The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 7, Autonomy

Gary North – November 05, 2021

History is thus the self-knowledge of the living mind. For even when the events which the historian studies are events that happened in the distant past, the condition of their being historically known is that they should ‘vibrate in the historian’s mind’, that is to say, that the evidence for them should be here and now before him and intelligible to him. For history is not contained in books or documents; it lives only, as a present interest and pursuit, in the mind of the historian when he criticizes and interprets those documents, and by so doing relives up for himself the states of mind into which he inquires. – R. G. Collingwood (1946).

A. Covenant Model, Part 2

Part 2 of the biblical covenant model is hierarchy: God over man over nature.

Part 2 of the biblical model for social theory is authority. Authority is delegated by God. It is hierarchical.

Part 2 of the humanist covenant model is autonomy: man over nature, which includes other men. The humanist believes that the theory of cosmic evolution has eliminated the idea of the Creator God of the Bible. The humanist therefore denies three concepts: the sovereignty of God, the omniscience of God, and the providence of God. This denial creates a challenge: the humanist must make sense of the world without invoking any of these three biblical concepts. He searches for an authoritative theory of causation by which he can gain a correct understanding of the world. There are many conflicting theories of causation, but they all rest on this presupposition: the autonomy of man.B. Collingwood’s The Idea of History

1. Autonomy vs. Objective History

I began this chapter with the quotation from page 202 of The Idea of History. I am going to discuss his theory in detail because it is representative of what the epistemology of historians became no later than the mid-1930’s. He was not alone. But, because of his erudition as a philosopher, and because of his willingness to declare in print some of the most audacious conclusions of this position, readers who are interested in history should pay attention to what he wrote.

Oxford University Press published The Idea of History in 1946. The author, R. G. Collingwood, had died in 1943. This book was an edited version of the fragments that he had spent years writing in the 1930’s. He probably wrote most of it in 1935.

Collingwood was not a practicing historian. He was a philosopher. But his book gained rapid acceptance among historians. There were a few early critics, but the book eventually became a classic. It is still in print. It is still widely cited.

Collingwood’s primary thesis was this: the autonomy of the historian. He believed that the creative imagination of the individual (autonomous) historian is the basis of history. He did not say that the historian’s creative imagination is the basis of historiography: historical interpretation. That would not have been controversial. He argued something fundamentally different. He said that the creative historian literally creates history. This seems implausible to a non-historian, but his suggestion has gained support from practicing historians over the decades. He argued that the lone historian imputes meaning to the past. There is no objective past. The past is dead and gone. So, there are only subjective interpretations of the past—lots and lots of subjective interpretations. (See Chapter 9.) This is consistent with the idea of the autonomy of man.

The Christian philosophy of history rests on this presupposition: God imputes meaning to the past. This past is objective. Why? Because God has providentially sustained all of it. This past has left a record in God’s perfect memory. This objective past will be the context of God’s final judgment at the end of history. He continually judges the words and deeds of everyone, and His judgments are irrefutable. (See Chapter 4.) Man, who is made in God’s image, possesses an analogous ability (Chapter 2). This is why historical scholarship has meaning. This is also why there is a covenantal battle over historical interpretation.

In his rebellion, Adam decided to test God’s word against the serpent’s. Adam remembered what God had told him. There was nothing defective in his memory. This was why he was responsible for his actions. The serpent had offered Eve a different account of God’s words. She was deceived. Adam was not. He decided to test God’s words. He thereby asserted his autonomy from God. He had to assume the high probability that God had misinformed him about the consequences of his disobedience. This was a life-or-death assumption. He lost. So did we all. He was our covenantal representative (point 2).

Collingwood was Adam’s spiritual heir. He made the case for the historian’s autonomy. No other book on the philosophy of history is more self-conscious in its assertion of the individual historian’s autonomy. But, in making this case, Collingwood had to surrender the idea of objective history (the past) and also objective historiography (writing about the past). He also ignored the crucial issue of competing interpretations. In 334 pages, he never raised this issue. Refusing even to raise the question, he did not suggest an epistemology or a methodology for reconciling competing interpretations.

Then what good is the book? For understanding history, it is useless. For understanding historiography, it is equally useless. But for serving as evidence of the inability of humanism to answer the fundamental questions of both history and historiography, it is a primary source document of great value.

2. Historical Evidence and Its Interpretation

He talked about historical evidence. This included historical documents. He called this testimony. Documents possess no objective value. “History, so far from depending on testimony, has therefore no relation with testimony at all. Testimony is merely chronicle. So far as any one speaks of authorities or of accepting statements or the like, he is talking of chronicle and not of history. History is based on a synthesis of two things which only exist in that synthesis: evidence and criticism. Evidence is only evidence so far as it is used as evidence, that is to say, interpreted on critical principles; and principles are only principles so far as they are put into practice in the work of interpreting evidence” (p. 203).

This raises three questions. First, what are these critical principles? Second, what is the epistemological foundation of these critical principles? Third, how can the historian correctly apply these permanent critical principles (Parmenides) to pass judgment on the validity of evidence regarding historical change (Heraclitus). You might imagine that somewhere in the book, he would have dealt with these three questions, but he did not mention them.

I am not singling out Collingwood as having uniquely failed to explain what he was talking about. In fact, he is representative of the historical guild as a whole after the 1920’s. (See Chapters 9 and 10.) Part V of the book is “Epilogomena.” It is a long chapter, beginning on page 205 and ending on page 334. Here, he attempted to explain what he was talking about.

In section 2, “The field of historical thought,” he took a stand against what he and his peers referred to as positivist historiography. This approach to studying history extended back to the mid-nineteenth century. Positivists believed that, through a careful compilation of documents, and through careful research, historians can discover what had objectively taken place in the past. This is what normal people also suppose is possible. Otherwise, why study history? By the 1930’s, almost no professionally trained historian defended such a view. About the only person who held it was Arnold Toynbee, who was the greatest historian of the era—or maybe any era—in terms of volume of research and breadth of knowledge, but he was also the last.

Collingwood distinguished between outside history and inside history. Outside history has to do with documents. The outside of an event has to do with “bodies and their movements” (p. 213). Caesar crossed the Rubicon. A group of senators later assassinated Caesar. Something moved. In contrast, the inside of the event can be described only in terms of the thoughts of the actors. The historian must consider both. He is studying actions, and action is the unity of the outside and inside of the event. He said this of the historian: “. . . his main task is to think himself into this action, to discern the thought of its agent” (p. 213).

This means that the historian has to be a retroactive mind reader. Collingwood never used this phrase, but he used something similar: “mental science” (p. 224). I understand his point. God is a mind reader. He judges all of the thoughts of everyone. So, I am not dismissing Collingwood’s requirement that the historian must understand the motivations of historical actors. What I am saying is this: if you reject the concept of an omniscient God, you lose any authoritative way of ascertaining whether you have successfully gotten inside the mind of a past actor. I ask: What repeatable technique would enable you to do this? How would you judge the objective adequacy of this technique? How would you judge the adequacy of your ability to implement this technique in any specific assessment of evidence? Humanistic historians cannot answer these questions. They pretend that they can, but they cannot. They do not agree on what this technique is. One group has said that no such technique exists: postmodernists. They have blown the whistle on the entire profession, so to speak. They are not appreciated by the vast majority of practicing historians, but these historians have not written coherent responses to the postmodernists that invoke any agreed-upon theory of historical investigation and procedure that answers their criticisms. Postmodernists are radical autonomists. They have followed the logic of autonomy to its unpalatable conclusion: nobody can know anything about the meaning of the past. Other historians do not want to follow them down this path. (See Chapter 9.)

Collingwood continued: “For history, the object to be discovered is not the mirror event, but the thought expressed in it. To discover that thought is already to understand it. After the historian has ascertained the facts, there is no further process of inquiry into their causes. When he knows what happened, he already knows why it happened” (p. 214). But how does the historian discover this past thought? How does he understand it? How does he ascertain the facts? Once he does, I am sure that “there is no further process of inquiry into their causes.” But how can he attain this highly desirable situation? Collingwood never said.

He continued: “The cause of the event, for him, means the thought in the mind of the person by whose agency the event came about: and this is not something other than the event, it is inside the event itself” (pp. 214–15). Thus, he drew a conclusion: “All history is the history of thought” (p. 215). He then asked the right question. “But how does the historian discern the thoughts that he is trying to discover?” Here was his answer: “There is only one way in which it can be done: by rethinking them in his own mind” (p. 215). “The history of thought, and therefore all history, is the re-enactment of past thought in the historian’s own mind” (p. 215). In short, we are back to the historian as a mind reader.

Collingwood was a defender of autonomy for the historian. In a careful review of Collingwood’s unfinished book, Principles of History, David Boucher summarized Collingwood’s view of evidence: the historian creates it in his mind.

The starting point of history is not the evidence itself but what the historian, knowing the language, takes it to mean. He or she makes his or her own autonomous statement of the fact that the statement has been made. The historian makes the judgment saying that I read this evidence to be saying this rather than that, and it is in this respect that the historian is autonomous in relation to the evidence: ‘his evidence is always an experience of his own, an act which he has performed on his own powers and is conscious of having performed by his own powers: the aesthetic act of reading a certain text in a language he knows, and assigning to it a certain sense’ [PH, 43–44]. The evidence, then, is not found, but instead made in the mind of the historian, which interprets what the evidence says and what it means (“The Significance of R. G. Collingwood’s ‘Principles of History,’” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 58 [April 1997],p. 315.)

3. Historical Criticism

How does the historian do this? Through criticism. Unfortunately, Collingwood never explained how this criticism works. He never presented a methodology by which criticism can be made to work. He did not explain how such a thing as objective criticism can even exist in a subjective world. Nevertheless, he invoked the word. “It is not a passive surrender to the spell of another’s mind; it is a labour of active and therefore critical thinking. The historian not only re-enacts past thought, he re-enacts it in the context of his own knowledge and therefore, in re-enacting it, criticizes it, forms his own judgment of its value, corrects whatever errors he can discern in it. This criticism of the thought whose history he traces is not something secondary to tracing the history of it. It is an indispensable condition of the historical knowledge itself” (p. 215). This is an implication of the doctrine of autonomy. The autonomous historian must use his mind to understand the thoughts of somebody decades or millennia ago. This assumes a constancy of human thought. On what basis can an evolutionist assume this? He has to assume it, but how is it that such continuity exists? The continuity of thought means that human thought does not evolve socially. But how can human thought be rendered immune to the processes of social change? In other words, how can Parmenides defend his kingdom of changeless logic against the constant assault by random historical change? Collingwood was a consistent evolutionist. He later denied in the same chapter what he had to assume in order to make sense of his position. He spelled out in detail the implications of his position.

History, then, is not, as it has so often been mis-described, a story of successive events or an account of change. Unlike the natural scientist, the historian is not concerned with events as such at all. He is only concerned with those events which are the outward expression of thoughts, and is only concerned with these in so far as they express thoughts. At bottom, he is concerned with thoughts alone; with the outward expression in events he is concerned only by the way, in so far as these reveal to him the thoughts of which he is in search (p. 217). To the historian, the activities whose history he is studying are not spectacles to be watched, but experiences to be lived through in his own mind; they are objective, or known to him, only because they are also subjective, or activities of his own (p. 218).

It is the historian himself who stands at the bar of judgement, and there reveals his own mind in its strength and weakness, its virtues and its vices (p. 219).

As I have written, all of this assumes a continuity in human nature and human thought. This is what evolutionism denies. Collingwood was consistent. He also denied it.

To regard such a positive mental science as rising above the sphere of history, and establishing the permanent and unchanging laws of human nature, is therefore possible only to a person who mistakes the transient conditions of a certain historical age for the permanent conditions of human life. It was easy for men of the eighteenth century to make this mistake, because their historical perspective was so short, and their knowledge of cultures other than their own so limited, that they could cheerfully identify the intellectual habits of a western European in their own day with the intellectual faculties bestowed by God upon Adam and all his progeny (p. 224).

Notice his contempt regarding the idea of God the Creator bestowing Adam and mankind with constant intellectual faculties, meaning constant logic. Collingwood was an evolutionist. He was in revolt against the idea of a Creator God. So were eighteenth-century Enlightenment historians. So were sixteenth-century Renaissance historians. But they accepted the idea of a fixed human nature. Collingwood did not. “The idea of a science of human nature, as entertained in the eighteenth century, belonged to a time when it was still believed that the human species, like every other, was a special creation with unalterable characteristics” (p. 224). We know better today, he assured his readers. I ask: if there is no valid science of human nature, as Collingwood insisted there is not, then what is the meaning of “positive mental science”? He never said.

4. Relativism

Collingwood at this point had painted himself into a corner: relativism. He did not want to be in that corner. But he had a problem. He was an evolutionist. Social evolution changes people’s ideas. This raises a question: how can today’s historian accurately—objectively—understand the thoughts of people who made decisions thousands of years ago? Collingwood had to maintain the idea of the continuity of human thought in order to justify the idea of an historian whose mind has a connection with the minds of people long dead. If this connection is not viable, one generation to the next, then there can be no historical truth. He was horrified by this suggestion. So, he denied that evolutionary change applies to human thought. His argument had two parts. Here is part 1: an admission that the intellectual problem exists.

The fallacy inherent in the very idea of a science of human nature is not removed by pointing out that human nature, like every kind of nature, must according to the principles of modern thought be conceived as subject to evolution. Indeed, such a modification of the idea only leads to worse consequences. Evolution, after all, is a natural process, a process of change; and as such it abolishes one specific form in creating another. The trilobites of the Silurian age may be the ancestors of the mammals of to-day, including ourselves; but a human being is not a kind of wood-louse. The past, in a natural process, is a past superseded and dead. Now suppose the historical process of human thought were in this sense an evolutionary process. It would follow that the ways of thinking characteristic of any given historical period are ways in which people must think then, but in which others, cast at different times in a different mental mould, cannot think at all. If that were the case, there would be no such thing as truth: according to the inference correctly drawn by Herbert Spencer, what we take today for knowledge is merely the fashion of present-day thought, not true but at the most useful in our struggle for existence (p. 225).

We have now arrived at point 3 of the humanists’ concept of history: relativism. There is no truth. (See Chapter 8.) But Collingwood, without warning, reversed himself. He denied the logic of this position. This is part 2 of his argument. He said that evolution applies only to a natural process. It does not apply to historical change. The problem he faced was this: he had to show that historical change is not at least as evolutionistic as change in the biological world. To make this argument, he invoked corporate imputation. He had spent a hundred pages talking about the autonomy of the historian. But he finally admitted that the autonomous historian faces the problem of the discontinuity of thought over time. There is no way for the historian to be certain that, when he somehow gets inside the dead man’s mind, he can understand it correctly. So, Collingwood at this point abandoned the idea of the historian who imputes meaning autonomously. He needs help. “The body of human thought or mental activity is a corporate possession, and almost all the operations which our minds perform are operations which we learned to perform from others who have performed them already. Since mind is what it does, and human nature, if it is a name for anything real, is only a name for human activities, this acquisition of ability to perform determined operations is the acquisition of a determinate human nature. Thus the historical process is a process in which man creates for himself this or that kind of human nature by re-creating in his own thought the past to which he is heir” (p. 226).

In the game of poker, this procedure is described as dealing from the bottom of the deck. His invocation of corporate mental continuity down through the ages is in opposition to what he had been arguing for: an autonomous historian’s imputation of meaning to autonomous human beings in the past. I ask: How did this continuity maintain itself? How can he prove this? People change their opinions. Societies do, too. How can an autonomous historian impute accurate meaning to the past in terms of what actors in the past believed? How can he determine such meaning? In terms of social evolutionism, he cannot do this. In terms of humanist philology, there is no agreed-on theory that answers this problem.

Having made this argument of mental continuity by way of corporate instruction, he reversed himself again. He went back to his original justification of the autonomous historian. He never again raised the issue of corporate imputation, for corporate imputation is a denial of individual autonomy. (See Chapter 9.) He wrote this. (Warning: what you are about to read is incoherent.) “The historical process is itself a process of thought, and it exists only in so far as the minds which are parts of it know themselves for parts of it. By historical thinking, the mind whose self-knowledge is history not only discovers within itself those powers of which historical thought reveals the possession, but actually develops those powers from a latent to an actual state, brings them into effective existence” (p. 226). You cannot make sense of this, can you? That is because it makes no sense. Reread it. It is not going to make any more sense the second time than it did the first time.

Here is a way to spot someone who is in trouble answering a difficult question. For a time, you can follow his arguments. Then, without warning, he becomes incoherent. You can no longer follow his argument. If you try to get inside his mind, you find that his mind is jumbled. This is not because your mind is jumbled. He has failed to maintain logical coherence. This was Collingwood’s problem. His theory of history rested on the assumption of the continuity of human thought. But his theory of history did not offer cogent reasons to believe in such a concept. Humanism’s theory of autonomy undermines such a concept. Collingwood had to justify his theory of autonomous individual imputation of meaning to the past. He failed. He did not solve the problem raised by the theory of evolution. The doctrine of evolution undermines every theory of a constant human nature. Collingwood was in revolt against the concept of God-given human nature. But, to maintain his position, he invoked an unsupported theory of corporate mankind-given continuity of thought. There is such continuity, he said, because we have been taught ideas by others, who were taught ideas by others, who were taught ideas by others, all the way back to the non-objective past event, “outside and inside.” This justification of continuity is implausible. He offered no support for it. He merely asserted it. He never mentioned it again in his book.

Collingwood never finished this book. He started another, which he also did not finish. He never got his system clear in his own mind. He denied God’s granting of constancy in human logic. He did so in the name of evolution. But then, having chased God out of the universe by means of the theory of evolution, he found himself defending the autonomous historian who somehow has the ability to get inside the minds of people who have been dead for millennia. He had to assume the constancy of imputed ethical value and the constancy of imputed meaning. But he could not defend his concept of continuity in terms of his theory of autonomous individual imputation. So, he invoked collective imputation. He invoked an undefined system of consistent education down through the ages, which somehow preserves sufficient continuity of meaning for the historian to practice his “mental science.”

5. Evolving Principles of Selection

He asked a good question. “How can we ever satisfy ourselves of the principles on which we think are true, except by going on thinking according to those principles, and seeing whether unanswerable criticisms of them emerge as we work?” (p. 230). This is pragmatism. This is the philosophy of “if it works in practice, it is morally and epistemologically valid.” But then the humanist needs a theory for determining what works objectively. Collingwood did not offer such a theory.

He wanted liberty, which he defined as autonomy. He therefore did not want any trace of Parmenidean constancy in his theory of history. “History, therefore, cannot be made to square with theories according to which the object of knowledge is abstract and changeless, a logical entity toward which the mind may take up various attitudes” (p. 234). He claimed that he was offering “a Copernican revolution in the theory of history: the discovery that, so far from relying on authority other than himself, to whose statements his thought must conform, the historian is his own authority and his thought at times, self-authorizing, possessed of a criterion to which his so-called authorities must conform and by reference to which they are criticized” (p. 236).

In the next paragraph, he got to the main point of the entire book. It is the issue associated with the selection of facts and their interpretation. This issue affects every field of thought. It is the essence of the problem of knowledge. If man is not made in the image of God, yet he is still held responsible by someone or something for his thoughts and actions, this raises a question: which facts should he pay attention to at any point in his life? Here is Collingwood’s answer.

The autonomy of historical thought is seen at its simplest in the work of selection. The historian tries to work on the common-sense theory, and accurately reproduce what he finds in his authorities, resembles a landscape-painter who tries to work on that theory of art which bids the artist copy nature. He may fancy that he is reproducing in his own medium the actual shapes and colours of natural things; but however hard he tries to do this he is always selecting, simplifying schematizing, leaving out what he thinks unimportant and putting in what he regards as essential. . . . It is he, therefore, and not his authority, that is responsible for what goes on. On that question he is his own master: his thought is to that extent autonomous (pp. 236–37).

The historian autonomously creates the past. “The historian’s picture is his subject, whether that subject be a sequence of events or a past state of things, thus appears as a web of imaginative constructions stretched between certain fixed points provided by the statements of his authorities; and if these points are frequent enough and the threads spun from each to the next are constructed with due care, always by the a priori imagination and never by merely arbitrary fancy, the whole picture is constantly verified by appeal to these data, and runs little risk of losing touch with the reality which it represents” (p. 242). Notice his use of the word “if.” He based his case for the idea of history on this assumption, never explained: if has become are. I ask: “How can the historian know whether there are enough points?” There are always more. Next, how can he know whether he has connected the “threads” with “due care”? What is “due care”? Next, how can the historian distinguish between “the a priori imagination” and “arbitrary fancy”? For that matter, how can there be such a thing as an a priori imagination in a world of constant flux? The moment that somebody invokes a priori anything, he is nestled securely in the arms of Parmenides, who will squeeze him to death if he decides to change his mind about anything. In the world of humanism, when you embrace a priori, you must necessarily abandon a posteriori: the ability to assess new facts that may lead to new ideas. In short, you lose your liberty.

Collingwood, in the name of autonomy, wrote this: “The a priori imagination which does the work of historical construction supplies the means of historical criticism as well” (p. 245). I ask: how does such autonomous imagination supply the means of historical criticism? How does it criticize the means of criticism? In other words, how can the historian’s historical construction be evaluated in such a way that he can reach the truth about the past? What are the means of criticism? How does the historian get access to them? How does the historian apply them in specific situations? Are they permanent? Do they evolve? He answered none of these questions. He did not bother to ask them in the book.

At this point, his inner Heraclitus beat the stuffing out of his inner Parmenides.

It is for the same reason then in history, as in all serious matters, no achievement is final. The evidence available for solving any given problem changes with every change of historical method and with every variation in the competence of historians. The principles by which this evidence is interpreted changed too. . .” (p. 248).

. . . every new historian, not content with giving new answers to old questions, must revise the questions themselves; and—since historical thought is a river into which none can step twice—even a single historian working at a single subject for a certain length of time, finds when he tries to reopen an old question that the question has changed (p. 248).

This position produces skepticism. He did not want to be understood as advocating skepticism. So, he denied categorically the implication of what he had just written. “This is not an argument for historical skepticism. It is only the discovery of a second dimension of historical thought, the history of history: the discovery that the historian himself, together with the here-and-now which forms the total body of evidence available to him, is a part of the process he is studying, has his own place in that process, and can see it only from the point of view which at this present moment he occupies within it” (p. 248). I ask: what is this process? If it is a process, it keeps changing. But if it keeps changing, then the truth keeps changing. If the truth keeps changing, there is no truth across history. If “the process he is studying” keeps changing, this is a philosophy of skepticism. He did not show that this process does not keep changing. Here was his problem: an evolutionist is beset on all sides by historical processes that keep changing. This is the curse of Heraclitus.

What happens to historical truth? Collingwood did not say. He attempted to say it, but he did not say it coherently. “But neither the raw material of historical knowledge, the detail of the here-and-now, is given him in perception, not the various endowments that serve him as aids to interpreting this evidence, can give the historian his criterion of historical truth. That criterion is the idea of history itself: the idea of an imaginary picture of the past” (p. 248). I ask: what was his idea of history? He never got around to saying. Instead, he told us about the autonomy of historians in making judgments regarding documents that express dead people’s motivations and thoughts. He justified these creative explanations in terms of a priori principles that change. He needed to write a book on how a priori principles change.

He then wrote what he thought might be inspirational to some budding historian who took seriously his theory of history, whatever it was. This is what the young historian can look forward to. “The historian, however long and faithfully he works, can never say that his work, even in crudest outline or in this or that smallest detail, is done once for all. He can never say that his picture of the past is at any point adequate to the idea of what ought to be. But, however fragmentary and faulty the results of his work may be, the idea which governed his course is clear, rational, and universal. It is the idea of the historical imagination as a self-dependent, self-determining, and self-justifying form of thought” (p. 249). I do not regard this as an inspirational rallying cry to recruit, train, and motivate successive generations of dedicated historians.C. Van Til on Collingwood

I have gone through some of the arguments that Collingwood made in defense of the totally autonomous historian. Van Til devoted six pages to an analysis of Collingwood in Part 1 of the syllabus, Christianity in Conflict (1962).

Van Til got to the heart of the matter. Collingwood was opposed to the idea of an omniscient God who imputes meaning to his universe. He denied God’s sovereignty. “According to Collingwood the sort of philosophy of history involved in orthodox Christianity is to be called theocratic history [p. 15]. In theocratic history humanity is not an agent, but partly an instrument and partly a patient, of the actions recorded. The idea of God’s plan back of history as revealed by Christ in history through the Scriptures is said to be pure determination. Collingwood will not think of man as made in the image of God and therefore as an analogue of God” (pp. 10–11). Here was the motivation behind Collingwood’s vision of the totally autonomous historian. “For Collingwood, man’s thought, to be really his own, must be absolutely his own. Man must be his own ultimate interpreter” (p. 11). This means autonomy.

Van Til then asked a question: “What happens to the ‘objective facts of history’ on this point of view? The answer is that they gradually disappear into the subject that interprets them. That does not mean that the subject at last creates them in the sense that it produces them. But it does signify that the meaning to be attached to any objective historical fact is what it is as part of the framework that the subject projects for itself” (p. 11). What Van Til wrote about Collingwood applies to all of the humanists who have offered a philosophy of history. They attribute to the individual historian the ability to impute meaning to historical facts—facts revealed by historical evidence. But this view of imputation means that every man becomes his own historian. This creates cacophony in historiography. There is no way to bring harmony to this cacophony, given the presuppositions of humanism. (See Chapter 9.)

Here was Collingwood’s recommendation, Van Til wrote: “Collingwood thinks that the modern historian should follow Vico, the Italian philosopher of history, in holding that verurn et factum convertuntur [p. 64] The fabric of human society is created by man out of nothing, and every detail of this fabric is therefore a human factum, eminently knowable to the human mind as such [p. 65]” (p. 11). Although Van Til did not say this, Vico’s vision of the autonomy of man goes back to the Renaissance.

I have devoted this chapter entirely to Collingwood. There is a reason for this. Van Til understood this reason in 1962. “The great virtue of Collingwood’s view is that it so plainly rests itself upon the autonomy of man. When he speaks of the autonomy of the historical method he speaks, of course, in opposition to the idea that the historian should narrowly follow the method of the scientist. But more basically he is opposing the idea that the historian should be required to submit to any statement even in his own field as authoritative. The rights of the historian are infringed if he is required to take any statement at face value as being a true account of the facts that have taken place” (p. 15). The implication of this outlook can accurately be described in one word: skepticism.Conclusion

Collingwood did not finish the book. He started to write another, but he only wrote four chapters. Then he died.

The Idea of History presents one inconsistent theory after another. First, the autonomous historian needs to be able to impute meaning to past events. The past events are dead and gone. They are not objective. Collingwood’s theory implicitly assumes that there is no objective history. There is only imputed history, even five minutes after an event. It has become history. The historian needs evidence. But this evidence is not evidence until he imputes meaning to what the evidence points to. He has to be able to read the minds of the people who produced the documents. He also has to read the mind of the person described in the documents. This means that there has to be a source of epistemological continuity from the past to the present, so that he will be able to understand what the dead person was thinking. But, in a world of autonomous imputations of meaning, the existence of such epistemological continuity cannot legitimately be assumed. Also, in a world of evolutionary change, such epistemological continuity seems out of the question. So, Collingwood was forced to invoke collective judgments over time. Somebody taught the historian how to think, and somebody taught the person who taught the historian, back to the historical document. Then he dropped the argument.

Everything is in flux. This includes the principles of historical interpretation. It includes human logic. It includes individual value judgments down through the ages. There has to be continuity in the imputation of meaning, but autonomous man cannot show why this continuity exists or how he can take advantage of it in order to understand the past.

From a philosophical standpoint, Collingwood was among the best and the brightest of the authors who have offered a philosophy of history. He never offered guidelines for writing history: the selection of documents, analyzing documents, and the application of his unexplained critical theory to documents and also interpretations. He was not a practicing historian. But even if he had been, this would have done his theory no good. There have been a lot of practicing humanistic historians who have attempted to provide a philosophical justification for what they do and how they do it. They have been no more successful than he was. I hope to demonstrate this in the next two chapters.

The Biblical Structure of History (11): Chapter 6, Evolution

Gary North – November 04, 2021

History is a fragment of biology: the life of man is a portion of the vicissitudes of organisms on land and sea. . . . Therefore the laws of biology are the fundamental lessons of history. We are subject to the processes and trials of evolution, to the struggle for existence in the survival of the fittest to survive. If some of us seem to escape the strife or the trials is because our group protects us; but that group itself must meet the tests of survival. So the first biological lesson in of history is that life is competition. . . . The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection. In the competition for food or mates or power some organisms succeed and some fail. In the struggle for existence some individuals are better equipped than others to meet the tests of survival. Will and Ariel Durant, 1968.

A. Covenant Model, Point 1

Point 1 of the biblical covenant model is God’s transcendence. This includes His presence with the creation.

Point 1 of the biblical covenant model for social theory is the sovereignty of God.

Point 1 of the humanist covenant model is evolution. The theory of cosmic evolution is the humanists’ explanation of coherence. They deny that a personal God created the universe. They deny that He sustains it providentially. They identify a purposeless universe as the source of its own coherence. The universe is autonomous. It is not providential. It is impersonal. They offer no theory of the origin of matter-energy. They offer only a theory of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago (give or take). I ask: “Where did the stuff that blew up come from?” Here is the cosmologists’ answer, paraphrasing Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “The universe just growed.” Big! Humanism announces retroactively: “Despise not the day of infinitesimal beginnings.”

Point 1 of humanist social theory is sovereignty. Humanists initially identify the universe as sovereign. This eliminates the sovereignty of God. But then they offer the doctrine of man. Life evolved out of a lifeless cosmos about 4.5 billion years ago. Man evolved out of purposeless life about 2.5 million years ago. Man has purpose. He is the only known (by man) source of purpose. Man thereby became sovereign. He can plan. He manipulates portions of the universe. He exercises dominion over nature. For now. Not forever. (See Chapter 10.)

I focus on the Durants in this chapter because they invoked the doctrine of evolution as the basis of historical development. Most historians remain silent on cosmic origins. As humanists, they assume that the cosmos is governed by laws of evolution, but they remain silent on the implications of this faith for their philosophy of history. They have no self-conscious philosophy of history.

B. Denying Fixed Morality

1. A Mass Audience

The Durants were the most successful historians in history, if book sales are the criteria of success. Will Durant wrote the first six volumes, The Story of Civilization. Together, they wrote the final five volumes. The first volume came out in 1935. The eleventh volume came out in 1975. Each volume was over 1,000 pages long. Each book was heavily footnoted. The public bought these books by the millions. At the time of the authors’ separate, unrelated deaths in late 1981, books in the series had sold at least two million copies in nine languages. The books have remained in print ever since. The series was legendary for its finely crafted prose. The Durants could tell stories as few historians ever have, and no historian has ever told more stories than they told.

By training, Will Durant was a philosopher. He received a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1917. Sales of his 1926 book, The Story of Philosophy, helped make Simon & Schuster a major publisher. The book sold so well that book royalties enabled the Durants to spend the rest of their days working on their series.

In 1968, before they completed the series, they wrote a short book, The Lessons of History. The brief chapters include these: “Biology and History,” “Race and History,” “Character and History,” “Morals and History,” “Religion and History,” “Economics and history,” and several more. In these brief chapters, the authors provided nothing resembling a theory of comprehensive cause and effect in history.

Today, the Durants would be considered politically incorrect. In their chapter, “Biology and History,” which provides the citation with which I began this chapter, they argued that inequality spreads as civilization progresses. It is a natural process. Problem: there are no natural processes for societies, according to the vast majority of historians.

Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization. Hereditary inequalities breed social and artificial inequalities; every invention or discovery is made or seized by the exceptional individual, and makes the strong stronger, the week relatively weaker, than before. Economic development specializes functions, differentiates abilities, and makes men unequally valuable to their group. If we knew our fellow men thoroughly we could select thirty percent of them whose combined ability would equal that of all the rest. Life in history does precisely that, with a sublime injustice reminiscent of Calvin’s God (p. 20).

It is clear from this paragraph who their real enemy was: Calvin’s God. They correctly identified this enemy by name. Calvin’s God is the God of providence and predestination. They did not believe in either providence or predestination. They believed wholeheartedly in this phrase: the survival of the fittest. This was not Darwin’s phrase originally. It was Herbert Spencer’s phrase, but Darwin incorporated it in later editions of The Origin of Species.

2. Philosophy of History

In the first volume, Durant made it clear that he had a philosophy of history. In this regard, he was different from professional historians in the twentieth century. He believed that historical change, and ultimately historical progress, is based on constant conflicts between supernatural religion and men’s attempt to escape from the confines of traditional religion. This was the outlook of the Enlightenment.

Hence a certain tension between religion and society marks the higher stages of every civilization. Religion begins by offering magical aid to harassed and bewildered men; it culminates by giving to a people that unity of morals and belief which seems so favorable to statesmanship and art; it ends by fighting suicidally in the lost cause of the past. For as knowledge grows or alters continually, it clashes with mythology and theology, which change with geological leisureliness. Priestly control of arts and letters is then felt as a galling shackle or hateful barrier, and intellectual history takes on the character of a “conflict between science and religion.” Institutions which were at first in the hands of the clergy, like law and punishment, education and morals, marriage and divorce, tend to escape from ecclesiastical control, and become secular, perhaps profane. The intellectual classes abandon the ancient theology and—after some hesitation—the moral code allied with it; literature and philosophy become anticlerical. The movement of liberation rises to an exuberant worship of reason, and falls to a paralyzing disillusionment with every dogma and every idea. Conduct, deprived of its religious supports, deteriorates into epicurean chaos; and life itself, shorn of consoling faith, becomes a burden alike to conscious poverty and to weary wealth. In the end a society and its religion tend to fall together, like body and soul, in a harmonious death. Meanwhile, among the oppressed another myth arises, gives new form to human hope, new courage to human effort, and after centuries of chaos builds another civilization (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 1, p. 71).

There is no resolution to this conflict, he believed. There are no permanent ethical standards that would tell anyone whether a traditional religion is right or wrong, or whether a secular development is right or wrong. Society will go on warring between traditional religion and secular libertarianism. This, it seemed to Durant, is a law of history. Its outcome is problematic.

In 1968, they perceived an increase in moral laxity. This was in the midst of the student revolution that was sweeping the United States and the West, including Japan. They wrote this: “So we cannot be sure that the moral laxity of our times is a herald of decay rather than a powerful or delightful transition between a moral code that has lost its agricultural basis in another that are industrial civilization has yet to forge into social order and normality.” They remained cautiously optimistic: “Meanwhile history assures us that civilizations decay quite leisurely” (p. 41).

They were atheists. “Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean not the creative vitality of nature but a supreme being intelligent and benevolent, the answer must be a reluctant negative. Like other departments of biology, history remains at bottom a natural selection of the fittest individuals and groups in the struggle wherein goodness receives no favors, misfortunes abound, and the final test is the ability to survive” (p. 46).

They adopted one of the favorite arguments of humanists. Man, they said, is a mere speck in the cosmos. There has always been a subversive strategy behind this argument. If humanists could reduce man to a speck, they could make God cosmically irrelevant. Man is made in the image of God, Christianity teaches. So, if man is a mere speck, then God is irrelevant: barely a pebble. The Durants were aware of this logical sequence. They wrote:

The growing awareness of man’s minuscule place in the cosmos has furthered the impairment of religious belief. In Christendom we may date the beginning of the decline from Copernicus (1543). The process was slow, but by 1611, John Donne was morning that the earth had become a mere “suburb” in the world, and that “new philosophy calls all in doubt”; and Francis Bacon, while tipping his hat occasionally to the bishops, was proclaiming science as a religion of modern emancipated man. In that generation began the death of God as an external deity (pp. 46–47).

They understood that there are limits to the development of atheism. For them, there were no absolutes. But there was a pattern: “Puritanism and paganism—the repression and the expression of the senses and desires—alternate in mutual reaction in history.” When the state is weak, religion and Puritanism prevail, they said. “. . . laws are feeble, and morals must bear the burden of maintaining social order.” In contrast, skepticism and paganism advance “as the rising power of law government permits the decline of the church, the family, and morality without basically endangering the stability of the state. In our time the strength of the state is united with the several forces listed above to relax faith and morals, and to allow paganism to resume its natural sway.” They warned: “Probably our excesses will bring another reaction; moral disorder may generate a religious revival; atheists may again (as in France after the debacle of 1870) send their children to Catholic schools to give them the discipline of religious belief” (p. 50). They spoke in terms similar to those that Robert Nisbet surveyed a dozen years later in his book, History of the Idea of Progress. (See Chapter 10.)

Did they represent the outlook of professional historians generally? Their presentation of something resembling a theory of historical development in terms of the conflict between religion and secularism was not characteristic of professional historians after World War I. But their hostility to supernatural religion, and especially towards Christianity, has been characteristic of the professoriate since at least 1900. This includes historians.

They refused to pursue the implications of cosmic evolution. They did not discuss the second law of thermodynamics. They did not discuss entropy. They did not discuss the heat death of the universe in which all life will end. (See Chapter 10.) Their silence reflects the silence of historians generally. Modern man says that evolution began with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Life did not appear on the scene until about 4.5 billion years ago. All of it was purposeless. There was no purpose in the universe prior to the evolution of man, perhaps 2.5 million years ago. There will be no purpose after entropy has killed all life on earth. Man’s reign will come to an end. Humanists are generally silent about this. They prefer to ignore it.

The Durants reached millions of readers by means of the quality of their prose. They told wonderful stories. But they refused to carry the story of man into the distant future. Evolution will not favor mankind indefinitely. (See Chapter 10.)

The Durants’ remains are buried in Westwood Memorial Park, located in West Los Angeles. So is Marilyn Monroe. So is Hugh Hefner, who anonymously launched Playboy magazine in 1953 with a nude photograph of Monroe. It is one of those oddities of history that R. J. Rushdoony began preaching in that mortuary every Sunday morning, beginning in 1965, and did so for the next decade. He left before the Durants’ remains arrived, but Marilyn’s remains were there.

C. Denying Natural Law

In his 1967 book, The Biblical Philosophy of History, Rushdoony commented on the impact of Charles Darwin’s concept of biological evolution through impersonal natural selection. It undermined the concept of natural law, which had been dominant in Western thought for two millennia.

When, however, Nature was subjected to evolutionary theory, the concept of an infallible nature, natural law, and a divine decree within nature, was shattered. Nature represented simply, in Darwinism, chance and natural selection. Darwin tried to read a decree into this operation, but the damage was done. Another locale for the divine decree was necessary: nature was another dead God gone down the drain.

In terms of the new perspective of evolution, truth and meaning do not exist in the universe. In other words, there is no decree inherent in the universe or behind the universe. Man is alone, an accident of being, in a cold an alien universe which is the product of the fortuitous concourse of atoms. In this situation, man feels that he must do two things to survive. First, he must renounce the luxury and insanity of assuming that a God or gods exist. He must face the universe of brute factuality coldly and starkly. Second, truth and meaning are purely human categories of thought. They are man’s creations and must be imposed on the universe. Man must now control and guide evolution; he must use the universe and master himself as well. A decree is necessary, and it does not exist in or behind the universe: man must therefore promulgate his own divine decree and impose on human society and upon all creation (pp. 46–47).

By the early twentieth century, faith in natural law had generally departed from the academic community. Darwinism by the late 1880’s had steadily begun selecting against those scholars who still maintained the old Roman Stoic doctrine of universal natural law, which had buttressed the multi-ethnic Roman Empire. This doctrine did not exist in pre-empire Greek philosophy.

Rushdoony understood what humanists have always ignored: the concept of cosmic evolution by way of random astronomical events and random biological mutations is an extension of the chaos cult thinking of ancient paganism. It is an extension of paganism’s religion of revolution. He wrote this in booklet, The Religion of Revolution, which was published in 1965.

A sophisticated modern development of the ancient chaos cult is the theory of evolution, which is the religion of modern scientists. All things supposedly developed out of an original chaos of being, and the process of evolution is the assumption of a continuous act of chaos against present order. The current idea of evolution by mutations is held in the face of the known fact that mutations are at the least almost all deleterious and destructive. More basic, the evolutionist sees nature and man and all being as one continuous whole; there is no supernatural and no distinction between created being, and uncreated being, God. Evolutionists speak of their universe as open, i.e., evolving, but their universe is actually closed and self-sufficient. The closed universe means that the life of man is wholly comprehended, as are all things, within the order of nature, since nothing transcends nature.

As a result, ultimate authority and proximate authority are made one. There is no law beyond man and nature, and, since man and nature are both evolving, there is no fixed or eternal law, no absolute right and wrong. There is thus for the evolutionist no supreme court of appeal to God against evil, no power in law or in righteousness, no unchanging revelation on which to stand. There is simply evolution, and evolution means change. Change thus becomes man’s hope and salvation. Earlier evolutionists saw change as slow and gradual, but, gradually, it came to be “recognized” that man could himself promote change and thus he could further evolution. This guided change is, in every area, revolutionary action, a deliberate disruption of order designed to produce a superior order.

It is the ancient use of chaos as the means to true order. The evolutionist looks to chaos as the Christian looks to God. Since the evolutionist, as scientific planner, does not believe in any absolute right or wrong, there is nothing except old “prejudices” to prevent him from using man experimentally and without restraint as a test animal in creating or evolving his scientific social order. Man is thus his guinea pig and tool towards the “brave new world” of science. The more remote men of such science become from Christian faith and morality, the bolder they will be in their “scientific socialism.” And it is this freedom from God and morality and this evolutionary belief which constitutes the “science” of Marx’s “scientific socialism.”

I took this insight seriously. Almost immediately, I began my research for Marx’s Religion of Revolution (1968).

D. Denying Purpose

I published the following section in Chapter 2 of my book, Sovereignty and Dominion (2012) . That book was first published as The Dominion Covenant: Genesis (1982).

The heart of the Bible’s account of the creation is God and His purposeful word, while the heart of modern evolution is the denial of purpose, whichever of the secular cosmologies a man decides to accept: entropy, steady state, or oscillating universe. This fact has not been understood by those conservative Bible expositors who have chosen to rewrite Genesis 1. We must bear in mind that it was Darwin’s insistence on the unplanned, purposeless nature of geological and biological change that won him instant success in the world of secular humanism. Darwin denied all the old arguments for divine purpose as a cause of the orderliness of nature. Natural order proves no such thing, he insisted; natural selection of randomly produced biological changes, not supernatural design, accounts for nature’s orderliness. Evolutionary scientists accepted Darwin’s denial of cosmic purpose long before there was any idea that the universe might be 13 billion years old. The heart of the Darwinian intellectual revolution was not evolution. The heart of the Darwinian intellectual revolution was Darwin’s explanation of undesigned order. It was his denial of final purpose, of the universe’s ends-orientation, of teleology.

Teleology had served Christian apologists ever since the days of Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) as a major pillar of the five supposedly irrefutable proofs of God. Teleological arguments assert that the order of the universe reflects the orderly God who created it. Not only does this order reflect God, as Paul had argued (Rom. 1:18–20), it supposedly also demonstrates logically that such a God must exist. The universe can only be explained in terms of supernatural design. William Paley, writing in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, convinced the majority of his English and American audiences of the logic of the argument from design.

Consider the perspective of a book produced by faculty members of Princeton University in 1945 for students enrolled in a course on American civilization. This book was published five years later by Yale University Press. It is indicative of the outlook of the best universities in he United States, then and today. It is a description of pre-Darwin explanations of nature’s regularities, which Christian theologians and social thinkers accepted in the name of the Bible.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, orthodox Protestant Christian thinkers, both in England and in America, absorbed the Deist argument in its rationalistic aspects by harmonizing natural religion with revelation. The one was found to strengthen and confirm the other. . . . Out of this fusion of natural and revealed religion came one of the great arguments for the support of the orthodox faith. This was the doctrine of design. Just as Paley’s famous watch bore its own testimony to the activity of the watch-maker, so the universe in all of its marvelous detail sang the praises of its Creator. In an age in which theories of natural law came to permeate social thought, and in which the achievements of applied science were already lending prestige to a rationalistic and materialistic view of things, the argument from design became one of the most useful and widely used defences for Christianity. Natural religion must of course be supplemented by revealed religion, for each plumbed distinctly incommensurable dimensions. Nevertheless, natural law, as then conceived, was, like the revealed word of God, fixed, absolute, and immutable. The one was clearly apprehended by the intelligence, and the other by the study of Holy Writ (Stow Persons, “Evolution and Theology in America,” in Persons [ed.], Evolutionary Thought in America [1956], pp. 422–23).

The concept of a mechanistic, self-sufficient system of natural law had not been recognized as a threat to Christian orthodoxy—a denial of cosmic personalism. Nineteenth- century Christians did not recognize the danger of constructing a systematic theology that rested simultaneously on a biblical pillar and a pillar of secular autonomy. The logic of design seemed so sure, so unanswerable. How else could men explain the extraordinary “fit” among all the parts of creation? Does not such an integrated, coherent environment demand men’s faith in a cosmic Designer? And is not this Designer the God of the Bible? If the universe was designed, then it has a purpose assigned to it by God. Even the ungodly must acknowledge the logic from design, Christian defenders of the faith insisted. The logic seemed inescapable: order implies design; design implies a Designer; a Designer implies purpose. What could be more logical? Christian apologists gave little or no thought to the intellectual vulnerability of this two-pillar defense. What if the secular pillar collapsed?

Modern secular science, from Darwin to the present, has as its operating presupposition this premise: all causation is autonomous in nature, and no causation is purposive—until the advent of man. The origin of order must be sought in purposeless randomness—the basis of unbreakable scientific law in the nineteenth century, and the acknowledged sovereign in the twentieth—and not in God’s purpose and design.

To overcome the logic of Paley, late-nineteenth-century scientists took the first crucial step: to ascribe the origin of perceived order to random change. This hypothesis was the major intellectual revolution of the nineteenth century. The importance of this scientific presupposition cannot be overestimated: it served to free secular science from critics, potential and actual, who might have succeeded in redirecting the work of scientists along biblical lines. But there was a more fundamental aspect of this affirmation of randomness: to shove God out of the universe, once and for all. Man wanted to escape the threat of control by a supernatural Creator.

Once that step had been taken, scientists took a second step: to assert the sovereignty of man. Since there is no cosmic purpose in the universe, secularists concluded, man is left free to make his autonomous decisions in terms of his own autonomous plans. Man becomes the source of cosmic purpose. The purposeless forces of random evolutionary change have at long last produced a new, purposeful sovereign—man—and man now asserts his sovereignty over creation. He takes control, by means of science, over the formerly purposeless laws of evolutionary development. The universe needs a god, and man is now this god. (See Chapter 7.)

E. Kant’s Defunct Grand Narrative

Immanuel Kant changed Western philosophy. Humanist philosophy since Kant has been a series of debates over the issues he raised. He replaced the Greeks in the thinking of humanists. He created a new dualism: the science-personality dualism, also known as the nature-freedom dualism. He abandoned the concept of metaphysical forms that exist separately from history (transcendence) or embedded in history (immanence).

In 1784, Kant published a short essay: “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View.” This was three years after the publication of his Critique of Pure Reason, and four years prior to the publication of his Critique of Practical Reason. It was a product of his mature thinking. In this essay, he argued that nature has a plan for mankind: the creation of a one-world state. This is the grand narrative of mankind. This was his replacement of the Christian doctrine of God’s decree, which governed God’s creation of the cosmos out of nothing. In 1755, he had written a defense of cosmic evolution: Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens. He concluded that “the sphere of developed nature is always but an infinitely small part of that totality which has the seed of future worlds in itself, which strives to involve itself out of the crude state of chaos through longer or shorter periods. The creation is never finished or complete. It has indeed once begun, but it will never cease. It is always busy producing new scenes of nature, new objects, and new worlds” (University of Michigan edition, 1969, pp. 145–46). Kant began his essay with a statement of faith. It was a statement of faith regarding the legitimacy of human freedom, which is somehow determined by universal laws. These are not laws of God. They are laws of nature.

Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment.

We see here in the perpetual tension between universal human laws and specific events, in this case actual human actions. These actions are a matter of free will, yet in the aggregate, and in the long run, they move in terms of a grand narrative. This grand narrative is unknown to the masses. “. . . each individual and people, as if following some guiding thread, go toward a natural but to each of them unknown goals; all work toward furthering it, even if they would set a little store by if they did know it.”

Kant’s theory of the grand narrative rested on a concept of nature which was teleological. Nature is future-oriented, Kant argued. It has purposes. In today’s language, this theory would be known as intelligent design. It denied the fundamental principle of Darwinism: evolution through purposeless natural selection. Kant presented nine theses in defense of his system. Every one of them is denied by today’s Darwinian cosmologists.

(1) All natural capacities of a creature are destined to evolve completely to their natural end.

(2) In man (as the only rational creature on earth) those natural capacities which are directed to the use of his reason or to be fully developed only in the race, not in the individual.

(3) Nature has willed that man should, by himself, produce everything that goes beyond the mechanical ordering of his animal existence, and that he should partake of no other happiness or perfection and that which he himself, independently of instinct, has created by his own reason.

(4) The means employed by Nature to bring about the development of all of the capacities of men is there antagonism in society, so far as this is, in the end, the cause of a lawful order among men.

(5) The greatest problem for the human race, to the solution of which Nature, drives man, is the achievement of a universal civic society which administers law among men.

(6) This problem is the most difficult and the last to be solved by mankind.

(7) The problem of establishing a perfect civic constitution is dependent upon the problem of a lawful external relation among states and cannot be solved without a solution of the latter problem.

(8) The history of mankind can be seen, in the large, as the realization of Nature’s secret plan to bring forth a perfectly constituted state as the only condition in which the capacities of mankind can be fully developed, and also bring forth that external relation among states which is perfectly adequate to this end.

(9) A philosophical attempt to work out a universal history according to a natural plan directed to achieving the civic union of the human race must be regarded as possible and, indeed, as contributing to this end of Nature.

His comment on the third thesis is especially revealing. “Nature does nothing in vain, and in the use of means to her goals she is not prodigal. Her giving to man reason and the freedom of the will which depends upon it is clear indication of her purpose. Man accordingly was not to be guided by instinct, not nurtured and instructed with ready-made knowledge; rather, he should bring forth everything out of his own resources.” This is a theory of intelligent design.

In the next to the last paragraph in the essay, he invoked the language of Christianity in order to defend his evolutionary thesis of intelligent design.

Such a justification of nature—or, better, of Providence—is no unimportant reason for choosing a standpoint toward world history. For what is the good of esteeming the majesty and wisdom of Creation in the realm of brute nature and of recommending that we contemplated, if that part of the great stage of supreme wisdom which contains the purpose of all the others—the history of mankind—must remain an unceasing reproach to it? If we are forced to turn our eyes from it in disgust, doubting that we can ever find a perfectly rational purpose in it and hoping for that only in another world? (

This was the historical outlook of the most important modern philosopher. His worldview rested on both the direction and the purpose of history as determined by the intelligent design of autonomous nature. This outlook was overturned by Darwin and Darwinism after 1859. Darwinism denies natural law theory. It denies intelligent design. It therefore denies the possibility of a universal history of mankind that is governed by general laws that make history predictable. Today, there are no defenders of anything resembling the grand historical narrative that Kant offered in 1784. The only grand narrative that is consistent with Darwinism and with modern cosmic evolution is the grand narrative of entropy. It is a narrative of the future, not the past. Everything will eventually wind down. Everything is dying. (See Chapter 10).


Every civilization has a theory of origins. This theory is the source of the civilization’s connected theory of law and sanctions. Ever since Darwin, humanists have offered the doctrine of evolution through natural selection as their substitute for the doctrine of God’s creation of the universe out of nothing. They have thereby substituted the metaphysics of cosmic impersonalism for cosmic personalism. But they do not hold to this for long.

They adopt a strategy of deception. They use vast quantities of time—13.7 billion years since the Big Bang—to proclaim the vastness of the universe. They argue that man is a speck in this vast universe. This seems to relegate man to the fringes of significance. But then they insist that man alone has purposes. Purpose is an attribute of God. Man thereby becomes humanism’s god—a god by default. (I described this strategy in detail in Appendix A of my 2012 economic commentary on the Book of Genesis, Sovereignty and Dominion: “From Cosmic Purposelessness to Humanistic Sovereignty.” It was in the original edition, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, 1982.)

Humanists have a supreme pedagogical problem. To gain disciples, they must conceal their worldview regarding the direction of history toward a cosmic grave. Man can maintain his purposes for only as long as the species exists. Modern cosmology insists that all species will die in a process called the heat death of the universe. This final state of existence is an implication of the second law of thermodynamics. Life will end sometime in the future. Even time will end. The vast purposelessness of a dead universe will engulf everything that mankind has dreamed of and built. Humanists do not discuss this in their textbooks and monographs. They rarely talk about it at all. But those few who think about cosmology believe it. They believe that cosmic purposelessness prevailed until about 2.5 million years ago: the advent of man. It will prevail again in the death of the universe. (See Chapter 10.)

At the heart of humanism is cosmic purposelessness. There is no permanent meaning. This worldview is the result of the humanists’ alternative to the New Testament’s doctrine of the lake of fire. It is no doubt comforting in comparison with the doctrine of the lake of fire if your covenantal commitment places you in the disinherited family of man, heading toward the lake of fire. Better the heat death of the universe than the eternal heat of the lake of fire. But, by affirming the heat death of the universe, the humanist destroys the concept of purpose. Humanism places cosmic purposelessness on the throne of cosmic sovereignty. Man is merely a temporary usurper.

Because humanists rarely write about this aspect of their doctrine of cosmic evolution, they have succeeded in maintaining the illusion of man as the only purposeful sovereign agent in the cosmos. They do not discuss the inescapable moral implications of their theory of impersonal origins and their theory of impersonal entropy. But the pessimism of their worldview is inescapable. They prefer not to think about it. They prefer not to teach their students about it. But this pessimism steadily undermines their temporary optimism. This creates a recruiting problem for them. People do not want to commit to a philosophy of life that announces their inevitable defeat in history and beyond the grave.

The Biblical Structure of History (9), Introduction to Part 2

Gary North (, November 03, 2021

Humanists in academia avoid the question of epistemology like a plague. In every academic discipline, scholars avoid discussing the philosophical foundations of their discipline. They do not ask this question: “What do we know, and how can we know it?” This is true even in the department of philosophy. The department may offer a course that surveys various approaches to epistemology, but the course will not raise the question of the epistemology governing how academic philosophy should be taught. It will come to no conclusions about the proper way to defend the legitimacy or even the possibility of the academic discipline of philosophy.

There have never been university courses on epistemology. Students have never been introduced to the issue of epistemology. Why not? Because this topic raises the question of presuppositions. These presuppositions must be taken on faith. The professors do not want to discuss the nature of this faith. Students do not ask them to do this. The university’s administration does not ask them to do it. So, they do not do it.

Occasionally, a department will offer a course on methodology. This will deal with the techniques associated with the discipline. These techniques are what might be called bread-and-butter issues. They ask questions such as these. What are the appropriate methods of research in this field? What is the appropriate format for publishing the results? Which footnoting system is required? What should the bibliography look like? Each department has its own rules. Sometimes, a professor will enforce different rules.

Students concern themselves with a kind of academic etiquette. They do not concern themselves with the philosophical foundations of the discipline. In the case of graduate students in the humanities, they do not concern themselves with the legitimacy of the field to which they will devote the rest of their careers. They do not care. They assume that the required methodologies are based on a reliable theory of knowledge. They assume that someone in authority in their field has done the intellectual work of grounding these methodologies on a philosophy of knowledge. This is an incorrect assumption.

Consider the academic discipline of history. Every year, there are annual conventions of historical societies. Historians write papers that they read to a partially filled room of historians. When the person organizing the convention is deciding on topics of potential interest, he will not schedule a session on epistemology. He will not call for papers on the presuppositions of historical research. If he did, he would have trouble finding historians to deliver such a paper. If he did, and there were three presenters, the three papers would not list the same presuppositions. This is because there is no agreement within the field of history regarding the fundamental presuppositions that make possible the study of history. Also, hardly anyone would attend this session.

So, when I discuss the presuppositions of humanistic historical study, I am doing so on this basis: I use the five points of biblical history as guides. Humanists have to deal with the same issues. But they are not self-conscious about this. They do not have the five points in the back of their minds. If you were to ask some historian about any of them except the fifth—entropy—he would assure you that he agrees with it. He might not want to talk about the implications for historical research of the doctrine of evolution, but he would deny that the biblical doctrine of creation has anything to do with the study of history, except as a peculiar hypothesis of Judaism and Christianity. He might discuss the sociology of the doctrine of creation, but he would not examine that doctrine as a guide for understanding history

If you ask him about historical relativism, he may have heard of Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). He probably has not read it, but he will be aware of the phrase that Kuhn made popular: “paradigm shift.” He may be vaguely aware of Kuhn’s thesis, namely, that the history of science did not develop as a series of step-by-step discoveries. He will know that there have been major scientific breakthroughs that were not predictable, and were not part of a familiar program of research. He may be aware of the fact that similar breakthroughs have taken place in the field of historiography. He will deny there is such a thing as scientific history. He will affirm that there are lots of opinions about the same historical event. In other words, he will affirm some form of relativism. He may not call it that, but he will affirm it. But if he is a postmodernist, he will enthusiastically affirm it.

In Part 2, I survey five presuppositions: evolution, autonomy, relativism, nominalism, and entropy. In each of the first four, I analyse a major defender of the position. I survey his arguments. I show why these arguments contradict each other. I show that his presentation is unclear. (This is the easy part.) I show that each of them had not thought through the issue of epistemology: what historians know about the past, and how they can know it.

What is amazing is this: none of them discussed how the field of history rests on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant was the key modern philosopher. He reshaped philosophy. All philosophy since 1800 has been a commentary on his writings. He offered an irreconcilable dualism between the unbreakable causation of science versus non-determined free will. This argument raised a series of questions. How can men have free will in a world that is governed by impersonal cause and effect? How do we know that the world of science even exist? Kant concluded that the unchanging categories of man’s mind—Parmenides lives!—creates the world of science.

Man has no way to understand how the impersonal universe operates as an autonomous realm—a thing in itself. Kant argued that the categories of human thought structure the world we perceive. But he could not explain how or why the non-scientific realm of freedom exists. He also could not explain how this realm interacts with the realm of science. Van Til called this dualism the nature-freedom dualism. He also called it the science-personality dualism. There is no reconciliation. It is at the core of modern man’s inability to develop an epistemology that preserves scientific cause-and-effect and also preserves freedom. Scientists prefer to avoid the question. So do historians.

As you read my analysis of the historians, you may conclude this: these people were not clear about the issues they were dealing with. Their presentations do not make sense. You will begin to understand the extent to which the best and brightest in the field of history have been incapable of explaining what they do for a living, how they can do it, and why it is meaningful. They are confident that Christianity does not have answers to the problems they face. Rather than consider the providence of an omniscient, omnipotent Creator God as the solution to their philosophical dilemmas, they prefer to avoid thinking about the issues that are inescapably fundamental to their life’s work. They would rather consider their life’s work as meaningless if the only alternative is faith that God imputes meaning to their work, and finds that their work fails to meet His standards because it fails to honour Him.

The Biblical Structure of History (9): Conclusion to Part 1

Gary North – November 02, 2021

You now know the biblical narrative of history: the transition from grace to wrath, followed by the transition from wrath to grace. You also know the biblical structure of history: creation, image of God in man, biblical law, the sanctions that God imposes to uphold those who obey His law, and the church’s inheritance in history.

Maybe you reject one or more parts of this structure. If so, you need a Bible-based substitute for these parts. Which of the five don’t you accept? What is your alternative? How does your substitute point or points fit into the rest of the structure that I have presented? Here is your problem: you can’t change just one thing. If you make a substitution, are you ready to begin invest time and intellectual effort to develop an equally integrated replacement structure of history?

You may not care, one way or the other. Most people do not care. They do not worry about the structure of history. They may think there is no structure of history. They will spend their lives unconcerned about the structure of history. But they will still be affected by the structure of history. God will still impose sanctions in history in terms of His law. Covenant-breakers deny this, of course.

O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself. Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud. Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves? They break in pieces thy people, O Lord, and afflict thine heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless. Yet they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it (Psalm 94:1–7).

There are Christians who think just as these law-breakers did. They think that God does not enforce His law. They may even think that God rewards those who deny His authority. They think God will bring the church under the domination of these scoffers. They think this will continue until the end of time. So, they reject point 5 of the biblical structure of history: inheritance. They think that covenant-breakers progressively will inherit the earth, and covenant-keepers will participate on the sidelines of history. The historical process works against them. Satan will progressively use the church as his footstool. This was Van Til’s belief.

I assume that you accept my description of the five-point structure of history. You now have a tremendous advantage. You have a sense of where you are in this providential chronological structure. You know where history is heading. You know that you are an active participant in building the kingdom of God. You are made in God’s image, and you are a trustee for God. This defines who you are. Because you accept the biblical structure of history, you now have a better idea of why you are where you are and when you are. You have a better idea of what God expects you to do.

Most Christians never understand this. They do not see themselves in terms of a systematic development of history over which God is totally in charge. They do not see the way in which God has intended that history play out over time. They do not see that there is an inheritance at stake. They do not understand the extent to which they have been the inheritors of a portion of this legacy, and for which they are responsible to God for increasing before they die. Why? So that they can leave a larger kingdom-building legacy behind them they received at birth. This is the inescapable conclusion of the biblical doctrine of inheritance. It is a call to lifelong productivity.

We are expected to leave behind more than we inherited. This is the basis for the expansion of the kingdom of God in history. This is the capital that the church will use to extend the kingdom. You are a capital asset in the eyes of God. He expects you to increase your net worth to Him through your lifetime. He imputes your value to Him. He expects you to impute your value analogous to His imputation of your value. You cannot do this perfectly, but you can do it accurately.

The five points in the biblical structure of history are sequential. There are also five points in the structure of your personal history. They are also sequential. History began when God created the world out of nothing. Your history began when God created you. “Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself” (Isaiah 44:24).

God told Adam to extend God’s dominion over the world. God has told you to extend His dominion over that portion of the world to which He has assigned to you. God has structured institutions in terms of His law. He requires you to obey His law. God offers blessings and cursings to societies in terms of their obedience to His law. He offers blessings and cursings to you in terms of your obedience to His law. God promises to extend His kingdom over time. While you are still alive, you will be a participant in this process.

History is linear: beginning, development, end. The Bible teaches this. But history is more than linear. It is progressive. Things get better over time because there is greater obedience to His ethical laws over time. Covenant-breakers participate in this improvement, but only in terms of this principle: “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Proverbs 13:22).

The key to progress in history is God’s system of sanctions: positive and negative. He brings positive sanctions to covenant-keepers who obey him. He brings negative sanctions against covenant-breakers who disobey him. This was stated clearly in the Ten Commandments.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4–6).

Moses was speaking of generations. When he said thousands, He meant thousands of generations, just as he meant the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him.

There is a progressive differentiation over time between covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers. Each group gets increasingly consistent with its presuppositions as time rolls on. People in each group better understand the implications of their presuppositions. God’s system of historical sanctions rewards those covenant-keepers whose behaviour becomes more consistent with their presuppositions. This is taught in Deuteronomy 28:1–14.

Humanists reject this theory regarding the structure of history. There are two major forms of denial: the power religion and the escape religion. The power religion is based on this faith: victory in history is based on the accumulation of political power. It worships the state. This was the motivation of the rulers of the Near Eastern empires, Alexander’s empire, and the Roman Empire. Daniel taught in three places that each of these empires will perish. The fourth kingdom will be replaced by the fifth and final kingdom. This is God’s kingdom. (See Chapter 13:C.) In contrast, the escape religion retreats into obscurity in order to avoid confrontation. We find adherents of the escape religion inside churches.

The biblical worldview is historical. The Bible is mostly historical. There is feedback between the development of the Christian worldview and the developments of history. They are interconnected. They are interconnected because of the biblical structure history. It is sequential. It is covenantal. It is therefore confessional. It has to do with oaths: point 4 of the biblical covenant model.

With this in mind, it is time for you to consider the humanistic structure of history. I present this in Part 2.

The Biblical Structure of History (8): Chapter 5, Inheritance

Gary North – November 01, 2021

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries. He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head (Psalm 110:1–7).

A. Covenant Model, Point 5

Point 5 of the biblical covenant model is succession. There is change over time. People improve their skills. As they extend their dominion in history, others replace them. In the post-fall world, death removes people. They are replaced.

Point 5 of biblical social theory is inheritance. At the death of the testator, the testament identifies the heirs and each heir’s inheritance.

Point 5 of biblical history is the same as point 5 of biblical social theory: inheritance.

B. Analysis

Psalm 110 is quoted directly or referred to indirectly more often in the New Testament than any other Old Testament passage: at least 27 times, according to James Montgomery Boice. The psalm is short and to the point: God (the Lord) told a civil ruler who represented Him in Zion that Zion will be victorious in history. He will rule over his enemies as if they were a footstool, meaning total victory. He will possess political power: “the day of thy power.” Yet this ruler was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, not Levi. He is a priest who exercised civil power.

How could this be? Civil power was through Judah. David was the model. The Mosaic priesthood was through Levi. One thing is certain: no one under the Old Covenant fulfilled this prophecy. Yet it must be fulfilled. “The Lord hath sworn and will not repent.” Therefore, it has to be fulfilled in the New Testament era of history—not the world after the final judgment. No agent of God will rule over the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14–15), i.e., “the heathen” who are enemies of God. This leader will reign over kingdoms as a man who places his feet on a footstool in rest. This is “footstool theology.”

The language of civil power is inescapable. “He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.” This civil rule is international. If this language does not to refer to comprehensive political power, it is meaningless. Also, if it does not refer to history, where death still exists, it is meaningless. It is worse than meaningless. It is deliberately misleading. It conveys a list of prophecies that will never be fulfilled in history.

This civil ruler is identified as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. We know who this ruler is: Jesus Christ. The Epistle to the Hebrews identifies Him. “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament” (Hebrews 7:22). Chapter 7 is devoted to a discussion of this new priesthood. His is a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek.

If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec (vv. 11–17).

Jesus Christ is the prophesied priest of Psalm 110. “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore” (vv. 26–28).

We also know who sits at the right hand of God: Jesus Christ. “But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?” (Hebrews 1:3). Therefore, part this of the prophecy of Psalm 110 has been fulfilled literally in history. Jesus is the priest after the order of Melchizedek. He sits at God’s right hand. Luke announced: “Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). Peter wrote of Christ: “Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him” (1 Peter 3:22).

What about the remainder of the prophecies in Psalm 110? These will be fulfilled literally as surely as those prophecies that referred to a priest after the order of Melchizedek were fulfilled literally, and as surely as the prophecy of a man sitting at God’s right hand was fulfilled literally. To spiritualize away these literal prophecies is a violation of the biblical hermeneutic. These prophecies did not refer to a spiritual kingdom that has no power over God’s enemies in history. They surely do not refer to a kingdom that is under the rule of covenant-breakers. The kingdom of God at the end of history will not be the footstool of covenant-breakers.

C. 1 Corinthians 15

Paul cited this psalm to justify his theory of Christ’s comprehensive triumph in history.

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:20–28).

To understand this passage, we must pay attention to the sequence of the comprehensive victory of Christ in history. First, He rose from the dead. In this sense, He was the firstfruits, which was a mandatory offering every year in Mosaic Israel (Leviticus 23:10–14). His resurrection was literal. Paul insisted on this point: “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (v. 14). Second, there will be a resurrection of those people who have been redeemed by Christ. This resurrection will be literal, just as Christ’s resurrection was literal. It is not figurative. This has to refer to the final judgment. “Then cometh the end” (v. 24a).

We come now to a crucial point in the biblical philosophy of history. The Biblical view of history is linear: creation, development, and final judgment. History is not cyclical. I have argued that this development has two themes: the transition from grace to wrath, which ended in Genesis 3, and the transition from wrath to grace, which ends in Revelation 20. Then comes the end of time: final judgment. “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14–15). Revelation 21 and 22 are therefore post-historical.

First Corinthians 15 deals with eschatology: the doctrine of the last things. I have mentioned Paul’s first two points of eschatology in this passage: the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of His people. This brings me to the third point: “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (vv. 24–25). The progressive victory of Christ’s kingdom in history will come through His representative agents, not through His bodily presence in history. Christ’s bodily resurrection was literal. The resurrection of His followers will be literal. The extension of His kingdom in history and rule over covenant-breakers is literal. The fourth point is death. It is also literal. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet” (vv. 26–27). This has to refer to the final judgment.

The only things that are not literal in this passage are Christ’s feet. This language is allegorical. It was also allegorical in Psalm 110. The image of Christ putting His feet on the whole world and then resting is allegorical of His comprehensive rule in history. The imagery makes no sense if the footstool does not represent the kingdoms of this world. If the kingdoms of this world are not represented by the footstool, then the footstool represents the church. Then it is Satan who puts his feet on the footstool. Christians are under his domination. Satan rests victorious. This is not what Paul taught.

The Christian view of history is linear. Humanist historians have made this observation for generations. I am arguing more than this. I am arguing that history has revealed and will continue to reveal an increasing influence of Christianity in every area of life. In other words, I interpret 1 Corinthians 15 literally—except for the feet.

D. Bridegroom and Bride

Matthew 25 is devoted to the final judgment. It offers two parables: the parable of the ten virgins (vv. 1–13) and the parable of the three stewards (vv. 14–30). It ends with a description of the final judgment: the separation of the sheep from the goats (vv. 31–45). Here is the parable of the ten virgins.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh (Matthew 25:1–13).

It is clear that the bridegroom is Jesus Christ. In other New Testament passages, Christ is described as the bridegroom. John the Baptist was baptizing people when Jesus’ ministry began. His disciples came to him “and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:26b–30). Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25–27).

Christ is the bridegroom. The church is the bride. John wrote of the world beyond the grave: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1–2). This follows the wedding celebration or marriage supper of the lamb: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God” (Revelation 19:7–9).

Jesus’ role as the bridegroom of the church is central to His role as Redeemer. God selects the members of Christ’s church. Then He redeems them by grace. “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:6–10).

The bridegroom has a bride. The bride is the church. The history of mankind ever since the fall of man has been the story of the purification of the church. This purification is ethical. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1–2). This is what he meant when he wrote of the church as “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

There is a process of ethical sanctification here. Theologians call this progressive sanctification. This process leads to final sanctification. This will take place at the end of time: the wedding supper of the lamb, which will follow the final judgment.

E. Bride Price and Dowry

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul presented information on the final judgment. This judgment comes only after Christ has extended dominion across the face of the earth. He has subdued His enemies (vv. 24–28). Paul did not say what takes place next. But it is obvious what will take place next. We know from the Book of Revelation what follows: the marriage supper of the Lamb. But this must be preceded by Christ’s payment of the bride price to God the Father. What Paul described is the bride price. It is the whole world, and this world is redeemed. It is the whole world after the last enemy has been defeated: death. This has to be a description of the final judgment. This is the completion of the dominion covenant for history. This is marked by the bride price.

Parts of this section appear in Chapter 22 of Authority and Dominion: “Wives and Concubines.” My discussion is far more detailed there.

1. Ransom as Bride Price

The death of Christ on the cross paid a ransom. “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5–6). “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18–19). Jesus did not pay this ransom to Satan. He paid it to God the Father. It was paid in full at Calvary. It was definitive.

This definitive payment has led to a progressive expansion of the final inheritance of the church as the church accumulates wealth, especially wisdom, the most valuable of assets. This expansion will continue until Christ’s final payment to God takes place at the end of time (I Corinthians 15:24–28). In the meantime, God is owed all of the productivity of mankind. This is an implication of the dominion covenant. It is taught in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30) and the parable of the minas (Luke 19:11–27). These are stewardship parables. They are also what I call pocketbook parables. Jesus taught general principles of ethics by means of economic examples, which people understand. The parables were not limited to wealth. They referred to dominion in the broadest sense.

What has Christ’s payment of the ransom to God got to do with the Old Covenant’s bride price system? It has to do with the recipient of grace. The recipient of the bride price will be the church. The church, meaning all redeemed people, survives in history only because of Christ’s payment of the ransom at Calvary. The church is called the bride of Christ. It is this office of bride that is the basis of the connection between the payment of the ransom and the payment of the bride price.

2. Bride Price and Responsibility

There was a covenantal reason in the Old Testament for this economic obligation on the part of a bridegroom. The father of the prospective bride represented God to his daughter. This covenantal authority before God—his position as God’s covenantal representative to his daughter—had to be lawfully transferred from the father to the bridegroom. By paying the bride price to her father, the bridegroom ritually swore to a lifetime of faithfulness to his wife as God’s representative over her, faithfulness comparable to what her father’s faithfulness to her had been. This is precisely what Jesus swore to God the Father in His role as the cosmic Bridegroom. He paid the price at Calvary. God then transferred all authority over heaven and earth to Christ as His lawful representative (Matthew 28:18–20).

By the payment of the bride price, the groom was also acknowledging that he was capable of being as good a supporter of the girl as her father had been. He needed to assure her family of her future economic protection, thereby releasing her father and brothers from this legal responsibility. His ability to follow through on this covenantal guarantee was revealed by his ability to pay the bride price. The bride price was therefore an economic screening device for the family of the girl. The bridegroom’s ability to pay a bride price was evidence of his outward faithfulness to the terms of God’s covenant. The parents were transferring legal responsibility to a new covenantal head. They were participating in the establishment of a new family. Thus, the in-laws had to serve as God’s covenantal agents in this transfer of authority over their daughter.

The bride price was also a sign of the bridegroom’s future-orientation and self-discipline. Because Jacob came without capital into Laban’s household, he first had to work for Laban as a servant for seven years in order to prove his capacity to lead his own household. To lead covenantally, you must first follow. To rule, you must also have served. Dominion is by covenant, and covenants are always hierarchical.

The bride price compensated the father for the expense of the daughter’s dowry. From a purely economic standpoint, the dowry could have been delivered directly from the bridegroom to the daughter. Why did God require this seemingly unnecessary intermediate step, the payment of the bride price to the father? Because the formal transfer of the bride price to her father pointed to the bridegroom’s requirement of covenantal subordination to her father. The father gave him permission to marry her.

3. Dowry

The church needs a dowry. Every bride does. The language of Ezekiel 16 applies to the church. Israel had been an outcast of gentiles. “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born” (vv. 4–5). God adopted Israel.

Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers’ skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom (vv. 9–13).

Analogously, the New Testament church was the outcast of Israel. The gentiles had been God’s outcasts. The church had no wealth of its own that would satisfy God. The church could not provide its own dowry. Whatever blessings the church has ever had, it has had only on the basis of the grace of God. Jesus Christ paid the bride price to God through His death at Calvary. This is the basis of His marriage to the bride, the church. The marriage supper of the Lamb must be preceded by the payment of a bride price. 

The church is a betrothed wife. The church is not a concubine. The concubine had no dowry. The church does have a dowry. But where did it get this dowry? Biblically, it has to come from the father. But the father gets the dowry from the bridegroom. The payment of the dowry marks the bridegroom as the responsible individual who is now taking responsibility for the bride.

What did the father in the Old Testament do with the bride price? He turned it over to the bride. It was the bride’s protection. In this case, it is the bride’s inheritance. It did not come from the bride. It came from the bridegroom. The bride price for Israel was not paid by Israel’s father. Israel’s father was an Amorite. He had no legal standing to be a covenantal father. He had abandoned his daughter. The same is true of the many fathers of the bride of the church. From all over the world, members have been adopted. Jesus’ payment of the bride price at Calvary was paid to the Father. The Father holds it in trust for the bride. It is held in trust until the marriage supper of the Lamb.

The New Testament’s revelation of Jesus as the bodily incarnation of the Second Person of the Godhead and therefore as the Creator and the Redeemer of Israel is crucial to a proper understanding of redemptive history. The doctrine of the church as the betrothed bride of Christ is the covenantal foundation of the doctrine of the divorce of Old Covenant Israel. Christ is not a bigamist. Therefore, He lawfully divorced Israel.

4. God Divorced Israel

This raises a question. What happened to Old Covenant Israel’s dowry in A.D. 70? Biblically, the promise of the land of Canaan/Israel ended. Neither Christianity nor Judaism has a legal claim to the land of Palestine that supposedly is lawfully grounded in God’s promise to Abraham. The church has a far greater inheritance: the whole earth. Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). This means meek before God. This was Jesus’ strategy of world conquest. “And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:25–30). The kingdom is a realm of judgment. It is clearly a realm of civil law. Jesus spoke of thrones.

Old Covenant Israel used the Roman legal system to execute Jesus. Jesus used the Roman legal system to execute Old Covenant Israel. This was fitting. “When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:24–26). The negative sanctions of the Jews’ self-maledictory oath to Pilate were imposed on Israel in A.D. 70.

The agency of this judgment was the Roman army led by Titus. It surrounded the city, crucified captives, and finally burned the temple. Old Covenant Israel died. This is why it was illegitimate for Medieval Christians to seek revenge against Jews in the name of that oath. That oath was no longer covenantally binding after A.D. 70. Nor was the marriage oath between God and Israel. The adulterous partner was executed by the civil government that God had placed in authority over Israel. Israel rebelled militarily, and it did not survive.

As the victimized husband of Israel, Jesus transferred the covenantal dowry from lawfully divorced and lawfully executed Old Covenant Israel to the church. Paul called the church “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16b). This dowry included the written text of the Old Testament. It also involved an extension of the promise of land to Abraham. The boundaries of this land were extended: the whole world. This was the meaning of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20). (The best book on this is Kenneth Gentry’s The Greatness of the Great Commission, 1992.) On what legal basis did Jesus do this? On the legal basis of His status as the Creator. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods” (Psalm 24:1–2).

F. The Church’s Inheritance

The church is filled with former covenant-breakers. In this sense, the church is no different from what Israel had been. God had adopted Israel (Ezekiel 16). God has adopted the church. This was an act of grace.

The Book of Revelation describes the end of history. It uses the language of a marriage supper. It is the marriage supper of the Lamb. “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God” (Revelation 19:6–9). The remainder of Revelation 19 and Revelation 20 are devoted to the final confrontation between God and Satan, followed by the final judgment. Then comes Revelation 21, the post-resurrection era. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (vv. 1–2). “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (vv. 9–10). This is post-resurrection: “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (vv. 7–8). The language is clear. This is a matter of inheritance. Covenant-keepers inherit; covenant-breakers are disinherited for eternity.

Paul made it clear that this transfer of payment at the end of time is the completion of the bride price. The initial price was paid at Calvary. In other words, title was transferred to God the Father, but title has to be redeemed by the church in history. This is the meaning of the dominion covenant. Through the grace of God, the church buys back the world. But it does so only in the name of Christ. The church works through history to redeem the world, but this is possible only by the grace of God. Jesus has empowered the church, and the Holy Spirit has guided the church.

Everything that the church possesses, it possesses only as a steward possesses anything. In the day of reckoning, the stewards must give an account of their stewardship. All of mankind must do this. We know from the parable of the talents and the parable of the minas that God will impose final sanctions. All that Christians do, they do in the name of God and on behalf of God. Jesus is the property owner who does the final reckoning. He collects what is His, but then He transfers wealth to the profitable stewards. This is post-final judgment. The wealth goes to the stewards. The stewards are members of the church. The stewards are part of the bride of Christ.

The combination of the imagery of the stewards and the imagery of the bride provides us with an understanding of the inheritance. The post-judgment inheritance is the whole world, but a world redeemed. It is a world without the presence of covenant-breakers. It is a sin-free world. This is the eternal dowry of the church.

This dowry is valuable. It is the completed development of the capital that God gave to mankind in the garden of Eden. This is the inheritance of the church and the members of the church, which they will use to extend dominion in the world beyond the final judgment. There will be plenty to do. God is infinite. Men must examine the relationship between an infinite God and the creation. This will be a world of increasing knowledge. But this knowledge must be applied knowledge if it is to be meaningful. It is not knowledge for its own sake. It is knowledge for dominion’s sake. It will not end when sin disappears in the post-judgment world. It would not have ended in Eden if the serpent’s temptation had been rejected by Adam and Eve.

There was lots that could be done. If they instead had participated in a communion meal at the tree of life, that would have been the beginning of the process of dominion. Dominion was not empowered by sin. It was hampered by God’s judgment on sin. In the world beyond the final judgment, the process of dominion will no longer be hampered by God’s judgment on sin. There will be no sin.

The church is the betrothed bride of Christ. The dowry is held in trust by God the Father, but it has been paid by Jesus Christ. It was paid by His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. Where else could it have come from?

G. Stewardship

Once we understand the economic function of the dowry, and once we understand that the bridegroom pays the Father the money that constitutes the dowry, we begin to understand the importance of eschatology in our understanding of the development of Christendom. The extension of the kingdom of God in history is by evangelism. This leads to comprehensive redemption, meaning the redemption of institutions. It means the transformation of the world through voluntary exchange. The church in the broadest sense does this as God’s steward in history. This is both judicial, meaning trusteeship, and economic, meaning stewardship. It is done through the extension of biblical law into every nook and cranny of the world. It is done through the power of the Holy Spirit to transform and educate sinners: special grace.

The parables of the stewards make it clear that, at the end of time, God will evaluate the performance of every individual. He will evaluate the performance of the two branches of His family: the adopted family and the disinherited family. It is clear from the parables of the stewards that the nonperforming family will not inherit anything. Everything that they possess, which they received from God, is transferred to the most efficient stewards. Clearly, this refers to the final judgment. The parable of the talents is in the section of Jesus’ parables on the final judgment (Matthew 25).

When we combine the two images, meaning the stewardship of the church and Christ’s payment of the bride price to the Father, we begin to understand the nature of ownership in history. At the beginning of history, God granted capital to mankind: the uncursed and undeveloped world. This was the arena of the dominion covenant. This covenant is still in force. Men must develop all aspects of this capital, especially wisdom. Then, at the end of time, God evaluates people’s performance. The church will be the great beneficiary of its own performance in history, under the guidance of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

This reward is indirect. Christ subdues His enemies. Next, He transfers all authority back to the Father. Then the Father transfers this authority of administration back to covenant-keepers. That is the inheritance. That is the transfer of the dowry. Christ’s work in history builds the value of this dowry. He does not keep it. God the Father does not keep it. It becomes the final inheritance of covenant-keepers. It is their capital which they will use to launch the next phase of dominion in the world beyond the final judgment. All of this is eschatological. It is surely economic.

The Book of Proverbs makes it clear that wisdom is the greatest economic asset. “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her” (Proverbs 3:13–15). This tells us that covenant-keepers will gain dominion in history through wisdom and by obedience to the laws of God. To imagine that they will remain the world’s economic losers until the end of time, while covenant-breakers extend the kingdom of mammon by means of its laws, only to see the vast productivity of their program of dominion transferred to covenant- keepers at the end of time, is to imagine that the wisdom of the mammon is the source of wealth.

This is contrary to the explicit teaching of Moses regarding God, “Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:16–18).

In the parables of the talents and the minas, we learn that two covenant-keepers are the productive stewards, and the lone covenant-breaker is the unproductive steward. When the owner returns for a final accounting, he is pleased with the covenant-keeping stewards. He casts out the covenant-breaking steward. The performance of the two covenant-keepers in history was a prelude to their endowment by God after the final judgment.

Similarly, the performance of the covenant-breaker in history reflects his final disinheritance. There is continuity of performance and reward in both groups, not discontinuity. It is not that the covenant-breaker was the productive steward, whereupon the owner transferred his wealth to impoverished covenant-keepers. The opposite is the case. Our understanding of the parables of the stewards should shape our eschatology. Our eschatology should be consistent with the message of the two parables.

The greater the value of the world at the end of time, the larger the dowry inherited by the church. Part of this dowry will be the forfeited inheritance of the disinherited family of man, represented by one covenant-breaking steward. Most of this dowry will be the developed legacy of the adopted family of man, represented by two stewards.


A Bible-based Christian theory of history rests on a presupposition: there is ethical cause-and-effect in history. This is taught in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. God’s blessings come from corporate obedience to biblical law. We can see this in the history of economic development. There is consistency between ethical conformity to the laws of God and economic productivity. There is also consistency between covenant-breaking and long-term impoverishment. We saw this most clearly in the development of the economies of the Soviet Union (1917–1991) and Communist China (1949–1979), both of which led to impoverishment.

Christians need to understand the system of the bride price and the dowry in the Old Testament. It no longer exists in the New Testament. This is because daughters are baptized. Baptism is a mark of covenantal authority in both the family and the civil government. This is why women legitimately have the right to vote. Daughters now have an equal claim with sons with respect to family inheritance. Daughters therefore become covenantally responsible for their parents in the parents’ old age. This was not true under the Old Covenant. Only sons were responsible. Daughters were responsible only for their husbands’ parents. With their greater family responsibility comes greater financial support. Parents supply dowries in the form of college educations for their daughters because they have legal and moral claims on future support from daughters.

This alteration of the dowry system does not annul the eschatology of the church’s dowry. The bride price system will culminate in Jesus’ transfer of the bride price to God the Father at the end of history. God the Father will then transfer this dowry—Christian civilization—to the church. Understanding this eschatological arrangement helps Christians to understand the meaning of the two parables of the stewards: talents and minas. The bride price/dowry system and the parables of the stewards point to the church’s enormous inheritance at the end of history.

The Biblical Structure of History (7)

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 4, Imputation

Gary North – October 30, 2021

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (Genesis 3:6–9).

A. Covenant Model, Point 4

Point 4 of the biblical covenant is oath. A covenant is established by a formal oath under God. There are sanctions attached to a covenant oath.

Point 4 of biblical social theory is sanctions.

Point 4 of biblical history is imputation: God’s and man’s. God imputes either guilt or innocence to all people. He then applies sanctions to them in history and eternity. He evaluates history in terms of people’s obedience or disobedience to His law. His system of evaluation is the standard for historians.

B. Analysis

1. Judgment

In Chapter 2, I discussed the nature of the temptation. The serpent, acting as a covenantal agent of Satan, misled Eve, who was acting as a covenantal agent of her husband, who was acting as a covenantal agent of God. She knew what God had told her husband. Her memory may not have been perfect. She told the serpent that God had told them not to touch the fruit. God had said only not to eat it. But her memory was good enough for her to know to reject the serpent’s version of what God had said. The serpent persuaded her that God had not said that they would die on the day that they ate the fruit. He said that they would become wise, knowing good and evil.

Eve had to make a decision. She had to exercise judgment. She had to decide whether she should believe her husband’s account of what God had told Adam, or whether she should believe the serpent’s account of what God had told him. She could have asked Adam for his advice. Or she could have smashed the serpent’s head with a large stone. Instead, she accepted the serpent’s version of God’s words, and she ate. She then persuaded Adam to eat. This meant that Adam believed that the serpent’s version of God’s words was probably accurate. God’s word was probably inaccurate. Adam decided that he would complete the test of the reliability of God’s word, a test that his wife had already begun and had survived. Would they die on that day? Maybe not!

We come now to the biblical account of the story of God’s imposition of negative sanctions against Adam, Eve, and the serpent. It is the story of a criminal investigation. God knew that there had been a series of criminal violations of His law. But He did not initially announce His verdict to the criminals. Instead, He conducted an investigation. We can call this a forensic investigation. It had to do with suspected violations of the law.

God brought a covenant lawsuit against Adam and Eve. He served as investigator, jury, judge, and executioner. But remember: God is a Trinity. There were two witnesses to confirm the investigation by the Second Person of the Trinity, the Creator. “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death” (Deuteronomy 17:6).

He asked them a series of questions. He knew the correct answers because He is omniscient. Nevertheless, He followed a specific judicial procedure. In doing so, He set forth the biblical model for civil justice. This procedure has these factors: observation, investigation, interrogation, evaluation of evidence, a public verbal announcement of guilt or innocence, and the imposition of negative sanctions in the case of guilt.

This judicial procedure is the covenantal setting for the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:17). This commandment is the fourth commandment in the second set of ten commandments. The first five are priestly laws (church). The second five are kingly laws (state). (I presented the case for this dual witness of the Ten Commandments in Volume 2 of my economic commentary on Exodus, Authority and Dominion [2012]. Volume 2 is titled Decalogue and Dominion.)

Immediately after their joint meal at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve felt shame. They saw that they were naked. This was their first insight into the knowledge of good and evil. They recognized one of the consequences of their own guilt. They had not perceived this before because they had been innocent. God had not warned Adam about this consequence. This was something new. It was something unpleasant. They attempted to reduce their sense of shame by sewing fig leaves to cover their nakedness. In other words, they attempted to solve their sin problem on their own initiative. They came up with a procedure that they believed would be successful in reducing their sense of shame.

At this point, they had become covenant-breakers. As covenant-breakers, they wanted to provide their own coverings. Had they been more self-conscious in their rebellion, they would have immediately eaten from the tree of life. Why? Because God had promised the sanction of death against them if they ate of the forbidden tree. The tree of life would have protected them biologically. But they were distracted by their sense of shame. Their nakedness bothered them far more than their fear of God did. They wasted precious time. This is characteristic of covenant-breakers. They imagine that they have sufficient time before God imposes the final sanction. God knew that they eventually would figure this out, which is why He placed a flaming sword at the entrance of what must have been a walled-in garden (Genesis 3:24).

2. Interrogation

First, God asked Adam where he was. He did not ask Eve. His focus of concern was Adam. Adam was His covenantal agent. Eve was Adam’s covenantal agent. Adam therefore had greater responsibility than Eve did. Adam replied: “And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (v. 10). Adam’s response indicated the extent of his rebellion. He was not afraid of God, despite the fact that God had told him that He would impose the negative sanction of death on them if they ate from the tree. But this threat was not Adam’s main fear. Adam was afraid because he was naked. He should have been afraid of death. He should have been terrified. He should have been terrified before he ate. But he was not. He was still testing God’s word. Logically, he could only do that if he was confident that he had the authority to test God’s word versus the serpent’s word. He had already discounted God’s word. Now he was worried because he was naked. He had completely misunderstood the immediate threat that he and his wife faced.

God asked Adam two more questions. “And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” (v. 11). The first question was a rhetorical question. God knew that nobody had told Adam about his nakedness. Adam had figured this out for himself without any prompting. So had Eve. God then followed with the second question: did Adam eat of the forbidden tree? This reminded Adam about the prohibition against eating from the tree. In other words, he quoted the law to Adam. He did not do this because He imagined that Adam was forgetful. Adam’s problem was not a poor memory. Adam’s memory was as sharp as his ability to categorize and name the animals. His problem was sin, not a faulty memory. His problem was that he did not believe what he remembered. He had already decided that the serpent’s word was more probable than God’s word. He had made an error of judgment. This error was not based on a faulty memory.

Adam did not deny that he had broken God’s commandment. Instead, he shifted blame to his wife. “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (v. 12). The unstated implication here was this: all this was really God’s fault. God had given Eve to him. Eve was faulty. If God had given him a better wife, this would never have happened. All that Adam needed to be faithful was a better environment. God had short-changed him.

Adam had made a serious accusation against his wife. So, God continued the interrogation. What did she have to say for herself? She followed Adam’s lead. She shifted blame. “And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (v. 13). Again, Adam’s unstated assumption undergirded her response. God had provided a faulty environment. If only He had not allowed the serpent to come into the garden, none of this would have happened.

God had providentially arranged all of this in terms of the original dominion covenant. Adam and Eve were to serve as His covenantal agents in history. They were to police the garden. It was their responsibility to deal with the serpent. It was their responsibility to try, convict, and impose negative sanctions against the serpent. God had left them alone to see how well they would administer the judicial authority that He had transferred to them. But, as soon as He had left their presence, they fell into sin.

God did not continue the interrogation. He did not ask the serpent any questions. He imposed negative sanctions on it. These were sanctions that Adam and Eve were not in a position to impose. They should have smashed its head. Instead, God took away its legs. This would force the serpent to eat dust (v. 14). He also pronounced this judgment: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (v. 15). This was metaphoric language to describe a new era of history: the transition from wrath to grace. The transition from grace to wrath was now behind Adam, Eve, and the serpent. There would be no saving grace for the serpent. There might be saving grace for Adam, Eve, and their heirs.

Then God imposed additional negative sanctions. Against Eve, there was a negative sanction of pain in childbirth. Against Adam, there was the negative sanction of thorns springing up from the ground, inhibiting Adam’s labor. Against them both was the sanction of death: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (v. 19). Yet this was a positive sanction. They would not die that day. They would have time to repent. They would continue to exercise dominion over nature. They would continue to be under the terms of the dominion covenant. They would continue to act as God’s covenantal agents: either self-consciously or not.

That did not end the positive sanctions. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (v. 21). They would no longer rely on fig leaves to cover their nakedness. They would also have better protection against nature. To accomplish this, God killed animals. He shed their blood. They died so that Adam and Eve would not die yet. He took away their lives in order to extend the lives of Adam and Eve.

So, accompanying the curses against them there were blessings. This is the nature of grace in history. Until a person dies, even the curses that God brings against him contain some blessings. This is what theologians call common grace. Men do not deserve these blessings, but God grants them anyway. People have work to do: to exercise dominion.

3. The Tree of Life

God then placed a flaming sword at the entrance to the garden. “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (vv. 22–24). Man could no longer attain eternal life on his own terms. For a brief period of time, Adam and Eve could have achieved this by having a communion meal at the tree of life. But they wasted precious time sewing fig leaves. They refused to think covenantally. They dismissed God’s word. Again.

The sword eliminated this problem: eternal life after the fall would have been eternal life in sin. They had transgressed the law. They were now covenant-breakers. The tree of life would have provided them with permanent biological extension. It would not have dealt with their sin. For that, they needed saving grace. For that, they needed God’s forgiveness. For that, they needed confession of sin. Eating from the tree of life would have gained them unlimited time as covenant-breakers.

Eating from the tree of life would also have violated the terms of the dominion covenant. They would no longer have been acting on God’s behalf. They would have been acting on their own behalf. Covenantally, they would have been acting on Satan’s behalf as his agents. They had just eaten a covenant meal in the presence of Satan’s agent. Unlimited temporal extension was a threat to them spiritually. They would no longer fear death. They would have become worse than the people at the tower of Babel, who at least feared death. God closed that door by means of the flaming sword. This was supernatural. When the garden disappeared from history, no later than the flood, the tree of life disappeared with it.

C. The Meaning of Imputation

God imputes either guilt or innocence to people based on their actions. Imputation means evaluation, determination, and declaration. It is subjective.

The first examples of imputation that we have in the Bible are in Genesis 1. When God evaluated His work at the end of a day by declaring that it is good, He was imputing value to His work. He was imputing perfect coherence between His standards and His performance in history. In the garden of Eden, God evaluated the performance of Adam and Eve. He compared their performance with His original standard. He had told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They violated His standard. He conducted an investigation of what they had done. Then He made a public declaration of their guilt. Then He imposed negative sanctions. His evaluation was subjective, but His standard of performance was objective. God is perfect. He is also omniscient. Nothing escapes His observations. So, imputation is simultaneously subjective and objective. In the case of God, imputation is perfect. God does not make mistakes. His declarations are final.

The final judgment will be a testimony to God’s imputation of guilt and innocence. At the final judgment, He will judge the performance of all people throughout history in terms of His fixed ethical standards. Then He will declare the guilt and innocence of each person. Then He will impose eternal sanctions. The eternal sanctions are objective. Men’s sins are objective. God’s declaration will be objective.

Without a doctrine of imputation by God, men’s imputations conflict with each other. People disagree with each other about what the standards are. Many of them assert that the standards change over time. This is ethical relativism. Each person makes his own judgment about the nature of the standards and how the standards should apply in specific cases to specific individuals. There is no way to reconcile the conflicting imputations of individuals regarding their legal status and the legal status of everyone else.

Imputation applies to everything. What is the meaning of history? That depends on what the standards of history are. Are there standards governing historic development? Modern historians have denied that this is the case. But if there are no standards of success and failure in history, then the doctrine of progress disappears. There is no way logically to affirm the doctrine of progress if there are no standards of success and failure.

Modern historians have abandoned faith in the meaning of history and therefore the significance of their work as historians. They have found no way to identify permanent standards in history. They do not believe that history moves forward in terms of such standards. Most of them do not believe that there are any laws of historical development. Marxists are a major exception, but there are not many of them still writing. Marxist theory was abandoned rapidly after the fall of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991.

Because Christians affirm that God is sovereign, and because they affirm that God’s ethics do not change in history, they are in a position to become superior historians. (See Chapter 14.) They affirm their faith in the final judgment. They therefore affirm that God has both the legal authority and the power to impose sanctions in history and eternity in terms of His evaluation, meaning His imputation, of men’s performance in history. They affirm that God provides standards of evaluation. They affirm that history is meaningful because God imputes meaning to history. This enables them to impute accurate meaning in history. They are made in God’s image.

God would declare all people guilty as charged were it not for the grace that He extends to some sinners. Soul-saving grace—special grace—is judicially based on Jesus’ atonement at Calvary. But His grace also extends to all covenant-breakers. They get more than they deserve in history. This is common grace. This grace is the means of their dominion.

D. Dominion and Grace

1. Defining Grace

Grace is easy to define: a benefit granted to an undeserving recipient. In the case of Adam and Eve after their rebellion, the benefit was an extension of temporal life. They did not deserve this. God had warned them that they would die on the day that they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Judicially, they did die. Their covenantal status moved from life to death. That is because their judicial status moved from covenant-keeping to covenant-breaking. God had extended grace to Adam and Eve by creating them. They were images of God Himself. This was a great honour. He gave them control over the earth. They could benefit from their exercise of dominion. This was also an undeserved benefit. They did not earn this benefit. They did not deserve it. God was in no way in their debt.

There is a fundamental biblical principle: grace precedes law. Adam was given life before he was given an assignment to exercise dominion. He was given life before he was given a commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was a matter of responsibility. There would be a law-order governing mankind. One law had to do with the responsibilities associated with representing God in history. Man would exercise dominion on behalf of God. But Adam was given life before he was given this responsibility. He received grace before he came under law. In the case of the world before the fall, this grace had no negative sanctions. There was the threat of negative sanctions, but they had not yet been imposed. That is because Adam and Eve had not yet disobeyed God.

2. Special Grace and Common Grace

Special grace is redemption. That became necessary after the fall of man. Man could not save himself by his own actions. Adam and Eve thought they could, and so they sewed fig leaves. This did them some good. This occupied them for some time, which meant that they did not go immediately to the tree of life. Had they eaten from the tree of life, they would have guaranteed for themselves eternal biological extension, but this would not have saved their souls. They would have remained covenant-breakers. They would have been in covenant with Satan. That would have been a curse. Temporal extension of life would have seemed to be a benefit, but in fact it would have been a damning curse. God gave them life. He killed animals to dress them in skins that would protect them from the elements. They did not deserve this. This would not save their souls, but it would save their lives. They did not deserve this.

Why did God do this? He did it in order to create a new agenda for mankind: the transition from wrath to grace. He had planned to do this from the beginning. Paul wrote:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Eph.1:3–7).

3. The Witness of Common Grace

God has revealed to all men what they must do to gain His positive sanctions in eternity: trust and obey. God has also given them sufficient revelation in nature to distinguish good laws from bad laws. God’s Bible-revealed laws are good laws that some covenant-breakers do recognize as beneficial. Moses told the generation of the conquest: “Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:5–8).

The fact that some covenant-breakers can and do recognize the beneficial corporate results of God’s laws, including His civil laws, does not mean that they will adopt these laws or enforce them faithfully whenever they do adopt them. No foreign nation around Israel ever adopted Israel’s legal system, although the people of Nineveh did repent temporarily from their most blatant personal sins (Jonah 3). The Queen of Sheba did come for specific counsel from Solomon (1 Kings 10:1–10). These incidents in Israel’s history indicate that, on specific issues, covenant-breakers do recognize the wisdom of God’s law. A covenant-breaking society may adopt certain aspects of God’s law in personal ethics or even social ethics, but it will not adopt biblical law as a comprehensive system of justice. Apart from God’s gift to a society of widespread, soul-saving special grace, God does not empower a society to maintain its commitment to those few biblical laws that it may have adopted. Eventually, covenant-breakers rebel, just as Nineveh rebelled before Assyria invaded Israel. Common grace requires special grace in order to overcome mankind’s ethical rebellion.

There was another crucial aspect of the extension of common grace to Adam and Eve and their heirs. Mankind was still defined in terms of the dominion covenant. Man was still made in the image of God. Man was still required to exercise dominion on God’s behalf. Satan attempted to disrupt God’s plan. He attempted to overthrow the dominion covenant by luring Adam and Eve into rebellion. If God had killed them physically to match their judicial status of being covenantally dead, Satan would have congratulated himself for having destroyed God’s plan for mankind. He would have accomplished this simply by sending a serpent to tempt them into rebellion. God did not give Satan this satisfaction. He extended the lives of Adam and Eve so that they could begin to exercise dominion, despite the fact that they were now in a state of rebellion against Him.

So, there was an element of special grace associated with temporal extension. God from the beginning had chosen some people to be redeemed by the blood of Christ. The others would continue to exercise dominion, leaving the world visibly under God’s control. The world would testify to the ever-expanding dominion of man in history.

There are therefore two families of God. One of them is disinherited eternally. These are covenant-breakers who will be destroyed forever on the day of judgment. There is also an adopted family. These people are adopted by God as a way of showing His special grace in history and eternity. John wrote of Jesus Christ: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11–13). This confirmed what Paul wrote: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). (In Chapter 5, I discuss the implications of the principle of inheritance in a world in which there are two families: disinherited and adopted.)

4. Biblical Law and Common Grace

The work of God’s law in men’s hearts and men’s ability to obey it temporarily are the primary forms of common grace. The law is written in the hearts of believers, we read in Hebrews 8 and 10, but the work of the law is written in the heart of everyone (Romans 2:14–15). Thus, the work of the law is universal—common. This common access to God’s law is mankind’s foundation for fulfilling the universal dominion covenant to subdue the earth. The command was given to all men through Adam. This command was reaffirmed by God with the family of Noah (Genesis 9:1–7). God’s promises of external blessings are conditional on man’s fulfillment of external laws. The reason why men can gain the external blessings is because the knowledge of the work of the law is common. This is why there can be outward cooperation between Christians and non-Christians for certain earthly ends.

From time to time, unbelievers are enabled by God to adhere more closely to the work of the law that is written in their hearts. These periods of cultural adherence can last for centuries, at least with respect to some aspects of human culture (the arts, science, philosophy). The Greeks maintained a high level of culture inside the limited confines of the Greek city-states for a few centuries. (They were under Roman law after B.C. 146.) The Chinese maintained their culture until it grew stagnant, in response to Confucian philosophy, in what we call the West’s Middle Ages. But, in the West, the ability of the unregenerate to act in closer conformity to the work of the law written in their hearts has been the result of the historical leadership provided by the cultural triumph of Christianity. Special grace increased in the West, leading to an extension of common grace throughout Western culture.

5. Van Til and Kline

Van Til rejected both the dualism and the dialecticism of Western philosophy. He saw in Christianity the reconciliation of unchangeable law and changing facts in the sovereignty of God. God is the cosmic law-giver. He is omniscient. He controls all facts. He has revealed Himself and His laws in the Bible. Covenant-keepers can understand the world because they are made in God’s image. They have been redeemed. They have the mind of Christ. But there was a major problem in his theological system. He believed that by obeying God’s law, covenant-keepers will get weaker culturally. He never said this openly, but this position implies the following: by disobeying God’s laws, covenant-breakers become more powerful. Van Til sided with those who proclaim that Satan’s kingdom wins in history. He made this plain in his book on Common Grace (1947). He referred to the final judgment as the crack of doom: the end of history.

But when all the reprobate are epistemologically self-conscious, the crack of doom has come. The fully self-conscious reprobate will do all he can in every dimension to destroy the people of God. So while we seek with all our power to hasten the process of differentiation in every dimension we are yet thankful, on the other hand, for “the day of grace,” the day of undeveloped differentiation. Such tolerance as we receive on the part of the world is due to this fact that we live in the earlier, rather than in the later, stage of history. And such influence on the public situation as we can effect, whether in society or in state, presupposes this undifferentiated stage of development (p. 85).

His doctrine of common grace was structured in terms of his pessimistic theory of history. As history develops, he wrote, covenant-breakers will exercise greater influence and power over the world. They will self-consciously persecute Christians. This is why Christians in every era should rejoice that they live today and not tomorrow or next year or next century. God has tilted the “playing field” of history in favour of covenant-breakers. As history progresses, the field becomes ever-more tilted against covenant-keepers.

This interpretation of history is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. He saw the inheritance in history going to covenant-breakers. This denies what Solomon wrote: “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Proverbs 13:22). This denies when Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). (I critiqued his concept of common grace in Chapter 4 of my 1987 book, Dominion and Common Grace.)

His colleague at Westminster Seminary was Meredith G. Kline. He was less pessimistic than Van Til. He offered a different assessment of the relation between obedience to God’s law and historical sanctions. He said that the kingdom outcomes of both obedience and disobedience to God’s law are inscrutable. He wrote a critique of Greg Bahnsen’s book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1974), which was published in The Westminster Theological Journal (Fall 1978). He wrote: “And meanwhile it [the common grace order] must run its course within the uncertainties of the mutually conditioning principles of common grace and common curse, prosperity and adversity being experienced in a manner largely unpredictable because of the inscrutable sovereignty of the divine will that dispenses them in mysterious ways” (p. 184).

In short, covenant-keepers should not rely on the Mosaic law’s promises of continuity between covenant-keeping and success. I responded in 1989 in Political Polytheism: “Biblical case laws are still morally and judicially binding today. . . . Kline’s theology explicitly denies this. Second, Kline’s argument also means the denial of God’s sanctions—blessing and cursing—in New Testament history. It is the denial of any long-term cause-and-effect relationship between covenantal faithfulness and external blessings—positive feedback between covenant-keeping and visible blessings. It is also the denial of any long-term cause-and-effect relationship between covenantal unfaithfulness and external cursings” (p. 49). (Bahnsen responded to Kline’s article in a long, detailed article that I published in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction [Winter, 1979-80].


The basis of man’s ability to impute meaning and purpose to the universe is based on God’s original imputation of meaning and purpose to the universe. God created it. God evaluated it. In the first week of history, God sequentially created aspects of the world, and then He evaluated His work. This is the model for human evaluation. People are made in the image of God. They therefore have the ability to impute meaning and purpose to the world around them. God commanded Adam and Eve to extend dominion across the face of the earth. But, as a test of their willingness to be faithful to His word, He placed a judicial barrier around a single tree in the garden. They failed this test. They refused to impute meaning to His word based on what He had said. They imputed a different meaning to His words. Then they acted in accordance with their autonomous imputation of meaning. This brought them under judgment. This brought all mankind under judgment.

This rebellion was the end of the first phase of history, which was marked by this theme: the transition from grace to wrath. It inaugurated the next phase of history: the transition from wrath to grace. God extends common grace to covenant-breakers for the sake of fulfilling the dominion covenant. Covenant-keepers become beneficiaries of the discoveries, capital, and efforts of covenant-breakers. The direction of history is toward the fulfillment of the dominion covenant and the extension of God’s special grace in history.

That is to say, the direction of history is toward the fulfillment of what we call the Great Commission. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18–20).

This was a recapitulation of the dominion covenant specifically for covenant-keepers. This is the dominion covenant for the adopted family of God. History reflects the extension of God’s inheritance to this adopted family. I cover this aspect of the structure of history in Chapter 5.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 3, Law

Gary North – October 29, 2021

And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day (Deuteronomy 8:13–18).

A. Covenant Model, Point 3

Point 3 of the biblical covenant model is ethics. God governs the world in terms of His law-order, which is ethical: right vs. wrong. This law-order is revealed in the Ten Commandments and also in the specific laws found in the other books of the Pentateuch. These laws are interpreted by the New Testament.

Point 3 of biblical social theory is law. This includes Christian historical theory.

B. Analysis

In Deuteronomy, Moses was speaking to the generation that had been born in the wilderness. Deuteronomy is a recapitulation of God’s law. God expected the conquest generation to understand His law-order in preparation for the conquest of Canaan.

There is continuity of God’s law in history. There can be no continuity in history if there is no continuity in law. Obviously, there is consistency of certain forms of laws of nature. Gravity is a constant. But there must also be constant laws governing social institutions. Men cannot tolerate living in chaos. When people are threatened with chaos, they are willing to put up with tyranny in order to reduce the threat of chaos.

People want to know what is expected of them. Christianity presents a specific view of the relationship between law and success in history. Biblical law is an integrated system—a law-order—in which there are positive and negative sanctions associated with each of the laws of God. If you obey the law, you will receive positive sanctions. If you disobey the law, you will receive negative sanctions. People understand this with respect to a military hierarchy. They understand it with respect to police forces. Moses was reminding the generation of the conquest that God rules over them by means of a system of law. This law-order is primarily ethical. It is encapsulated in what we call the Ten Commandments: the Decalogue. We find these commandments in Exodus 20, revealed by God shortly after the exodus from Egypt. Moses recapitulated them in Deuteronomy 5.

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses made it clear to the listeners that the system of law governing Israel as a nation was part of a covenant. It was God’s covenant with Israel, which was established in Exodus 19. That covenant remained in force, Moses announced. Moses said that if they will obey God’s law, He will bless them economically. “But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (v. 18). The message is clear: God is the source of their wealth. This wealth has a purpose for covenant-keepers. What is this purpose? To confirm His covenant with them.

Here is the pattern that is implied by the passage. The Israelites had been protected during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The early section of this chapter announced this fact. Now, they are about to enter the long-promised land. They are about to be victorious. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—metaphors of wealth. It is a land with large supplies of natural resources. The message was clear: if they obey God’s law, they are going to prosper. But this prosperity would have a purpose. It was designed by God to re-confirm the covenant. It was to increase their trust in God. It was to increase their covenantal faithfulness to God. It was to increase their obedience to God’s revealed law. If they obeyed, Moses said, they would get even richer. What is the purpose of these riches? To confirm the covenant. So, the implication here is that God’s covenant blessings on them in the form of wealth were specifically designed to increase their covenantal faithfulness. Wealth is a confirmation of the goodness of God, the reliability of God, and the benefits associated with obeying God’s law.

In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, Moses presented a list of positive sanctions for obeying the law, and he presented a much longer list of negative sanctions for disobeying the law. The point was clear: their success or failure will be determined by the degree of their adherence as a nation to God’s law. There is coherence in this world. This coherence is covenantal. Here was a promise: they could safely rely on the promise of God to bless them if they obeyed His law. Wealth in this covenantal administration is a great benefit. It is legitimate to pursue it. But those who pursue it must understand the rules associated with attaining additional wealth. These rules are ethical. They are part of a covenantal legal order that is governed by specific ethical standards. These standards are encapsulated by means of specific laws, most notably those that appear in Exodus 21 through 23. These are case laws: laws illustrating the correct applications of the Ten Commandments.

People want predictability in their lives. They also want greater wealth. This passage promises both. Predictability has to do with the covenantal connections between obedience and wealth. If people want greater wealth, they must obey God’s law. They must acknowledge that God is the source of their wealth.

This passage affirms the legitimacy of long-term economic growth. It also affirms the possibility of long-term economic growth. No other worldview in the ancient Near East was specific in this regard. Mediterranean worldviews in the days of Moses were cyclical. There could be no long-term progress because history repeats itself. This outlook was basic to classical Greece and classical Rome. The Bible does not teach such a view. The Bible teaches linear history. But, more than this, the Bible teaches the possibility of progress in history. It is not just that progress is possible; it is morally imperative. That is because progress is specifically tied to conformity to God’s law. It is therefore ethical. It is covenantal.

C. The Quest for Historical Laws

Throughout history, people have wanted to believe that there are both continuity and coherence in the world around them. They want to believe that they live in a universe that is not random. They want to believe that history is moving in a positive direction—positive for them. They also want to believe that they have chosen a worldview and also a lifestyle that are consistent with the laws of historical development. They want to believe that they are on the morally right side of history.

Buddhism and Hinduism are committed to a concept of final existence that is separated from historical process: a meaningless, formless unity of being. There will be no individuality. The proper goal of life is said to be an escape from the historical process. Hinduism regards history as maya: an illusion. These religions are committed also to a concept of reincarnation: the doctrine of karma. People are born again literally after death, and their new lives initially reflect what they were ethically in their previous lives. So, there is cause-and-effect ethically in history. A person moves through history either upward or downward in terms of ethical behavior. The ultimate upward move is deliverance from history, but with respect to the attainment of that ultimate bliss, history is rigorously, unbreakably structured. You cannot escape your destiny. Whatever you do in this life will establish your starting point in the next life.

The Bible in the second chapter of Genesis describes success and failure in history in terms of ethical conformity to God’s revealed law. Deuteronomy 8 and Deuteronomy 28 present this outlook in its most comprehensive form. History is structured in terms of ethics. The New Testament clearly teaches that what someone does in history has consequences beyond history. This is the doctrine of the final judgment as presented in Matthew 25.

The biblical account goes beyond personal damnation and salvation. Deuteronomy 8 and 28 specifically refer to Israel as a covenanted nation. The blessings and cursings are corporate. God has made a covenant with Israel as a nation, and Israel is therefore bound by oath to God’s law. Israel covenanted with God publicly in Exodus 19. God delivered the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Moses presented the specific case law applications of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 21–23.

There is continuity judicially between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. This means that the dominion covenant is still in force. Men are still required to exercise dominion in history on behalf of God. This covenant defines mankind. It was not abrogated in Genesis 3. It was also not abrogated with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. God transferred that covenantal arrangement from Israel to the church. Jesus said this to the Pharisees: “Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:42b–43). This is the background of what Christians call the Great Commission. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18–20).

There has not been a radical discontinuity between the ethical pattern of historical development under the Mosaic covenant and the ethical pattern of historical development under the New Covenant. Ethics is still at the center of historical development. Historical sanctions, both personal and corporate, are governed by the system of law that God set forth in the Pentateuch. Historical success is not based on power; it is based on obedience to the law of God. This is the lesson of the story of the exodus. The Pharaoh was a believer in the power religion. Moses was a believer in the ethics religion, which is a judicial religion. The Pharaoh would not allow Moses to take the people three days out to worship God. He attempted to bring final sanctions against the Israelites when he pursued them across the path between the divided Red Sea. God brought final sanctions against him and his army in the Red Sea. (I discuss this in detail in Volume 1 of my 2012 commentary on Exodus: Representation and Dominion.)

The most notable modern theory of history is Marxism. Marx denied the ethical component of history. He explained historical development in terms of what he called the mode of production. History develops in terms of stages of technological and economic development. He dismissed all ethics as class-based. In any given period of history, the prevailing ethical system is developed and enforced by the ruling class. There is no constant ethical system through history. Ethics changes with each mode of production. There is progress in history, but not in terms of ethics. Progress is based on innovations in the mode of production. There are stages of history, and these stages are marked by revolutionary periods in which the leading class of the next mode of production replaces the leading class of the present mode of production. History is moving inevitably toward the final stage of communism. History is linear. It is also progressive.

The popularity of the Marxist system was not based on widespread commitment to the detailed historical arguments in Das Kapital (1867). It was based on his theory of inevitable progress towards communism: historical stages that will inevitably bring victory to the proletariat. Marxism had a positive eschatology. (The most detailed study of this eschatology was written by Francis N. Lee: Communist Eschatology [1974]. )

By the mid-twentieth century, most non-Marxist academic historians had abandoned any theory of fixed stages of development. They had also abandoned all theories of inevitable progress. They had lost faith in any overarching pattern of historical development. They rejected the legitimacy of every proposed system of historical development that claimed that any society, let alone the whole world, is headed in a particular direction. In short, they rejected teleology. The last major historian to offer such a theory was Arnold J. Toynbee. He wrote a 10-volume set, A Study of History, from 1934 to 1954. He surveyed 21 civilizations. This project was an immense undertaking. It had almost no influence among academic historians. It has been out of print for decades.

As I argue in this chapter, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5, the Bible teaches that there will be progress in history. This is inevitable. This is not because progress is built into the historical system. It is because of God’s providential control over the processes of history. History moves forward because God looks forward. History is inherently future-oriented. It is not just that individuals are future-oriented. It is that the historical process itself is governed by God’s providence, and God looks forward in history in order to achieve certain goals. The primary goal is the expansion of His kingdom in history, replacing the kingdoms of men. There is an eschatology associated with biblical law (point 5). There is also a system of covenant sanctions associated with biblical law (point 4). Because history is covenantal, it is governed by a comprehensive, coherent, integrated, self-reinforcing ethical system. Humanists no longer believe that there is such a system governing history, but they are incorrect. (See Chapter 8.)

The issue here is historical continuity.

D. Continuity

1. The Biblical Covenant

I argued in Chapter 2 that all of history can be summarized in this phrase: the transition from grace to wrath, and the transition from wrath to grace. This is the ultimate continuity in history. It is marked by a discontinuity: the fall of man. The transition from grace to wrath took place in the third chapter of Genesis. The transition from wrath to grace will be completed at the marriage supper of the lamb, which follows the final judgment.

It is not sufficient to know about the existence of these two transitions. We must also know what the criteria are for the transition from wrath to grace. These criteria are ethical. We call them ethical laws. They are laws in the sense that they govern the process of history, both individually and corporately. They are the basis of predictability in history. They provide ways for men to make reasonable forecasts about their success or failure in life.

God’s covenants are based on biblical law. Without biblical law, and without sanctions associated with this law, there is no covenant. As someone said long ago, if there are no sanctions associated with the Ten Commandments, then they are merely the ten suggestions.

People want to believe that they live in a coherent world. They want to believe that they will achieve success in life if they follow certain rules. In some societies, these rules are primarily liturgical. They have to do with ritual. But biblical religion has always been based on ethics. The rules are ethical. There are a few rituals, but rituals are subordinate to ethics. The prophet Micah announced this: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:6–8).

2. Parmenides vs. Heraclitus

In Western philosophy, a debate has gone on ever since the pre-Socratics in Greece in the fifth century B.C. In order to make sense of the changing world, Greek philosophers looked for elements of continuity. They looked for laws that govern historical change. This quest goes back to the philosophy of Parmenides [ParMENideez]. He believed that continuity is based on logic. He believed that logic is the sole source of meaningful investigations. His rival was Heraclitus [HeraCLITEus], who is famous for the phrase “a person does not stick his foot into the same river twice.” Heraclitus believed that discontinuity and change are the essence of history. He died sometime around 475 B.C., which was when Parmenides was at his peak intellectual influence.

Van Til believed that the history of Western philosophy is an extension of the original dualism between timeless logic and constant, unpredictable changes. Western philosophy has been marked by a series of attempts to reconcile these two irreconcilable concepts. He discussed the philosophies of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in terms of this original dualism. This can be called form-matter dualism. The forms (“Ideas”) are timeless and unchanging. But matter is time-bound and changing. Philosophers have found no logical way to connect the two realms. Logic is static. Matter is not. Van Til discussed the philosophy of Immanuel Kant in terms of the dualism between Kant’s phenomenal realm of science and his noumenal realm of ethics and freedom. He described this as the science (predictable)-personality (unpredictable) dualism. He also described it as the nature (predictable)-freedom (unpredictable) dualism. Western philosophy is dialectical: the inevitable back-and-forth mixture between static logic and random historical change. There is no resolution of this dualism in terms of the presuppositions of autonomous man. Dualism repeats itself again and again. It comes to no final conclusion. Van Til argued that it cannot come to a final conclusion. To avoid the impersonal deterministic loss of freedom imposed by logic and scientific law, men invoke the indeterminism of random change. At the same time, they invoke the predictability of logic and scientific law in order to preserve some degree of coherence in the otherwise random universe around them. In one of his analogies, Van Til said that this arrangement is like a pair of washerwomen who take in each other’s laundry in order to make a living.

Humanist social theorists invoke some variation of the dualism between fixed law and random change. Humanist philosophy does not enable humanists to reconcile these conflicting assertions about the nature of reality, meaning metaphysics. This is why humanist systems move in the direction of dialectic philosophy, just as Plato’s did. Humanism rests on the presupposition of cosmic impersonalism. Humanism denies that a sovereign God provides ethics-based continuity over time, yet He also allows for individualistic change. Humanists deny providence. Then they seek the blessings of providence, namely, a coherent reconciliation of law and change. They seek to make sense of the world by means of impersonal law, but they also seek not to obliterate the relevance of individual facts, which includes their lives.

An increasing pessimism among humanistic historians regarding the meaning of history has led most historians to deny the existence of laws of historical development. They want continuity of law, but they also insist on discontinuity: the discontinuity of individual factuality. They regard man’s freedom as based on individual factuality: people’s autonomous decisions.

E. Discontinuity

New facts keep arriving. Everything in our lives keeps changing. And yet there is sufficient continuity to enable us to make sense out of the change around us. Progress requires change. We want progress in our lives. But this means that we have to pursue change in our lives. If change were not governed by some overarching system of cause-and-effect, then whirl would be king. Chaos would rule. We would not be able to make sense of the world around us. Because the Bible is based on God’s covenant, and because this covenant is inherently ethical, we live in a world that makes sense. The final judgment will reveal the reliability of God, who will impose specific sanctions on specific kinds of behavior. In legal theory, we say this: the punishment should fit the crime. This is a fundamental principle of biblical law. It culminates in the final judgment, which will be perfect. God’s punishments will eternally fit covenant-breakers’ crimes in history.

Historical facts are not random. They are governed by the providence of God. God is not random. Therefore, as a multitude of new situations arises continually, Christians who believe in God’s five covenants—dominion, individual, family, church, and civil—and who are familiar with the laws of these covenants have an advantage over people who do not know about these laws. They can make better sense of the world around them. They can make better plans to deal with the world around them. They can become the beneficiaries of God’s positive sanctions to covenant-keepers who obey God’s laws.

The correlation between righteousness and prosperity is not perfectly predictable. The story of Job is an example. He was a righteous man, but he was afflicted with negative sanctions for a time. This experience was not confined to Job. The psalmist wrote the following:

Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth. Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches (Psalm 73:1–12).

This was troubling to the psalmist. It seemed as though historical causation is ethically perverse. But then he thought through the implications of what he had described. When covenant-breakers do evil things and receive rewards, they continue to do evil things. This leads them into destruction.

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image (vv. 16–20).

This is the biblical imagery of the slippery slope. The slope leads downward to destruction. “For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee” (v. 27).

Christianity offers a resolution to the ancient dualism between law and facts: Parmenides vs. Heraclitus. For them, impersonal timeless logic could not be brought into correlation with impersonal random change. It was always logic versus facts. The biblical answer is the covenant. There is continuity ethically. There is continuity judicially. Because of this continuity, covenant-keepers have a competitive advantage. If they obey God’s law systematically, and if they make their plans in terms of the coherence between covenant-keeping and wealth, they will prosper. Solomon made this declaration: “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Proverbs 13:22).

F. The Work of the Law

Paul wrote that the work of the law is written on the heart of every person.

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) (Romans 2:12–15).

He did not say that the law of God is written in every man’s heart. This ethical condition is an aspect of regeneration, i.e., an aspect of special grace. This is soul-saving grace. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied regarding a new covenant which would be written on the hearts of God’s people.

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31–34).

This has been fulfilled by the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. At the time of a person’s regeneration, he becomes the recipient of this promised blessing. The law of God is at that point in time written on his heart definitively. We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away (Hebrews 8:8–13).

Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more (Hebrews 10:15–17).

This is not what Paul was speaking about in Romans 2. What Paul described in Romans 2 is God’s common grace of the human conscience, which leads to a common condemnation by God at the final judgment. Paul said that the work of the law, not the law itself, is written on every man’s heart. Men’s consciences testify as witnesses to the existence of the work of the law. Men know by conscience what they are not supposed to do outwardly. They know which acts are condemned by God. They know, but they do not always obey.

G. Knowledge of the Law

How is the knowledge of the work of God’s law different from the knowledge of the law itself? Paul did not say. We know from Jeremiah and the Epistle to the Hebrews that having the law of God written in covenant-keeping men’s hearts is the fulfillment of prophecy. This is not a universal condition of mankind. Paul said that having the work of the law written in the heart is the common condition of mankind. There has to be a distinction between these two forms of legal knowledge, but Romans 2 does not identify what the distinction is. Van Til wrote:

It is true that they have the law written in their hearts. Their own make-up as image-bearers of God tells them, as it were, in the imperative voice, that they must act as such. All of God’s revelation to man is law to man. But here we deal with man’s response as an ethical being to this revelation of God. All men, says Paul, to some extent, do the works of the law. He says that they have the works of the law written in their hearts. Without a true motive, without a true purpose, they may still do that which externally appears as acts of obedience to God’s law. God continues to press his demands upon man, and man is good “after a fashion” just as he knows “after a fashion.” (Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd edition, [1961], 2007, p. 184.)

Some people have not heard about God’s Bible-revealed law. Paul said, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law.” They will perish. Why? If they have no knowledge of God’s law, why does God hold them responsible for having broken His law? Paul’s answer: because they are not without knowledge of the work of the law, this knowledge is sufficient to condemn them. Everyone possesses this knowledge in his or her nature as God’s image. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves” (v. 14).


Covenant-breakers recognize the existence of benefits from the enforcement of specific biblical laws. Because of the image of God in every person, all people can and do perceive the benefits of obeying God’s law. They can see the positive results of God’s law, meaning God’s positive corporate sanctions for obeying God’s civil laws. As we have seen, the Bible teaches this correlation. But covenant-breakers suppress this internal testimony. Israel did, too. People in their rebellion deny to themselves that God’s law is valid. They deny that its benefits offset its costs. Nevertheless, God restrains men’s rebellion against His law, just as He restrains rebellion against false worship. He does not allow covenant-breakers to become completely consistent in their rebellion. This restraint is an aspect of His common grace. Because there is a shared perception among all the sons of Adam, due to God’s image, it is possible for a civil government to pass laws against certain forms of public evil. These laws produce society-wide benefits. Evil-doers lose in this arrangement. This is one of the law’s major benefits. Paul said that this is God’s purpose for all civil law. “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Romans 13:3–4). The disutility produced by biblical civil sanctions in the life of the evil-doer is a benefit to society. His loss is society’s gain. Through inner revelation, covenant-breaking men know that this is the case, even though they partially suppress this truth.

This is why Christians benefit from the work of covenant-breakers. This is why there is a division of labor. God grants non-saving common grace to covenant-breakers in order to keep them from being consistent with their confessions of faith as autonomous men. The more consistent they become to their worldview, the more impotent they become. They wind up as the Pharaoh of the exodus did: destroyed. This is why covenant-breakers cannot gain and long maintain power over covenant-keepers in history. The sanctions of the historical covenant are structured to defeat them.

Christian Education: What’s Really Wrong With Public Schools

By David H. Chilton

The usual argument against public education is very convincing. And very wrong. It runs something like this: Public schools have become breeding grounds for violence and sexual promiscuity; they often are outlets for socialist propaganda; they now constitute a formidable enemy of Christianity (by teaching evolution and prohibiting prayer and Bible reading) and of the family (by teaching sex education and deriding traditional authority structures). And so on—which is not an unmitigated tragedy, since it is being used, under the providence of God, to lead more and more Christians to abandon the system of public education. No matter what the reason, that is certainly a good result.

Unfortunately, the argument above is not as principled as it looks. It is not an argument against state education, but only against certain perceived ills of public schools as they now exist. Thus, even among Christians who agree with the argument, you will find the following attitudes: (1) “The real problems exist in the inner-city schools, but there’s nothing wrong with public schools in a rural, Christian community with traditional values”; (2) “We should work to make public schools more moral, by pressuring our legislators to reinstitute prayer and abolish sex-education”; (3) “We should try to force the public schools to give Creation ‘equal time’ with Evolution.”

These and similar positions all attest to the fact that much of the opposition to public schools is merely pragmatic: we are very willing for the state to control education, as long as we can be reasonably sure our children won’t be beaten, drugged or raped in the library. To put it bluntly, we want our socialism, but we want it clean. If only the public schools would teach what we want them to teach, we would be happy to have our children’s education funded by legalized theft. Quite an interesting position, philosophically: we’ll give our children a “moral” upbringing by robbing our neighbours to pay for it.

As Christians, we do not argue against abortion simply by citing the dangers of malpractice; nor should we consider it sufficient to oppose state education simply because of its evil consequences. We do not work for safer methods of abortion; nor should we work to improve public schools. The basic biblical argument, you see, is that the very existence of state schools is immoral—regardless of the level of “morality” contained in them.

According to the Bible (see, e.g., Romans 13:4), the state has an extremely limited function, which may be summed up in two points: punishing criminals (as defined by God’s law) and protecting the law-abiding. That’s it. God has appointed civil rulers as His ministers, and their responsibility is to administer His laws. The Bible severely limits the powers of the state—and just in case rulers might misunderstand the extent of their commission, God built a “strict constructionist” interpretation right into the law: the ruler “may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or to the left” (Deuteronomy 17:20).

The Bible does not give rulers the power to educate children; that responsibility belongs to the family. State schools are therefore immoral in principle. They exist only because God’s laws have been violated—by greedy rulers who covet the powers of deity, and by greedy citizens who covet “free” education at their neighbors’ expense. Viewed in this light, it is no wonder that the public school system has spawned a generation of illiterate criminals who assume the world owes them a living. Why not? According to their parents, the world owed them an education; they’re just extending the logic.

The rise in public-school crime and violence is nothing but the humanistic superstructure built on a rotten foundation. It is quite predictable; in fact, it was predicted in Deuteronomy 28, the list of the curses which necessarily fall upon a culture that departs from God’s law. If our educational principles are not founded on God’s word, we have shut God out of our system of knowledge—and committed cultural suicide. Romans 1:28-32 tells us what happens to people who will not have God in their knowledge: it reads like a modern report card on “citizenship.”

“But,” it may be objected, “if the state doesn’t provide education and force citizens to submit to it, some parents won’t bother to do it themselves.” This is true. It is also true that some people don’t brush their teeth. We should therefore provide free dental care and send bureaucrats to each home every morning and evening, armed with dental floss, to enforce oral hygiene on the population. Right? Where do you draw the line? You draw the line where God draws it: in His law. God has defined the responsibilities and limits of the state, and whenever it falls short of those responsibilities, or transgresses those limits, it is playing god. The inevitable result is national damnation.

No matter what objection you have to all this, it fails the ultimate test: conformity to God’s law. When you say the rural, “moral,” community-oriented public schools are still OK, all you’re saying is that the full harvest of apostasy hasn’t caught up with them yet. But the fact that none of your bad checks have returned is no justification of forgery. Those wonderful schools are possible only by the illegitimate beneficence of a deified state which plunders your neighbors to give your kids a free lunch. There’s just no way around it. Public schools are immoral, and always have been—even in the bygone, halcyon days of old, when students got regular doses of birch rods and McGuffey readers.

Look at yourself for a prime example. You went to a “nice” public school, and you didn’t turn out so badly. You didn’t take LSD in 5th grade, you didn’t carry a switchblade in Jr. High, and you were a virgin on Graduation Day. State education didn’t pervert you. Or did it? Consider your reaction to this essay. (Never mind that I’m begging the question for a minute.) Regardless of the biblical evidence, you still find it hard to swallow that the state shouldn’t do something beyond God’s requirements. You think the argument that public education involves theft is somewhat “abstract.” Face it: you’re a socialist. Many of your ideas about the proper role of government were fed to you from K through 12, and it’s like pulling teeth to get rid of them. I’m constantly running into sincere Christians who are absolutely aghast at the thought of abolishing unbiblical government regulation. (“How will the mail get delivered?”) I even heard one theologian boldly assert that the value of gold and silver comes from the paper money behind it!

The real problem with public schools is that they exist in the first place. They are an ungodly, unlawful, collectivist institution. The many evils now spewing out of them derive from the curse of God inflicted on all institutions that defy Him. He has commanded parents to educate their children in terms of His law; that cannot be done in a public school. If we want our children to fear Him, to grow into diligent workers for His kingdom, we cannot afford to train them in an institution which has as its fundamental presupposition that I am entitled to as much money as I can vote out of my neighbour’s pocket.

Prayer doesn’t belong in a public school (Proverbs 28:9). Your money doesn’t belong in a public school. Most of all, your children don’t belong in a public school. Institutions premised on sin must not be redeemed, but abandoned. We cannot send young maidens into brothels in the interests of “equal time for chastity.” As the light of the world, we must set the standard. Our Lord never called His people to help build the tower of Babel in the hope of getting a Bible study in the basement. He commanded us to build our own city on a hill.

13 Assumptions That Undermine Your Children’s Future

Gary North – March 26, 2013

Reality Check

There are 13 assumptions that pave the road of good educational intentions. Most Christian parents who send their children to college have adopted eleven of the 13.

The first one is this: “The state has both the authority and the moral obligation to fund education.” Then come the other 12.

2. “Our local public schools are not like all the others. I will enroll my child in kindergarten.”

3. “The teachers there are conservative.”

4. “I have joined the PTA. My opinions are being heard.”

5. “The teachers have the sexual revolution under control in our middle school.”

6. “The high school’s textbooks are conservative.”

7. “Our high school’s teachers are conservatives.”

8. “The curriculum in our high school is religiously neutral.”

9. “My children will resist temptation.”

10. “I want my children to be missionaries on campus.”

11. “I am sending my kids to a Christian college. They will be safe.”

12. “The college is accredited. They will get a good education.”

13. “My kids will have high-paying jobs after they graduate in the humanities.”

Here are what assumptions the parents make when they make these implicit confessions of faith.

2. “Our local public schools are not like all the others. I will enroll my child in kindergarten.”

This is what I call Lake Wobegon statistics. The parent assumes that his local school is above average. But all of the nation’s parents assume this, at least those outside the ghettos. Otherwise, half of the parents would be self-consciously deciding to send their children into substandard schools. None of them would admit that they are doing this voluntarily. So, the parent sends the child off to kindergarten, which is the first step in a 13-year or 14-year process. It begins with this assumption: the parent can legitimately transfer the authority over his child’s education to the state. It also begins with this assumption: there will be no negative consequences for this decision.

3. “The teachers there are conservative.”

The parent has no idea what the political or religious views of the teachers’ are. He knows nothing about the teachers’ background. This much is clear, however: the teachers were all certified as accredited teachers, and the accrediting associations are all licensed by the government. They are all creations of the state.

4. “I have joined the PTA. My opinions are being heard.”

The Parent-Teachers Association was the creation of tax-funded educators. It was created for a specific reason: to make certain that the educators could head off criticism of their programs by offering parents the illusion that the parents have anything valid to say about the content or the process of education. The educators were committed to this principle: the will of the parents must be undermined throughout the entire educational process. In short, they assume that the only people with the qualifications necessary for educating the child are the educational elite, which enforces its views on the students in the state licensed colleges and universities that produce the teachers. From day one, they fully understood that parents would lose interest in the local PTA as soon as their children were out of that school, so that there would be no sustained opposition to the constantly evolving theories of the educational elite.

5. “The teachers have the sexual revolution under control in our middle school.”

Millions of students today become sexually active in middle school, meaning before the ninth grade. This is why the schools are attempting to hand out prophylactics to students without first notifying their parents. This information is available on the Web.

Parents do not really care. They go along to get along. They adopted Lake Wobegon statistics six years earlier.

6. “The high school’s textbooks are conservative.”

Parents do not read the textbooks that are assigned to their children. They do not read reviews of these textbooks. There are not many reviews. The textbooks have been published by major publishing houses that are all run by graduates of the state’s education system. These textbooks are written in order to satisfy the requirements of committees of state-certified educators. The textbooks are written to pass on to students the ideological outlook of the teacher-training institutions. These institutions in turn reflect the ideology of the education departments of the most prestigious universities. These universities have been at war with parental views since about 1800.

7. “Our high school’s teachers are conservatives.”

The teachers have all been certified by institutions of higher learning that are committed to the worldview that promotes state-controlled education. This means that they are committed to the idea that the state, not parents, should have final authority over the content of education, as well as the methods of education. The parent’s only functions are to serve on the PTA and to vote yes on school bond issues. Voters are expected to fork over the money, but the money is then controlled 100% by the educational bureaucracy. The courts enforce this. Once a parent enrolls his child in a state-funded school, he legally loses all control over the content and structure of the educational program. Any parent who does not understand this from the day the first child goes into kindergarten is terminally naïve. This is a widespread condition, because the parent is the product of the tax funded educational system. The system has done its work well. It will do the work well on their children, too.

8. “The curriculum in our high school is religiously neutral.”

This is the greatest myth of all: the myth of neutrality. It is the religious presupposition on which all of the tax-funded schools are legally constructed. It is a lie from start to finish. Anyone who doubts this should read the book, published 50 years ago, by R. J. Rushdoony: The Messianic Character of American Education. Here, educator by educator, you can read what these educators said about their right to control the content of education in order to shape the thinking and therefore the lives of the students. Follow the footnotes.

9. “My children will resist temptation.”

Again, this is Lake Wobegon statistics. This is the equivalent of sending your children into what you know is a moral cesspool, and then expecting that your children will climb out of that cesspool smelling like roses. It assumes that peer pressure does not exist for students. It assumes that this excuse will never occur to the students: “Everybody is doing it.” Everybody isn’t doing it, but a large enough percentage of the most popular kids is doing it to influence the others to do it, if they get the opportunity. Parents of good-looking children are using Lake Wobegon statistics.

10. “I want my children to be missionaries on campus.”

Let me put it another way: “I want my children to be missionaries in a whorehouse.” I realize that this is an exaggeration. Whorehouses charge money to customers. Tax-funded schools are mandatory, and the bills are passed on to the taxpayers. Any parent who does not send his child into a tax-funded school may be visited by truant officer, and the parent will have to prove that he is providing an equal education to his children. The parent is assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Yet even people arrested in a whorehouse, except in Louisiana, are presumed innocent until proven guilty. (In Louisiana, Napoleonic law reigns: guilty until proven innocent. But in Louisiana, hardly anybody ever gets arrested for being in a whorehouse. The state’s motto is “Let the good times roll.”)

11. “I am sending my kids to a Christian college. They will be safe.”

Where did the teachers get their certification? Mostly in tax-funded universities, and always at accredited universities, which means state-accredited universities. The universities are part of a cartel. So, the teachers have been screened through the Ph.D. in terms of the presuppositions of the tax-funded, humanist school system. They assign textbooks that are written for committees of tenured college professors, who have committed their entire lives to preaching the worldview that is consistent with tax-funded education. The parent does not go to the college’s bookstore to look at the content of the textbooks, any more than he looked at the content of the textbooks in high school. He has no way of evaluating the content of the textbooks.

His own education was the product of earlier, similar textbooks. He also does not look to see if each class has an assigned study guide that refutes the errors of the textbooks. This is because no such study guides are ever published. This is because the professors in the classrooms believe the content of the textbooks. They have no complaints. So, the parent is paying free market prices to get a Keynesian education for his child. He is paying free market prices to get an education whose content is the same at the local tax-financed community college, which is dirt cheap, and the local state university, which is cheaper than the Christian college. How smart are the parents?

12. “The college is accredited. They will get a good education.”

The most suicidal question of all that is asked by a dutiful Christian parent is this one: Is the college accredited? This is another way of saying: Is the college staffed by people who believe in tax-funded education, neutral education, and submission to the state-licensed accrediting agencies? Accreditation means submission. It means submission to the enemies of Christianity. Christian parents want to be sure that they are paying top dollar to get educations that are certified by their religious enemies.

13. “My kids will have high-paying jobs after they graduate in the humanities.”

This indicates a complete lack of awareness of what has happened to the job market since 2008. In fact, it began happening in the job market two decades ago. The universities have cranked out millions of students with degrees that do not entitle them to any special consideration, other than this one: the students were submissive enough to sit in classrooms for five consecutive years. Businesses that want to hire submissive, uncreative, and bored employees go out and recruit such people from America’s college campuses.

Something like 57% of all college graduates today are women, which means that approximately 50% of the graduates are going to go into low-paid jobs. Jobs for which mainly women qualify are low-paid jobs. Nobody wants to say this, because it is politically incorrect, but it is the reality of college graduation. Except for those women who major in physics, chemistry, engineering, and other natural sciences, and who are employable at high salaries, the ones coming out of the humanities are unemployable except at low wages. Therefore, the men who graduate with the same degrees in the same majors are equally unemployable at anything except low wages.

Then, wonder of wonders, the student finds out that he was unwise to take on at least $25,000 worth of college debt, which is the average today. The parent finds out that he was unwise to have turned over the bulk of his retirement portfolio to his children, who come out of college with nothing more than third-rate hunting licenses for jobs.


Parents do not want to see this, because they want the state subsidy. They do not homeschool their children. They do not select which books their children were read. They do not design the best program of education for each of their children. They send their kids into tax funded schools, which operate in terms of a one size fits all curriculum, which is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, which today is very low indeed. All this comes from an initial assumption, namely, that the state has both the authority and the legitimacy of providing education. Out of that presupposition flow all of the subsequent errors.

The Biblical Structure of History (5): Chapter 2, Image

Gary North – October 28, 2021

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth (Genesis 1:26–28).

A. Covenant Model, Point 2

Point 2 of the biblical covenant model is hierarchy. God was above Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were above the creation.

The New Testament teaches that Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, was subordinate to God the Father in God’s relation to the creation. He represented the Father covenantally. The New Testament also teaches that the Holy Ghost is sent by both the Father and the Son. (Eastern Orthodoxy denies this.)

Point 2 of biblical social theory is authority. All authority is delegated.

Point 2 of biblical history is man as the image of God. He is able to think God’s thoughts after Him. To do this, he has to have memory.

B. Analysis

1. God Speaks. Men Should Listen.

We are told that God spoke. He spoke in the plural: “Let us.” This plurality is confirmed by the phrase: “in our likeness.” This is the first indication in the Bible of the concept of the Trinity: one God with multiple Persons. This is a uniquely Christian doctrine.

We have already learned from earlier sections of Genesis 1 that God spoke the cosmos into existence. This means that there is a fundamental distinction between God and the creation. In this sense, the universe is personal. It is the product of the God who speaks. Language existed before the cosmos. God thought by means of language. He spoke the cosmos into existence by means of language.

In this passage, we learn that God spoke to Adam and Eve: “God said unto to them.” He revealed to them that they were made in His image. They reflected Him. One of the ways in which they reflected God is that they understood God’s language. They could understand what He told them. This made them responsible to Him.

The passage says that God blessed them before He gave them their assignment. This sequence reveals a fundamental biblical principle: grace precedes law. We are not told specifically in what way He blessed them. Certainly, one of the blessings was that He gave them life. Second, He made them in His image. This was a great honor. This equipped them to perform their assignment.

In drawing these conclusions, I speak as an historian. I am making judgments regarding the nature of the blessing. I am deducing these judgments by means of the text’s historical sequence. The sequence is this: blessing, assignment. We are told that God created them. Surely, this is not a curse. I say surely because I can read and understand the text. I can make judgments about the text. These judgments are in part historical judgments. I deduce from the first two chapters of the Bible that Adam and Eve were under God’s grace. Life was not initially cursed. In the third chapter, we learn about their rebellion against God. We also learn about the negative sanctions imposed on them by God. These were curses. They were the result of their disobedience. They were not built into the creation initially. Our understanding of this narrative depends on our knowledge of sequence. But this understanding also depends on our ability to make judgments regarding what is not explicitly said in the text regarding blessings. If we do not understand this procedure for making historical judgments, we will not understand the nature of history and the writing of history, i.e., historiography.

Historiography involves making judgments about the past in terms of information that we have been given by God. He expects us to make judgments regarding the past in terms of the information that He has given us regarding the past. We are required by God to fill in the gaps in the historical record. This requires creativity and imagination. This creativity reflects our condition as creatures made in the image of God. God is originally creative. We learn this in the first chapter of Genesis. Therefore, we are derivatively creative. We also learn this in the first chapter of Genesis.

2. The Bible’s Principle of Historical Interpretation

The first three chapters of the Bible provide us with the fundamental integrating theme of all history: the transition from grace to wrath, followed by the transition from wrath to grace. (I first heard this formulation from Van Til. He used it repeatedly in his writings.) Christianity rests on revelation in the New Testament. The final book in the Bible is the Book of Revelation. The final two chapters of the Book of Revelation provide a description of the restoration of the world without wrath after the final judgment. This will be the culmination of the story of mankind from the third chapter of Genesis until the end of time: the transition from wrath to grace. This principle of interpretation governs Christian historiography. Historiography that is faithful to the Bible and to the Bible’s account of history must reinforce, illustrate, and document this transition from wrath to grace. It is the job of the Christian historian to fulfill this task of interpretation self-consciously. History is not theologically neutral. Historiography therefore is not theologically neutral. All of history from the fall of man until the final judgment reflects the transition from wrath to grace. To the extent that Christians operate in terms of any other assumption regarding the primary meaning of history and the narrative of history, to that extent they are not remaining faithful to the Bible’s account of history. They have compromised their confession of faith by misunderstanding God’s original assignment to mankind, which we read in Genesis 1.

The final two chapters of Revelation are post-judgment. They are post-historical. They describe eternity. They are descriptive of a world without sin and therefore without God’s wrath. God’s wrath will be confined cosmically to the eternal lake of fire (Revelation 20:14–15). Revelation 21 and 22 represent a restoration of the world before the fall of man. That future world will be vastly improved over the pre-fall world. Why? Because of historical progress, there will be a steady fulfillment of the dominion covenant. There will be an increase in people’s creativity and also an increase in their rendering of accurate judgments. There will be a multiplication of mankind and the living beings that are under man’s jurisdiction. Despite sin, history is the fulfillment of the covenantal assignment that God gave mankind in Genesis 1:26–28. There will be covenantal continuity between history and the new heaven and the new earth. This continuity will be visible retroactively at the marriage supper of the lamb: Christ and His church (Revelation 19:6–9).

I am claiming that there is a grand narrative for all of history. I make this claim because I also claim that there is a Grand Narrator: the Trinitarian God of the Bible. God has revealed Himself in the Bible. This Grand Narrator is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. He has structured all of history in terms of His providential purposes for history. His decree perfectly implements His plan for the ages, moment by moment. He passes judgment on His work continually, bringing His judgments in history. This grand narrative ends in Revelation 20. Then will come the culmination of the kingdom of God, referred to in both testaments as the new heaven and the new earth: eternity for covenant-keepers.

I argue in this book that without these presuppositions regarding history as providential, historians are blind. They have no legitimate epistemological way to affirm their claims that they can understand the past. They affirm that they can interpret the past individually, but when pressed, they deny the foundations for understanding how the facts of the past can be understood by the records that survive. They deny that historians can successfully impute an agreed-upon coherence to the past. (See Chapter 9.)

C. Apprenticeship

1. God Spoke to Adam Face to Face

Genesis 2 provides an account of the first day of man’s existence. Immediately after having created Adam out of the dust, God spoke to Adam regarding his assignment.

In Genesis 1, God gave Adam his dominion assignment, which was a covenant. Eve was not yet created. Yet it says that God spoke to both of them. In what sense did God speak to Eve when Eve did not yet exist? He spoke to her covenantally through Adam. Adam was given the dominion covenant, and sometime after this, God created Eve. Adam informed her of this assignment. He was Eve’s teacher. More to the point, he was Eve’s historian. He told her what God had told him regarding both of them and also their heirs. This was an historical account. I cannot prove that Adam spoke to Eve from a specific verse in the text, but I have concluded this because of the sequence of Adam’s first day.

Before God gave Eve to Adam, Adam had to perform a task: naming the animals of the garden. He had to begin to exercise dominion. God also gave mankind an ethical command: do not eat from a tree. Attached to this command was a negative sanction for disobedience: death. This is what made the command a covenant. Every covenant has law: point 3. Every covenant has sanctions: point 4. “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:15–17).

Eve did not hear this. We know this because of the next verse: “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (v. 18). But, before God announced this, He made Adam His apprentice. “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him” (vv 19–20). He worked with Adam side by side and face to face.

To follow orders, Adam had to have a language. God gave him the ability to speak with God. Second, Adam had to understand something of cause and effect in nature. He had to know what to name each of the animal species. Again, I am making a judgment as an historian. I have studied the use of the Hebrew word “to name.” Naming is more than providing a sound that is randomly attached to a specific object. The most important example of this in the Old Testament has to do with the rebellion of mankind at the Tower of Babel. “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). Those people were going to name mankind, i.e., define themselves autonomously. They were not going to define themselves as creatures made in the image of God. They vowed to replace God. They would become sovereign in word and deed. This enraged God.

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city (vv. 5–8).

Again, we see the use of the plural: “let us go down.” Christians insist that the Old Testament speaks of a unified God who is more than one Person. This is what separates their interpretations of the Bible from monotheistic Jews and Muslims. This is why there can be no common theological ground of interpretation. Conclusion: if there can be no common ground of interpretation among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all of whom officially profess faith in the authority of the Bible, how can we legitimately expect to discover a common ground of interpretation among Christians and all of the anti-Christian groups that do not accept the authority of the Bible? Interpretation governs historiography. Facts do not speak for themselves. Facts are always interpreted facts. They are never brute facts, meaning uninterpreted facts. Historiography in not neutral theologically.

One more time: the people of the tower had one language. This meant that they had one confession of faith. This confession of faith was a declaration of autonomy from God. They would build a tower that rose from the earth to the heavens.

2. Language and Interpretation

I have provided an historical account of the meaning of the rebellion at the tower. The story had to do with the concept of language, which is an aspect of a confession of faith. Speaking a language is not simply a technical skill that enables people to communicate with each other. A language reflects a worldview. It shapes and reinforces this worldview. Therefore, naming something is more than coming up with syllables that would be easy to remember and then attaching the syllables to things, events, and people. Adam in naming the animals displayed knowledge of biological cause and effect. He also displayed knowledge of the environment. His naming of the animals displayed extensive knowledge of the world around the animals. Adam was an ecologist. This knowledge had been given to him by God before God assigned him the task of naming the animals. It was an aspect of God’s grace to him. But it was also an innate capacity of understanding that enabled him to begin to fulfill the dominion covenant that God gave to both Adam and Eve. He began this assignment before Eve had been created. I could be incorrect in my interpretation of the meaning of naming. I could also be incorrect with respect to my concept of language as reflecting a confession of faith. But this is the work of every historian. He must interpret the meaning of written documents. That is what I am doing with respect to Genesis 2 and Genesis 11. You may think that you have a better historical interpretation of the facts. But it will still be an interpretation. If you are a Christian, you should attempt to apply the revelation in Genesis regarding the early development of mankind. You have a moral obligation to try to make sense of Genesis. You must give thought to its meaning. You must give thought to the importance of the narratives in Genesis. This is the task of historiography. Historiography is an inescapable concept.

Christians become apprentices in the field of historiography at a young age. Our parents tell us Bible stories. In the case of the Israelites, God required them to tell to their children the story of the exodus. We find this account in Exodus 12.

For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you. And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever. And it shall come to pass, when ye be come to the land which the Lord will give you, according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service.

And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped (Exodus 12:23–27).

The story of the exodus from Egypt was a matter of confession of faith. This story became central in the life of the Israelites, even in periods of rebellion. The prophets called them back to faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but from a liturgical standpoint, the God also of Moses. The Passover was to be celebrated annually. It was an act of national covenant renewal. It was basic to the culture of Israel. It was central to the worldview of Israel. Theologically, the doctrine of creation was more important, but liturgically, Passover was most important. Israel did not celebrate the creation week, because that was exclusively the work of God. The exodus was a joint event shared by God and His people.

D. From Journeyman to Tradesman

1. Man’s Transition to Independence

An apprentice is under the direct supervision of a master. For as long as he remains an apprentice, he must do as he is told. He does this in order to keep his job and thereby gain the skills necessary to begin his career as an independent tradesman. Adam was an apprentice in Genesis 2.

At the end of the contractual agreement, he is released from the legal obligation to obey the master. He legally becomes an independent tradesman. The master may even make him a partner in the organization. The former apprentice would profit from a business that he did not create. This is common when a master is ready to retire. He wants to step down from the direct management of the firm. He looks for a reliable former apprentice to whom he can now delegate administrative control. The journeyman thereby becomes a steward. He represents his former master economically.

The journeyman has limited skills. That was what Adam and Eve possessed in the garden in Genesis 3. They were not yet ready for the world outside the garden. They were not yet ready for full independence as stewards. (The New Testament pattern of stewardship is found in Matthew 25 and Luke 19: the parables of the stewards.)

In Genesis 3, God has departed for a time. Adam and Eve are left alone to dress and defend the garden. In Genesis 2, God gave this assignment to Adam: “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (v. 15). Dressing it meant arranging it. This would be an aesthetic task: gardening. Adam was a journeyman within the geographical confines of the garden. He was also to keep it. That was an aspect of ownership. It was God’s garden, but Adam could use any of it, except for one tree. Adam even had access to the tree of life (Genesis 2:9).

Ownership is always partially defensive: the legal right to exclude others from access to some item. Therefore, he who owns something must defend it from invaders, thieves, and destroyers. That was Adam’s task. It was also Eve’s task. This is why Adam had to tell Eve about their joint responsibility. In Genesis 3, God was absent. He had spoken to Adam. He had worked alongside Adam. He had created Eve for Adam. Then He departed. He left them alone in order to see how well they would care for and defend His property. They had become journeymen.

2. Conflicting Historical Testimonies

Here was the historical setting of the great temptation. First, Satan had an agent: the serpent. The serpent spoke on behalf of Satan, in the same way that Eve spoke on behalf of Adam, and Adam had spoken on behalf of God. There is no indication that it was a fallen angel, let alone the supreme fallen angel. It was a beast of the field. “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” (Genesis 31a). This beast could talk. It spoke the same language that Adam and Eve spoke. It was able to communicate with Eve. It was able to argue with Eve. It had the power of logic. It had the power of observation. We might say that it had a very high IQ. But this high intelligence did it no good, for it was evil. As Van Til used to say, smart people who hate God are like buzz saws that are set at a crooked angle. It does not matter how sharp they are, they cannot cut straight.

Second, the serpent knew what God had said to Adam. We are not told how it knew this, but it knew. As an historian, how do I know this? Because its argument invoked the words of God. The words were not what God had said, but they were close. The serpent asked the most perverse question that any covenant-breaker can ask: “Hath God said?”

And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:1b–5).

How did Eve know what God had said? There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that God had spoken to her separately from Adam. This leads me to a conclusion: Adam had told her what God had said. Adam had been in the presence of God. God had spoken to him face to face. Adam remembered what God had said to him. He warned Eve to obey God’s words. She learned what she was not to do from Adam’s historical narrative of his encounter with God. But then she made a mistake. She added something of her own: God had said not to touch the fruit. Had Adam told her this? We do not know. But it was something in addition to God’s original warning.

It may have seemed a harmless addition. It was not harmless. The issue was eating, not touching. It had to do with a communion meal. This was a covenantally significant tree. Her verbal addition left her vulnerable. She knew that she risked dying if she violated God’s command. But she was not quite certain of God’s command. She added something extra. Then the serpent told her that God had not said that they would die. She believed him. She touched the fruit. She ate.

The apostle Paul wrote: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:14). Adam’s transgression was far more self-conscious then Eve’s was. Eve was operating from second-hand information about what God had said. Adam was not. Adam was operating from his own memory. Eve had only the memory of what Adam had told her that God had said. Eve had accurate knowledge. It was sufficient for her to make a judgment about the proper response to the serpent: a refusal to believe it and a refusal to eat. She did not have perfect information, but she had adequate information. She was therefore responsible. She had been deceived, but she should not have been deceived.

3. Testing the Sovereign Word

Then, having been deceived, she lured her husband into transgression. He knew better. I believe that he was using her as an empirical test of God’s word. God had said that on the day that they ate from the tree, they would surely die. She had just eaten of it. Would she die or not? Was God’s word accurate or not? We do not know how long Adam waited to see whether his wife would die, but it is clear that he had already made up his mind regarding the reliability of God’s word. It was not absolute. No one in his right mind would have risked death by violating the command of an absolute God. Adam assumed that his word was better than God’s word. In doing this, he assumed that his wife’s word was also better than God’s word. Therefore, he assumed that the serpent’s word was better than God’s word. He decided that he would be the judge between God and the serpent. He would determine who was telling the truth. He would decide whose word is reliable and whose word is not reliable.

The judgment of God came on all three transgressors. God determined whose word was reliable. God imposed the sanction that He had promised: death. On that day, they definitively died. They moved from life to death. They moved from grace to wrath. But, in His grace, God did not execute them on that day. They were definitively dead. They were judicially dead. That is to say, they were covenantally dead. But they were not yet physically dead.

Then God gave them hope. He did this in the context of His curse of the serpent. “And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:14–15). This was a declaration to Satan, who was represented by the serpent. Christians believe that this prophecy refers to the coming of Jesus Christ in history: His life, His death, His bodily resurrection, and His bodily ascension to the right hand of God.

Christians do not believe that Jesus literally stomped on the head of Satan at the resurrection. This prophecy used a metaphor to get across a covenantal point. Jesus would covenantally crush the head of the serpent. Why? Because the serpent was the covenantal representative of Satan. Satan had only this hope: through his covenantal representatives, he would bite the heel of Christ in history by biting the heels of His followers. He would make trouble for Jesus by making trouble for His followers. That was what the temptation of Adam and Eve was all about. Satan hoped to disrupt the plans of God.

4. Sanctions

What should Eve have done in response to the temptation? She could have picked up a stone and hit it in the head. She could have called on her husband to join her. Here was an invader of the garden. This invader was tempting her to revolt against the God who owned the garden. Because it tempted her to commit a capital crime, it deserved death. She had the lawful authority to impose this sanction. God had given mankind control over the beasts. She knew this because Adam had told her. God had spoken to her through her husband. The serpent was a beast. It was under her jurisdiction. By tempting her, it had risked death.

God imposed negative sanctions on Adam, Eve, and the serpent. They had all violated His sovereign word. There was a price to pay for rebellion. Adam and Eve either would impose negative sanctions on the serpent or else God would impose negative sanctions on all of them. The serpent was doomed either way: “damned if they did, damned if they didn’t.” This was the inescapable judicial price of becoming a covenantal agent of Satan.

I did not derive all this from Genesis 3. I derived it from my understanding of chapters that followed. As an historian of the fall of man, I make use of subsequent historical information and subsequent revelation from God regarding the meaning of the fall. This information is part of the biblical story: the transition from wrath to grace. I can make sense of subsequent biblical revelation because I understand this principle of interpretation. It is biblical interpretation and therefore also historical interpretation. We call a principle of interpretation a hermeneutic. The word comes from the name of the Greek god Hermes, known as the messenger god.

E. Hermeneutics

1. An Inescapable Concept

Every historian operates in terms of a hermeneutic: a principle of interpretation. He interprets facts in terms of a general principle of interpretation. In a world of seemingly unlimited facts, he must select from among them in his quest to understand the overall historical process. Without a principle of interpretation, he cannot make sense of the enormous quantity of historical data that confronts him. He cannot tell his story without a principle of interpretation.

Every hermeneutic is based on a set of presuppositions about God, man, law, sanctions, and time. I wrote a book on this framework: Unconditional Surrender: God’s Program of Victory (2010). These presuppositions are accepted on faith. They are not self-evident. They cannot be proven by some higher principle of logic. Even if they could be proven this way, then the principle of logic would be a matter of faith. This was why the historian Charles A. Beard selected this title for his 1933 presidential address to the American Historical Association: “Written History as an Act of Faith.” (See Chapter 9.)

I have asserted that the principle of historical interpretation that is explicitly taught in the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is this one: the transition from grace to wrath, followed by the transition from wrath to grace. This overarching theme should govern Christians who are attempting to understand the past. When they read any historical document, they should always keep in mind the fact that God is sovereign over history, and that the Bible testifies to the reality of a specific hermeneutic. There is no escape from this hermeneutic for Christians. There is also no escape from this hermeneutic for non-Christians, but they do not acknowledge its existence, and they probably are unaware of it. After all, Christian historians are generally unaware of it. Most Christian historians do not use a specific principle of interpretation in their historical investigations and published results of their findings.

A Christian who understands this hermeneutic, and who systematically uses it when examining historical records, has a tremendous advantage over those historians who do not understand it and who do not use it in their research. This hermeneutic provides coherence to the story of mankind. Without some principle of coherence, the historian is overwhelmed by the magnitude of his task. There are too many facts available to interpret. He thinks of his task as connecting the historical dots, but there are too many dots to connect, and too many missing dots that he has not yet discovered.

2. A Faithful Steward

The principle of stewardship is fundamental to understanding the relationship between God and man. It was established by the dominion covenant in Genesis 1:26–28. God has provided mankind with the resources necessary for fulfilling this covenant. People have a moral obligation to fulfill it. This is a covenantal obligation.

God holds each person responsible for fulfilling his or her tiny aspect of this covenant. But, because God holds people responsible, He provides them with the tools and resources necessary for their completion of their tasks. It is the responsibility of each of us to recognize the limits of the task, the tools available for the task, and the economic resources associated with the task. This includes intellectual tasks. Among these intellectual tasks is historiography. We need not write down all of our interpretations of the past, but we cannot escape the task of interpretation when we are making judgments about our responsibilities in the present in relation to the future. We must put our capital to productive uses. Again, we are back to these five points: God, man, law, sanctions, and time.

Men do not have exhaustive knowledge. The attempt to attain such knowledge is inherently demonic. God not only does not require exhaustive knowledge, He forbids the quest. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). From this verse we should draw a conclusion: we do not need exhaustive knowledge in order to have reliable knowledge. We do not need perfect historical knowledge in order to have reliable historical knowledge. We do not need to know everything perfectly in order to know something accurately. God possesses such knowledge, but we do not.

Eve did not have to have perfect knowledge of what God had told Adam. She had sufficient knowledge to make a God-honouring interpretation of the lies of the serpent. God held her responsible to do this. This is true of all of our labours. It is surely true of the historian’s labours.

A faithful steward should not allow himself to become paralyzed in his quest for ever-greater knowledge of ever-narrower fields of knowledge and the accompanying responsibilities. He can legitimately pursue greater specialization. He will become better equipped to speak authoritatively with respect to a few fields of knowledge, including historical knowledge. But he should be humble with his specialized knowledge. He should not assume that his success in understanding a narrow area of life provides him with the knowledge to speak authoritatively outside of his fields of expertise. He can offer his opinions, of course. His opinions should be well-informed. But they can never be opinions based on his exhaustive knowledge. He must rely on God to provide him with missing data and better interpretations.

In every field, Christians should be open to new interpretations based on superior evidence. They should allow the Holy Spirit to speak to them in these areas. This is especially true if they are pioneers in a field of interpretation. They should be judicious. They should assume that God will provide them with the required information to make better decisions in specialized areas for which God holds them responsible. They should listen to the opinions of others. “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14)

The division of labour operates in every area of life. This includes the division of intellectual labour. A faithful steward acknowledges the limitations on his knowledge. He searches for better knowledge, especially from other Christians who have successfully applied principles of biblical interpretation to their specific fields. This applies to the calling of historiography.

A diligent Christian should be confident in his ability to be a faithful steward in the area of knowledge, including historical knowledge. Paul offered this affirmation: “Or who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul said “we.” This is a collective. It is basic to Christian civilization. Through the intellectual division of labour, Christians extend the kingdom of God in history. That is to say, they extend the civilization of God in history.

If Eve had not been certain what to do in response to the serpent’s lies and temptation, she should have asked her husband. The division of intellectual labour would have helped them both to make a better judgment. But she did not ask Adam. She ate. Then she offered her judgment of the fruit. It tasted good. He imitated her. She was in rebellion, and he was in rebellion. Neither of them subordinated themselves to the revelation of God. They did not honour Adam’s memory of what God had said. Such insubordination has been the story of mankind ever since. Because men have failed to obey the commands of God, which have been preserved in the Bible as a historical record, they have chosen to imitate our covenantal parents. They have dismissed the historical revelation provided in the Bible. They have suffered the consequences. This has retarded the corporate transition from wrath to grace. Nevertheless, this transition continues. It is inescapable.


As we mature in the faith, we are supposed to improve our understanding of the historical narratives that we find in the Bible. God requires us to make judgments about how these narratives are connected. We should ask questions. “What principles of interpretation enable us to understand what holds them together? What has God revealed in each narrative about the transition from wrath to grace?” We should search for principles of interpretation that are fixed. They must be logical. They must be theological. They will enable us to understand what would otherwise be a gigantic collection of facts that do not reflect God’s written revelation of the history of the transition from wrath to grace.

What I wrote in the previous paragraph also applies to our study of the non-biblical past, which is usually presented in the form of narratives. To make these points clear, I now repeat them. God requires us to make judgments about how these narratives are connected. We should ask questions. “What principles of interpretation enable us to understand what holds them together? What has God revealed in each narrative about the transition from wrath to grace?” We should search for principles of interpretation that are fixed. They must be logical. They must be theological. They will enable us to understand what would otherwise be a gigantic collection of facts that do not reflect God’s written revelation of the history of the transition from wrath to grace.