nature of God, neither of these aspects is ultimate or primary; such an idea would violate the principle of indivisibility and simplicity of God’s Being. But as far the revealed nature of God is concerned, He chooses to reveal to man His ethical nature as foundational and defining for His Covenant with man. God’s assessment of His creation, “It was good,” indicating that ethics is the aspect through which God will communicate to man, and through man will communicate back to God.
Since man was created in God’s image, this focus on the ethical aspect of God’s nature speaks about the fundamental nature of man as well: man is an ethical being, too. The fundamental questions of his existence are not ontological, rationalistic, aesthetic, scientific, etc.; they are ethical, questions of good and evil. Man’s origins, existence, and future state will all hinge on how closely man conforms to the ethical nature of God; everything else will be subject to it. The Kingdom of God—the summum bonum of man’s existence—will belong to men who are righteous and just, not to men who are smart, logical, artistic, harmonious, powerful, mathematical, athletic, etc. This is the reason nothing excites man as issues of justice and righteousness: wars are fought not over the artistic value of a painting or over the truthfulness of a mathematical formula but over acts of perceived wickedness and injustice. (Although, I do remember times when teenagers would brawl over the perceived superiority of one style of popular music over another.) Man’s art and literature will always be concerned with moral issues; his scientific endeavors will be subject to moral commitments, his relationships will defined by moral commitments, etc., etc. Man is an ethical creature, being in God’s image, and therefore he needs God’s moral nature revealed to Him in its fullness (although not exhaustively).
We should expect then that of all possible topics in the Bible, the topic of the Law to be prominent, and revealed in a most systematic, detailed, and practical way compared to all other topics. God is the Great Mathematician, but there is no systematic treatment of mathematics in the Bible; He is the Great Artist, but there is no textbook on art in the Bible. But God is an ethical Being, and the Great Judge, and the Bible contains the Law of righteousness and justice of that Judge, in a systematic form. The foundational principles of ethics are stated in the two greatest commandments (Luke 10:27; see Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). Then they are broken into chapters, the Ten Commandments (Exo. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:1-21). Then case applications are developed to illustrate the principles of application, enforcement, and sanctions (Exo. 21—Deut. 34). Then historical examples of ethical/judicial practice are presented in the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament. And finally, the complete manifestation of God’s moral character is presented in the New Testament, adding the application of the ethical/judicial code to the new covenant community.
Since God has also chosen history to reveal Himself in it, we should expect the revelation of His character to contain certain measure of historical discontinuity, such as to preserve the immutability of His moral character and yet to present the dynamic history of His redemption. For this reason the Law would contain revelation both of His eternal character and of His temporal work. The temporal work will be revealed in the ceremonial laws and in the sundry [“special, separate, set apart”] judicial laws whose purpose is to give a temporary picture of God’s future redemption.1 Thus, the Law would reveal not only a God who is eternally an ethical Being (transcendence), it would also reveal a God Who is historically an active Provider (immanence). Thus, when a theonomist studies the Law to discover which parts of it are for specific time and place, and which parts are eternally valid, he always puts the Law in the context of God’s character, not in the context of time, place, or people. For every precept of the Law he asks, “Does this reveal God’s moral character in eternity, or does this reveal His redemptive work in history?” Only thus he decides which laws are still valid and which are changed.
The Law then, is the full revelation—in a systematic, knowable, searchable, and practically applicable form—of God’s moral character. To put it differently, it would reveal how God would act if He came down to earth and became a Man. And, guess what: He did come down to earth, and He did become a Man, and He did perfectly obey the Law! How was He capable of perfectly obeying the Law? Well, it was His very character, that’s how. But this applies not only to His personal walk, it applies to His judicial walk too: How would God act if He was an earthly king, or a judge, or a businessman, or a military leader? The law tells us about this as well, for Israel was supposed to be under God as King, and for this they had the Law. In all respects, the Law revealed God’s character.
It is for this reason that theonomists always start their analysis of every precept in the Law with the assumption that the chief victim of every civil crime is God Himself, and then look to the human victim. Thus, murder and kidnapping and sodomy are crimes against God’s image in man; adultery and theft are crimes against God’s order for society; false witness is a crime against God’s judgment and justice; etc. The punishments then are punishments that reflect God as the chief victim, and therefore His interests are the first to be defended, as expressed in His Law.
Theonomy, thus, is always theocentric, that is, God-centered, when it comes to its concept of the Law. The Law is always viewed in the context of God: Its origins, its purpose, and its application always start with God and His place in society. Every single part is related to God and His character, and His redemptive work in history. Theonomists do not take in account historical or humanitarian considerations when discussing the Law; neither do they judge the validity of the Law by such considerations. To the contrary, they form their opinions about historical and humanitarian factors and case applications on the basis of the Law. This is the most fundamental characteristic of Theonomy.
Anti-Theonomy: The Law Is Partially Anthropocentric
Anti-theonomists, of course, share the same view of the origins of the Law: There is no Christian who would deny that the Law is the Law of God, and it was given by God, and it is holy, righteous, and just. It is for this reason many of them resent when called “antinomians”: After all, they all have a “high view of the Law,” right?
The problem comes when the analysis moves from the origins of the Law to the purpose and application of the Law. It is there where the central disagreement—and also the central misunderstanding—with Theonomy comes. As we saw above, when analyzing the specific parts of the Law, the theonomist asks, “How does this specific part of the Law relate to God and His character? Does it reveal God’s ethical/judicial character, what God would do if He was a man, a king or a judge? Or does it reveal the historical dynamics of God’s redemption, before and after the Cross?” The theonomic analysis of the Law is always God-centered, and always assumes God as the point of reference. The question what laws are still valid in their direct meaning, and what laws are fulfilled in Christ, is resolved entirely based on the distinction between God’s immutable character and God’s redemptive work in history. When a theonomist sees discontinuity in the application of the Law, that discontinuity is only revelatory (Christ hidden vs. Christ revealed), not ethical/judicial (old justice vs. new justice). Theonomy, thus, is theocentric at every step of its analysis of the Law.
The anti-theonomist, on the other hand, when discussing the specific parts of the Law, always first asks the question, “To what group of men was this part of the Law given?” Based on that, then, assumptions are made as to whether the same part of the Law would have been applicable to another group of men, or another generation of men, or another polity of men. Certain parts of the Law—what is incorrectly called the “civil code”—are judged then to be applicable only to the group to which they were given, without any regard to what of God’s character or historical work they represent. That applies even to laws that are acknowledged to be judicial (pertaining to justice, issues of good and evil), not ceremonial (pertaining to issues of historical dynamics of revelation of redemption). Thus, anti-Theonomy’s discontinuity is not simply “old revelation vs. new revelation,” it is now “old justice vs. new justice.” It’s an ethical/judicial discontinuity, and it is anthropocentric, centered on man, or groups of men, or cultures of men, or man’s historical circumstances.
It is for this reason the anti-Theonomist seeks to modify certain judicial laws: they need to fit the modern humanistic concept of justice, as opposed to the Biblical, revealed concept of justice consistent with the revelation of God’s ethical/judicial character. God was a legitimate member of society only in the Old Testament Israel; and therefore His ideas of justice were fully applicable only there. Outside Israel, He is rather distant and detached, and His character is present in the justice system only in a vague, general way: as in “general equity,” for example, by which anti-theonomists rather mean vague equity.
Thus, the anti-theonomic view of justice is a dialectical mixture of two components: (1) God’s general moral principles in His Law, which excludes His specific judicial applications; and (2) man’s specific judicial applications based on man’s judgment of the demands of his situation. Man can use the specifics of the Law of God, but is not obligated to do so, being at liberty to change the rules where he sees fit.
And, we need to add, since in this undertaking man loses the divine authority that goes with the Law of God, his new “practical system” now needs another source of authority to establish itself. If the Bible, for example, declares double restitution as the proper judicial punishment for theft, and the anti-theonomist claims it is not obligatory, but a “practical solution” must be sought based on “general equity,” he must back his claim with some authority equal to the clear Biblical text. The only available such authority is the authority of civil government—which has the additional benefit of being powerful enough to impose its sanctions over the Biblical sanctions. Thus, Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Pet. 2:13-14 are invoked to declare that authority as trumping God’s Law on the matter of justice, as opposed to the theonomic interpretation which sees in those verses a command to rulers to obey God’s Law. In the final account, by being anthropocentric, anti-Theonomy by necessity becomes political and power-oriented.
Islam: The Law Is Entirely Anthropocentric
As we saw, when it comes to the nature of revelation, Islam is, for all practical purposes, a deistic religion: It has a distant god who may have created the world, may be running the world, but is incapable of communicating to man a specific, practical, applicable revelation of his character. Knowing Allah is impossible; asking to see him is sin that requires repentance; the attempt to know him leads to a loss of consciousness. Man, then, is left to his own devices to decide what ethics is and what justice is, with only minimal help from Allah.
All deism eventually leads to some form of dualism in the area of ethics and justice, as expressed in the words of Montesquieu in his The Spirit of the Laws:
We ought not to decide by divine laws what should be decided by human laws; nor determine by human what should be decided by divine laws.
Islam is even more dualistic than the European classical deism, for it can’t account for the origin of “divine laws.” What is a “divine law” for a Muslim? Does it represent the moral character of Allah? If so, it can’t be known by men. Does it represent Allah’s advice to men how to conduct themselves morally? If so, then it can’t be more than general, vague moralism, for Allah can’t cross the central line and fully identify with man as the God of the Bible can (Heb. 2:17). In fact, Muslim scholars point to the fact that Allah is “insensitive,” he can’t even feel the emotions humans feel, and so he wouldn’t be able to share in their indignation and revolt against injustice.
We shouldn’t expect, then, the Quran to contain anything close to the Biblical Law: a distinct body of fundamental ethical principles and systematic case application of them. There are no Two Greatest Commandments in the Quran, no Ten Commandments, and nothing even close to the Law of Moses, let alone its Prophetic applications. At best, the Quran can offer a vague collection of isolated pieces of moralistic advice, and a few isolated judicial rulings which can’t be demonstrated to be related in any logical way to any consistent system of ethics. (And in certain cases those judicial rulings contradict each other.) But what is called “civil code” is lacking. There isn’t one. And, given the nature of Allah, there can’t be one.
It is at this point where Shariah comes in, and its nature and purpose become clear: Shariah is not, and was not meant to be, a systematic ethical/judicial system expressive of Allah’s moral character; it is, and was meant to be, a haphazard patchwork to make up for the inherent dualism of the Quran’s doctrine of ethics and justice. To claim authority, it has to be loosely based on the vague moral rules in the Quran; to be practical, it has to develop its specific judicial rules based on what is habitual, practical, specific to groups of people, or expedient in view of the agenda of the ruling class.
And indeed, this is what Shariah is: It is a combination of (1) general moral rules based on the Quran (with only a scant interest to the few judicial laws found in it), and (2) the Sunnah, a motley, disorganized collection of thousands of specific ethical and judicial pronouncements based on extra-Quranic human jurisprudence, or supposed sayings of Mohammed overheard by his contemporaries. To this, another element is often added which is often overlooked by commentators, and it is (3) the customs and habits of the local tribes and communities which, even if not related to the Quran or to Mohammed, have been sanctified by time. Most of the time, human jurisprudence in the Sunnah overrules the teachings of the Quran, based on issues of practicality, expediency, or tradition.
An example would be the Shariah’s view of punishment for male sodomy. (Female sodomy is not considered a crime or sin in Islam, given that a sexual act is defined as penetration only.) The Quran, while it has some strong words to say against the “people of Lut” (Sodom and Gomorrah), doesn’t prescribe death penalty for it in the only verse that speaks about “illegal intercourse”—which would include sodomy as well as adultery—in An-Nisa:
If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, Leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-returning, Most Merciful. (4:16)2
No matter how we choose to interpret the word “punish,” and no matter how we choose to define the punishment, one thing is clear: the Quran is much “softer” on sodomy than the Biblical Law. For this reason, for most of the history of Islam, Islamic jurisprudence has been reluctant to declare judicial punishment against sodomy. It wasn’t until the 19th century, under the influence of Victorian England, that most Islamic societies introduced systematic legislation against sodomy. Thus, what the Holy Book says must be complemented and modified by human laws, which at times were less severe, and at times more severe than the Quran, depending on the decisions and circumstances of men.
Shariah, then, is fundamentally anthropocentric; it doesn’t acknowledge Allah as a full-fledged member of the society in any meaningful way. Present, yes; a member, no. All civil disputes are between human beings; Islamic jurisprudence—very much like anti-Theonomy, and contrary to Theonomy—doesn’t acknowledge Allah as a party of a civil suit; all civil suits are between humans. The above mentioned punishment for sodomy is one example. Another example would be the Quran’s punishment for murder, in Al-Baqarah:
O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty (2:178).
Notice the difference: In the Bible, murder is a crime against God’s image (Gen. 9:6), and therefore there is no mercy for a murderer, for only God as the true victim of the crime can show mercy—in the Final Judgment.3 But Allah has no image in man, and therefore he has no real participation in the society, and therefore he can’t be a victim of a crime. The victims are always human; in this case, the relatives of the slain. So they are allowed to ask for money and thus the murderer can avoid the qisas (“equal retribution”) and obtain mercy by paying them. Again, even in the case of murder, the Quran itself is anthropocentric; when we move to the Sunnah’s application of it, it becomes even more so.
As we saw with anti-Theonomy above, when a system is anthropocentric, it has to face the issue of legitimacy: By what authority? In the case of anti-Theonomy, the authority used most frequently is the concept of “natural law,” often vague and undefined enough to include anything; but in the final analysis, power is transferred to the state, and Romans 13 is used to confer authority to tyrannical civil governments to apply any laws they decide. Islam, like anti-Theonomy, does the same. Islamic jurisprudence has—and has always had—a rich “natural law” tradition.4 I won’t go into detail about that tradition, but the readers can go to Prof. Anver M. Emon’s article, “Natural Law and Natural Rights in Islamic Law,” in Journal of Law and Religion Vol. 20, No. 2 (2004–2005), pp. 351-395, for a full treatment on the issue. But since “natural law” in itself doesn’t bestow authority on interpreter of it, in the final account, Islam has to adopt a view of the state that make it quasi-divine and fully authoritative in legislation and enforcement. Just like anti-Theonomy, by being anthropocentric, Islam by necessity becomes political and power-oriented.
To summarize the characteristics of the three systems when it comes to the Law and the application of the Law:
Theonomy: The Law is fully encoded in the Bible, moral principles and judicial case applications, and both the origin and the purpose of it are centered on God, His character and His work in history. All institutions are obligated to obey it, and an institution that doesn’t obey it loses its legitimacy and can be legitimately opposed.
Anti-Theonomy: The Law is encoded in the Bible as moral principles but its judicial applications must be modified by human intervention, because while its origin is centered on God, its application is centered on man and his circumstances. The standards for modification must come from other sources (“general equity”) which, even if morally related to the Bible, are nevertheless different from it in the principles of application. The civil government, then, as the most powerful institution, assumes the right to decide on the modifications, and it can’t be legitimately opposed by Christians even if it is outright tyrannical and unjust.
Shariah: The Quran contains no comprehensive system of ethics, personal or judicial; the origins of the law can’t be centered on Allah because Allah can’t reveal His true ethical character to man. Therefore the Law must be man-centered, with man taking the initiative to make judicial laws, based on “general equity,” expedience, “natural law,” etc. The civil government, as the most powerful institution, is uniquely capable of supplying the necessary authority for any law created by man on the vague moral principles of the Islamic religion; therefore, opposing the authorities is opposing Allah.
Had James White made the effort to do such a thorough presuppositional analysis of Islam and Theonomy, he would have clearly seen that of the two systems, Theonomy and anti-Theonomy, it is anti-Theonomy that is much closer to Shariah. Shariah is, in fact, anti-Theonomy taken to its logical conclusion. Even the thought of comparing Theonomy to Shariah shows that White’s knowledge of presuppositionalism is, at best, at a high school textbook level. Or, if he knows presuppositionalism, he has decided to not use it. Or, he simply doesn’t understand Theonomy, and speaks about what he has no clue of. Or, to cover all possibilities, he is simply dishonest. I’ll let the reader take his pick.
Acts 15 and Islam
What is even more distressing, though, are White’s claims to be an expert on Islam, compared to his claim that “Islam doesn’t have Acts 15 but we do.” It is here where it becomes clear that even if he has learned a lot of data and facts, he is clearly short of understanding of Islam as it is. For an audience that is generally less familiar with Islam, his claims may have somewhat damaging effect, given that many of his listeners would trust him on that issue and may be even engage their Muslim friends with such an outright nonsense. While this particular topic is not directly part of the presuppositional discussion above, I will use the opportunity to correct his lack of understanding.
That he is misapplying Acts 15 when relating it to Theonomy is clear enough, and it has been pointed out by others.5 Sufficient to say that while Acts 15 indeed indicates certain discontinuity in the legal system and applications of the Bible, it has nothing to do with the topic of the debate with Theonomy, namely, the judicial laws. The discontinuity it covers is the one mentioned above: in the application of the ceremonial laws, the “shadows” which were used in the Old Testament to reveal the future Christ. Theonomy doesn’t include any teaching that would keep the ceremonial laws obligatory. If White is using Acts 15 as a whip against Theonomy, then he either doesn’t understand Acts 15, or he doesn’t understand Theonomy, or, to cover all possibilities, he is dishonest in his criticism.
But let’s turn to that part of his statement that concerns Islam. It is true enough that Acts 15 still speaks about some discontinuity. If taken in its most honest meaning, White’s statement would mean that Islam doesn’t believe in any kind of discontinuity, that there is full continuity between Islam and an older “covenant,” which in his view would place Islam closer to Theonomy than to anti-Theonomy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our analysis here needs to start with the fact that the Quran views itself as the last of several words of revelation in history.6 The previous revealed words are the Tawrat (the Hebrew Torah), the Zabur (the Psalms of David, possibly also the Prophetic books of the Old Testament), and the Injil (the Gospel of Jesus). Thus, while the Quran claims to be the perfect, unadulterated revelation—as opposed to the earlier ones which have been supposedly changed over time—it is still only a continuation from previous revelations and covenants, an heir to their religion. If we take the Christian division of Old and New Testament, the Quran thus claims for itself the status of a Newer New Testament.
This is an important fact to our discussion here. For, while the Quran claims revelational continuity, in reality, its view of discontinuity is much stronger. And this view is summarized in the Islamic doctrine of abrogation. Abrogation of previous revelations is a fundamental doctrine in Islam, and it will take another article like this one to explain to Christian readers the full meaning of it. It is related to many other topics and doctrines in Islam, like Allah’s unknowability and oneness, the nature of prophetic revelation, the nature of the faith and testimony, etc. For our purposes here, I will only mention a few points.
First, the Quran itself, in Ali-Imran, acknowledges that in the Injil, Jesus did come to at least modify the Law in terms of its requirements to those who believe:
And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], ‘Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah. And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead—by permission of Allah. And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers. And [I have come] confirming what was before me of the Torah and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear Allah and obey me. (3:49-50).
There’s your Acts 15 mentioned and confirmed in the Quran. Given that the doctrine of abrogation is an important Islamic doctrine, an educated Muslim should know that Jesus did bring a discontinuity in the Law, and did abrogate certain requirements of the Law.
In addition to it, we have then a discontinuity between previous revelations and the revelation brought by Mohammed. The Quran speaks in Al-Baqarah about previous revelations abrogated:
Neither those who disbelieve from the People of the Scripture nor the polytheists wish that any good should be sent down to you from your Lord. But Allah selects for His mercy whom He wills, and Allah is the possessor of great bounty. We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent? (2:105-106)
There’s your Acts 15 applied to the Quran itself in relation to previous revelations. A Muslim doesn’t have to be proficient in the Quran to know that much.
This should be enough for the average Christian to conclude that James White doesn’t know what he is talking about. But the Islamic doctrine of abrogation doesn’t stop there. Prepare for the real surprise:
The Islamic doctrine of abrogation applies to discontinuities within the Quran itself! Yes, you read that right, the Quran contains certain verses which abrogate other verses of the very Quran itself! And the very Quran, in An-Nahl, defends this as a testimony to the sovereignty of Allah, without giving the reason for such abrogation:
And when We substitute a verse in place of a verse—and Allah is most knowing of what He sends down—they say, “You, [O Muhammad], are but an inventor [of lies].” But most of them do not know (16:101).
So not only does the Quran have Acts 15 in relation to previous revelations, it has Acts 15 in relation to itself. And this is not some trivial small problem which has no bearing on the Islamic religion. To the contrary, a significant part of Muslim religious studies is devoted to deciding which verses in the Quran are abrogated by other verses. The discontinuity is within the Quran itself.
And it doesn’t stop there. The abrogation continues with the Hadith, that is, the post-Quran stories of the life of Mohammed. The Hadith is believed to contain sayings which legitimately abrogate verses of the Quran itself. There is no agreement as to what abrogates what; the only real agreement between Islamic Muslim scholars is that the doctrine of abrogation must be applied across the board to everything. On the surface, it seems the Islam is a religion of unified, consistent, fixed religious truths; in reality, it is nothing more than situational ethics or worse, a religion where today’s emotions of man can abrogate all the moral principles stated yesterday.
James White is incorrect: Islam, in fact, is a gigantic twisted version of Acts 15. It has no secure, predictable continuity at any level of its revelation. It’s all discontinuity, from beginning to end. Again, Islam is not even close to Theonomy. To the contrary, it is a consistent anti-theonomic system, anti-Theonomy taken to its logical end.
A Christian teacher exhibits irresponsible behavior when he simply throws around arbitrary and shallow statements without doing his homework to establish their truthfulness and validity. He is also dangerous to the souls and minds of those of his listeners who trust him. He is betraying that trust. “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Teaching others is a calling that is special, it carries special trust, and no Christian teacher should allow himself the liberty to violate that trust.
It applies even more to those teachers who claim to be “presuppositional,” that is, tell their listeners that they develop their thinking by examining the religious presuppositions behind any system they analyze. And it applies even more to those who claim some “expertize” in a certain field.
It is obvious that James White hasn’t done his presuppositional homework in comparing Theonomy to Shariah. Had he done it, he would see that his comparison was not only incorrect, but also dishonest. Because, in reality, it is White’s own anti-Theonomy that is like Shariah, in its religious presuppositions.
The analysis must start by looking at the nature of the two Sovereigns, God and Allah. The former is a Trinity, both One and Many, transcendent and immanent. The latter is ultimate oneness and transcendence, detached from his world, unable to enter it as a person. God, therefore, can deliver a detailed, valid, applicable, meaningful message to the world, by simply entering it an taking on the body of a human being; His Word is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the imprint of God in the world. Knowledge of God is not only possible, it must be desired by men and lacking such knowledge is a sign of the unbelievers. Allah can’t reveal himself in any positive and meaningful way, for by doing so, he will either have to descend to human level, or elevate humans to divine level. Men can relate to Allah only through an “awareness” of his presence; knowledge is impossible, and the request for knowing Allah is sinful, and ultimately leads to destruction of matter or conscience.
The law systems will be radically different, therefore. Since God reveals Himself fully (though not comprehensively), we should expect that in His Law He will reveal His moral character: How God would act in all situations if He was a man. Thus, we should expect His Law to be complete and functional without having to resort to outside sources or human legislation. Theonomy takes this principle seriously, and sees in the Law of God a sufficient basis for justice which only needs faithful application, not changes; it interprets the Law of God in the framework of God’s character and work in history. Anti-Theonomy interprets the Law of God against historical and cultural backdrops, and looks for extra-Biblical sources for complementing the Law’s system of justice for our times; while the Biblical revelation of the Law is used only for moral instruction.
Allah is not able to deliver such a systematic and full law; there is nothing that such a law would reveal about Allah. Therefore the law in the Quran is a fragmented mess of isolated moralisms, and a few judicial statements without any solid fundamental principles behind them. In the final account, Islam needs human traditions and decisions to build its system of law. It’s system, therefore, is similar to that of anti-Theonomy: moral instruction from the book, judicial laws from “general equity” or “natural law.” In the final account, both anti-Theonomy and Islam resort to giving more power to the state, as the only institution that can back their law systems with sufficient power and authority.
Therefore, it is not Theonomy that is like Shariah. Presuppositionally, Shariah is consistent anti-Theonomy taken to its logical end. So let’s put the ignorant claim that “Theonomy is like Shariah” to its presuppositional rest. Our honesty, and our responsibility as teachers demand this of us.
- The modern claims that the Confessions (the Westminster Confession of 1647 and the London Baptist Confession of 1689) divide the Law into Moral Law, Civil Law, and Ceremonial Law are incorrect. Such division is not to be found in the Confessions. The real division is Moral Law [singular], sundry judicial laws [plural], and ceremonial laws [plural]. The Confessions do not speak of “Civil Law” as a systematic legal body; what today is considered “Civil Law,” was part of the Moral Law. The sundry judicial laws were not the “civil code of Moses,” as is today falsely claimed by anti-Theonomists, but the collection of laws specific to Israel (the laws for the Jubilee, the levirate, the concubinage, the division of the Land, etc.). Punishments for theft or murder, for example, would be part of the Moral Law, not of the sundry judicial laws, as the historical practice of the Puritans and the other Reformed groups indicates.
- I usually rely on the Sahih International translation of the Quran, but on this particular verse I used the Yusuf Ali translation. The reason is, the Sahih International translation uses the word “dishonor” instead of “punish.” I can’t see why they chose that word, when the root Arabic word for faadhuhuma (“punish them both”), which is the verb udhiyah, means simply “to hurt.” Although, if “dishonor” is taken as the correct meaning, then the Quran would have the same punishment for sodomy as the anti-theonomists: excommunication.
- There are a few exceptions which are, again, theocentric.
- When I mentioned that to Joel McDurmon, his reaction was, “Of course. Where do you think Aquinas got his copy of Aristotle from?”
- See Joel McDurmon’s refutation, “Bahnsen and Rushdoony answered the Acts 15 concern 40 years ago.”
- Theoretically only. Modern Islam in general looks to the Hadith with almost the same reverence as to the Quran, an attitude which has been criticized by Muslim scholars of more purist convictions.