The Biblical Structure of History (16): Chapter 11, Stories

Gary North – November 12, 2021

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 12:24–27).

A. Covenantal Model, Part 1

Point 1 of the biblical covenant model is God’s transcendence, which also includes His presence. Point 1 of biblical social theory is sovereignty.

Point 1 of biblical historiography is the telling of stories about the past that manifest God’s sovereignty in history.B. The Limits of Memory

Memory is basic to success in life. For most people, it is a weak link. Most people have poor memories. They recall bits and pieces of the past. Neither they nor psychologists understand how memory works. Specialists can train their memories to accomplish prodigious feats, but these feats are more in the nature of competitive games than aids to help the performers perform their jobs and callings more efficiently. The main mental technique tool of these specialists for millennia has been to imagine a room in which the performer has placed mental images of a series of items that he then links to a series of facts he is trying to recall—facts that are normally unrelated to the images. He places these items is in a particular order. (Frances Yates wrote a 1966 book on the history of this ancient technique: The Art of Memory.) This is not how most people recall the past.

A Christian historian’s most important task is to help God’s people recognize and then trust the sovereignty of God in history. This sovereignty is manifested in His deliverance of His people, individually and corporately, out of the pretended sovereignty of Satan. Satan’s sovereignty is manifested in history by means of the authority of the kingdom of man. Covenantal warfare is primarily an ethical struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Bible stories are tools to help God’s people understand the nature of this struggle. The Bible is mostly a series of stories about struggles between representatives of God’s kingdom and the rival kingdoms. God’s covenant people learn about His sovereignty in history through Bible stories.

Stories are easier to remember than long chains of reasoning. The Bible offers no long chains of reasoning. It offers epistles: theological commentaries on the Bible’s stories and also on the Bible’s revealed laws. These commentaries have been used by theologians to produce books filled with long chains of reasoning, but most Christians do not read these books. Before there were printed books, most Christians did not know about the discipline of theology. That intellectual discipline was the responsibility of bishops and literate bureaucrats under their authority, plus—after 1100—university professors. Even today, when Christians read a book on theology, a month later (or less), they do not remember the book’s long chains of reasoning. At best, they remember a few points, but they cannot explain how they are connected.

In contrast is the Bible. The Bible offers long lists of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It offers this message: the centrality of ethics in history. Ethics is built on the authority of these laws, which in turn are enforced by God’s sanctions, positive and negative, in response to people’s obedience or disobedience to these laws (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28). Biblical history is structured in terms of this pattern: the transition from grace to wrath, followed by the transition from wrath to grace. My book offers this thesis: the transition from wrath to grace applies to all history, not just Bible history.

If my thesis is correct, then a Christian historian has this three-part task. First, he reads other historians’ publications in search of stories that reveal this pattern in a specific narrative. Because most historians have been humanists, they did not see this pattern, but their narratives may reveal traces of it. Second, he does detailed research to identify or disprove the pattern. He examines primary source documents for evidence of the pattern. He also examines additional historians’ accounts. Third, he rewrites the humanists’ narratives to make clear what the covenantal issues were, and how they affected the outcome of the story.C. The Five-Point Structure of History’s Pattern: Genesis 1–3

1. Capital

Genesis 1:1–25 is the story of God’s creation of the world prior to mankind. Because God is personal, the world reflects this. God was purposeful. He had a plan. The plan had standards. God repeatedly announced that His work had been good. The story of this creation day sequence affirms cosmic personalism. This is the context of God’s creation of man.

God provided enormous capital for mankind. This was evidence of His grace. What is grace? It is a gift undeserved by the recipient. This gift included laws governing nature. These laws were tools of dominion for anyone who understood them. They provided cosmic regularity, which was part of a system of cause and effect.

This grant of capital would soon serve mankind as an inheritance from God. It was inheritance to mankind. Inheritance is always twofold: inheritance from and inheritance to. Inheritance from begins with life: life itself. Inheritance to extends after death. The Bible’s phrase for this process is this: the death of the testator. “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (Hebrews 9:16–17).

How is this a model for Christian historiography? A Christian historian should begin his narrative with background information that provides the context of the covenantal conflict of his narrative. This is the historical context. It is the context for individuals and institutions.

2. Assignment

God had a plan: “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” (v. 26). The plan was two-fold. First, He would grant mankind life. Second, He would give mankind an assignment: exercise dominion. The whole world would be men’s realm of authority. It would be their inheritance.

Next, God implemented His plan. He provided the next gift to mankind: life. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (v. 27). Covenantally, this was given to both Adam and Eve. Chronologically, it was given first to Adam, but before the day was over, God had given him Eve.

Next, they had to develop the capital. “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” (v. 28). This defined mankind: exercising dominion. This required labor. Labor was not cursed.

Next, God gave them the right to the fruits of their labor. “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so” (vv. 29–30). This provided economic motivation for them to exercise dominion. This was a positive sanction. Conclusion: Capital/inheritance must be developed. God expects humanity to increase its dominion. The value of the capital/inheritance is supposed to increase over time. Men are stewards for God.

How is this a model for Christian historiography? It offers a theory of progress. (See Chapter 5) It is mandatory for mankind to increase the value of God’s domain. Mankind has the ability to do this. A Christian historian should identify those areas of life in any historical era and geographical region that experienced advancement. Then he should look for explanations for this advancement. Advancement is normative morally. History is not cyclical. It is linear. It is also progressive. The mark of history’s progressive structure is the increased value of the inheritance over time: point 1 (grace) to point 5 (inheritance).

3. Boundaries

God announced a boundary in Genesis 2: “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” (vv. 15–17). Adam and Eve had almost the whole world as their inheritance. Only one small portion of the garden was not theirs. They were obligated to respect this boundary.

This was a matter of property rights. They were not to steal (commandment 8). In the Decalogue, this was the third law in the second, kingly, series of five. (The first five commandments are priestly.) This indicates that this tree was marked off by God’s name, which was sacred (commandment 3). This was the third law in the first, priestly, series of five. The priestly status of the tree indicated that it had a special legal status. It was the place for a covenantal meal. Access was closed to all humans who did not have the mark of saving grace: immunity from death. Immunity from death was available to mankind only through a communion meal at the tree of life.

This boundary was the first covenantal law governing mankind. To it was attached a negative sanction: death. This is why the dominion covenant was a covenant. It had positive sanctions associated with one boundary: almost the whole earth. It had a negative sanction associated with the other boundary: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree was sacred: separated by God by law. This boundary was holy space: separated by God for covenantal purposes. To violate this space was to commit sacrilege — a profane act.

How is this a model for Christian historiography? A Christian historian should look for major ethical issues that are associated with sacred space or sacred office. Who violated them? What were the consequences? Who honored them? What were the consequences? In this sense, Christian history is covenantal.

In a broader sense, all of man’s history is covenantal because of ethics. Most laws in the Bible are not associated with holy space. The same is true of all history. But all biblical laws are covenantal. They impose boundaries. To them are attached sanctions. If covenantal authorities—individuals, family heads, church officers, and civil magistrates—do not impose negative sanctions on individuals who break the laws, then God will impose negative sanctiolns on individuals and the derelict institutions. A Christian historian should look for this pattern of covenantal sanctions.

Genesis 1 (capital) and 2:15–17 (law) are the theological foundation for this theological principle: grace precedes law. The first story in the Bible provides information regarding this theological principle. This story is not part of a long chain of reasoning. This is why you may remember it.

4. Performance

Genesis 2 is the story of Adam’s apprenticeship in the garden. God guided him in naming the animals. Adam performed well. God gave Eve to him. This established the family, as Adam announced on his authority: “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (vv. 23–24). Adam had begun to speak as a law-giver. He did not violate God’s authority in making this announcement. He was learning how to do applied theology.

Genesis 3 is the story of Adam’s journeyman status as a guardian of Eve and the garden. It was also the story of Eve’s obedience as a wife and as a guardian of the garden. (If Eve was alone with the serpent, she was acting as a journeyman. If Adam was present, she was an apprentice.) They both had greater authority than they had in Genesis 2. God was physically absent.

They violated God’s law by eating from the forbidden tree. Then their eyes were opened regarding their nakedness. This was their first experience of knowing good and evil. They sewed together fig leaves to make aprons to cover their nakedness. This was their first response to sin: self-salvation. They did not eat from the tree of life, although it was available to them. They were still not afraid of God’s promised negative sanction: death.

God returned. He first observed the setting: missing journeymen. He then conducted an investigation. He conducted a trial. He interrogated them in order to learn the truth. He asked: what, where, when, who, why, and how? Then He promised further negative sanctions: for Eve (childbearing), for Adam (thorns), and for both of them: death (dust to dust).

How is this a model for Christian historiography? A Christian historian should look for anomalies in the accepted historiography. As with Adam’s absence, something will be missing. He must then conduct an investigation. He must ask questions: what, where, when, who, why, and how? He must seek answers from the primary source documents, but also from other historians’ narratives. What are their explanations?

5. Inheritance

God did not execute them that day. Instead, he showed grace to them. First, He promised them descendants: Eve’s childbearing. Second, He promised them meaningful work: Adam’s work in the fields. Adam would have to subdue thorns. Third, He began to fulfill these promises by providing animal skins to protect them (v. 21). This was grace: gifts unmerited by the recipients. Because of the negative sanctions, they would have to work harder to pass on a greater inheritance to their descendants. As an economist would say, there would be less output per unit of resource input. (Economists use strange phrases to describe simple relationships.) Dominion would be more difficult. This would be a feature of the transition from wrath to grace. To put it theologically, it would take common grace (life and productivity) to provide the context of special grace (eternal life). But this was also true in Genesis 1. What was different after Genesis 3 was that eternal life required special grace. Prior to Genesis 3, eternal life required only a covenant meal at the tree of life.

How is this a model for Christian historiography? A Christian historian should investigate any increase of capital in a society during one historical period. He should ask these questions. To what extent was this increase the result of covenant-breakers applying their main ethical principles? What were these principles? To what extent was this increase the result of covenant-keepers applying their main ethical principles? What were these principles? To what extent did covenant-breakers and covenant-keepers share the same ethical principles? Here are underlying questions. First, to what extent did common grace preserve a society or even allow it to increase its influence? Second, to what extent was this common grace the result of either covenant-breakers or covenant-keepers? Third, did the society maintain its commitment to the shared ethical principles that maintained common grace? If so, why? If not, why not? If it abandoned these common ethical principles, what happened in the next chronological period?D. Constructing the Story

1. Theme

Every story needs a theme. The theme provides a message. This message requires a chronological structure. The story has a beginning and an end. The end is consistent with the system of causation that undergirds the theme. This system of causation is the essence of the theme. Without it, there can be no theme.

The Bible’s theme is simple: the transition from grace to wrath, followed by the transition from wrath to grace. This theme is conveyed by a series of personal stories. At the heart of the theme is a series of trials: God’s trial of Adam and Eve, His trial of Cain, the Sanhedrin’s trial of Jesus, Pilate’s trial of Jesus, the Sanhedrin’s trial of the apostles, the Sanhedrin’s trial of Stephen, the Roman court’s trial of Paul, and God’s trial of humanity at the last judgment. We should also add covenant-keepers’ trial of fallen angels, but there are no details.

Time is scarce. Do not waste the listeners’ time. Therefore, a story should be memorable. Its theme should be memorable, and several of the theme’s illustrating characters and incidents should be memorable.

A Christian historian should not waste his time investigating any events that are unlikely to lend themselves to the narration of a story with at least one major theme. Some trends are general, and can be used to establish context. There may be causation, but if this causation is not visibly covenantal, then the Christian historian should select a different topic. Life is short, and the number of stories revealing covenantal causation is huge.

2. Questions

I have described these six questions in terms of God’s trial of Adam, Eve, and the serpent. They are questions regarding personal responsibility. I have summarized these six questions: what, where, when, who, why, and how? Any historian who provides plausible answers to all six has done yeoman service. If he can tell this story accurately, clearly, and persuasively in the time that an audience will grant him to tell the story, he has done well. It is far easier to answer questions about deceased historical figures than it is to answer questions about seemingly impersonal trends. I regard the most important historical question over the last two millennia is this: “What produced the Industrial Revolution, with its per capita economic growth of 2% per annum for over two centuries?” The Industrial Revolution changed the world more than anything else in recorded history, and it did so in just three generations—if you pick the right family. That family is the family of John Tyler, who became President of the United States in 1841. He was born in 1790, the first full year of President George Washington’s first term as the first President. His grandson Lyon Tyler died in October 2020. His other grandson, Harrison Tyler (b. 1928), is still alive as I write this (October 2021). There are at least three dozen explanations that economic historians have offered to explain this. Each of them is refuted by Prof. Dierdre McCloskey in Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (2010).

3. Structure

Telling a story requires structure: words put together in a specialized way. The words must hold the attention of a listener or a reader. To do this, the narrator must provide markers that convey to the reader that the story is progressing in a coherent way. A disjointed structure produces confusion. Listeners’ attention will drift. The narrator faces boundaries. The main one is the boundary of time that the targeted listener or reader is willing to donate to the narrator. The second is the boundary of memory. People have weak memories. Most of what they hear in a lecture is forgotten within 48 hours. About 95% is forgotten in a week. So, the story’s markers must serve the purpose of providing hooks onto which the listener can “hang” his memory. This is a variation of what Yates described as the art of memory: a mental room wherein memory-triggering items are placed sequentially. The narrative must substitute for the room.

4. Lesson

A Christian storyteller’s goal should be to convey an ethical lesson. This lesson should serve as a model for judging people and events. The standards of judgment are mainly ethical. There are other standards, such as aesthetic standards. But there is no formula for aesthetic standards. There is no known biblical formula. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This does not mean that beholders cannot accurately judge beauty. There are beauty contests in many nations. The finalists in any nation would find widespread agreement from men in other nations. Men know which women are beautiful, and women also know. But they cannot explain this in agreed-upon ways, other than a few characteristics, such as weight. Stories in the Bible are structured ethically. They provide lessons regarding right and wrong. They have a judicial function. They were designed by God to train covenant-keepers in the principles of justice, climaxing in their judging of fallen angels after the final judgment of humanity.

5. Vision

The listeners should gain a renewed vision of victory after hearing a story. The story should supplement stories of successes by Christians in extending the kingdom of God. The models for such stories are stories about foreign missionaries. These stories contain sub-themes of the organizations they set up, or their successors set up. These stories include discussions of life-and-death decisions, cultural conflicts, worldview conflicts, educational programs, fund-raising, getting out the story of the missions to supporters, past successes, new challenges, and plausible prospects for further success. Histories of foreign missions are not taken seriously by most academic historians, who see them as recruiting and fund-raising tools. I take them seriously because they are recruiting and fund-raising tools. A history presentation whose ultimate goal is not successful evangelism is a waste of time. The goal should be to persuade covenant-breakers to switch confessions. To do this, an army of evangelists who believe in comprehensive redemption must be recruited and trained. The Bible proclaims such a vision. (See Kenneth L. Gentry, The Greatness of the Great Commission, 1992.) So should Christian histories.E. Historiography and Discipleship

1. Mission

This is a common feature of leadership in all areas of Christian dominion. Every Christian has been given a commission by Christ: “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 28:19–20).

In my book, The Five Pillars of Biblical Leadership (2021), I identify point 1 as mission. The four other points are these: service, teamwork, mastery, and inheritance. All of these apply to the Christian historian.

A Christian historian’s mission is to explain the details of the biblical framework of history: the transition from wrath to grace. Christian historiography must reflect and represent the five points of the biblical structure of history: the providence of God, the image of God in men, biblical ethics, God’s imputation of meaning to all facts, and progressive cultural inheritance. Progressive cultural inheritance is the parallel development of the two kingdoms, God’s and man’s (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43).

I have argued that people remember stories better than they remember long chains of reasoning. Therefore, a Christian historian serves as a practical theologian. He has a prophetic function. (See Chapter 12B). He brings his theology to his research. His historiography should reflect this theology. There is no theological neutrality. There is therefore no historiographical neutrality.

His initial mission is to teach Christians what Christ told the disciples. This must include the Old Testament, as interpreted by the New Testament’s epistles. The Old Testament is mainly stories. This is how he should teach. He should recognize that historians are in a better position to teach Christians how to apply Christ’s principles than any other profession, except for pastors. They teach this by showing how Christians in the past applied them, or failed to apply them, with what results.

2. Audiences

A Christian historian must first decide who his audiences will be. He should tailor his presentations in terms of specific audiences. He represents God to these audiences. This is an aspect of point 2 of biblical leadership: service. He should research each topic comprehensively. He should over-research the topic in terms of the needs of multiple audiences. His goal should be to present his findings to more than one audience. Not to do this is to waste research time. The most difficult part of the historian’s task is to identify the applications of the five principles of biblical history to a specific society or person. This takes creativity. Then he must do the research necessary to draw conclusions. This takes time. The product of this mixture of asking questions and getting answers is a body of conclusions. He must then package these conclusions for separate audiences.

He must recognize the limits of knowledge in each group. Overcoming these limits in most groups is challenging. This is the context of his task. This is the capital he must work with. His God-given task is to increase the value of this capital for use in the kingdom of God. This is human capital. He must make covenant-keepers more productive. Above all, he must help them become better judges. (See Chapter 14.)

He must decide how he will get his lessons to members of each audience. This is the question of media. He must estimate how much time they will give him for each lesson. This varies in terms of media: viewing time vs. reading time. Then he must estimate the size of his budget for marketing. He has to have a marketing plan. On this point, I quote Mac Ross, a marketing genius in the late twentieth century. “If you build a better mousetrap, but you do not set aside money for marketing, you will die alone and broke with a garage full of mousetraps.” If you have no money for marketing, then invest more time in marketing strategies that do not require up-front money: YouTube, Kindle Direct books, social media, and a blog.

3. Message

For a Christian historian, the message of each lesson must be this: the effects of covenant-keeping in history, compared to the effects of covenant-breaking. He identifies a historical story as an example of this message. This story illustrates and reinforces the message. The story is designed to help Christians understand God’s providence in history: the transition from wrath to grace. His story has boundaries. It has chronological boundaries. It has boundaries of responsibility: individual and institutional. Specific individuals and organizations represent movements. (See Chapter 12.) A handful of movements shape history. A handful of trends shape history. A Christian historian should identify the importance of various trends by means of the covenantal structure of history. The key issue is ethics: point 3 of the biblical covenant.

4. Commitment

A Christian historian, because he is an evangelist with a prophetic function, must design his presentation to persuade listeners of the truth regarding the providential nature of past. He uses stories to persuade people.

Accurate knowledge is necessary but not sufficient in the Christian life. Accurate knowledge must shape action. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:22–25). This rule applies to the results of historiography. It is not sufficient to teach people about God’s providential control in the past. They must also believe that God’s providence applies to their circumstances.

This narration requires persuasion. This is not just persuasion that God’s providence shapes history by means of Christians’ faithfulness to His laws. It is persuasion regarding the requirement of each hearer of the historical stories to obey God in order to exercise dominion.

5. Hope

The stories should persuade listeners of the reliability of God’s covenant in providing the basis of progress in history. (See Chapter 15.) They should offer hope. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). So, this should be the motivation of a Christian historian: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus announced that He was the fulfilment of this verse. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).

If a story ends in defeat for covenant-keepers, a Christian historian’s work is not complete. He should continue to write until the defeat is visible as a victory. Some stories in the Old Testament reveal defeats for covenant-keepers. The story of Joseph is such a story. Joseph announced the biblical principle of interpretation: a hermeneutic. “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20). The story of Job also reflects this. “So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses” (Job 42:12).

There is also another consideration. In a war, there are necessary casualties. “And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few. So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water” (Joshua 7:3–5). The New Testament model for this is the crucifixion of Jesus. Then came the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7). The theme of temporary defeat is basic to the story of the transition from wrath to grace.Conclusion

If Christian historians follow these procedures, they will produce stories that replace the prevailing humanistic stories. Humanists have no self-conscious theory of history. It is not taught in humanist institutions. They have no theory of the structure of Christian historiography. They are not good at persuading the general public. The sanctions within history departments militate against persuading the public. The sanctions favor persuading editors of peer-reviewed journals, meaning committees.

Until Christian historians regard their callings as God-given, they will not be successful in competing against an army of humanists in tax-funded schools. They will not persuade Christians in churches. Academic Christian historians are not ready for covenantal warfare. They have been in retreat since 1500.

The five-point model for historiography provides the structure for writing historical stories: capital, assignment, boundaries, performance, and inheritance. It offers a theory of telling a story: theme, questions, structure, lesson, and vision. It is a tool of discipleship: mission, audiences, message, commitment, and hope. None of this is taught in Christian schools. Christian historians are unaware of it. They also have no Bible-based theory of the structure of history to rival the assumed but unspoken structure that govern humanists. I surveyed the correct theory in Part 1. So, they lose by default.

Meanwhile, the competing historical narratives presented by humanists are increasingly divided. They have no agreed-on theory of world history. They have no agreed-on theory of how to interpret documents. They have no theory of how the autonomous historian can make sense of the past. There is no agreement on the existence of an objective past.

The humanists are vulnerable. The problem is this: Christian historians are not ready to replace the humanists. They are not self-confident. They do not have an alternative agenda. They cannot beat something with nothing. In the next four chapters, I hope to provide them with four more stones. David picked up five stones to do battle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40). I think the first stone, which you have just read, would be sufficient. But historians must know how to use a sling to make the stone deadly to the enemy. That sling is Christian education.

The Biblical Structure of History (16): Introduction to Part 3

Gary North – November 11, 2021

A. The Myth of Neutrality

So far, I have presented a great deal of information regarding history and its interpretation. I have attempted to persuade you of two facts. First, history is not neutral, theologically speaking. I mean its actual structure. I covered this in Part 1. Second, humanistic historians are not neutral toward history and its structure. I covered this in Part 2.

Humanists ever since the fifth century B.C. have adopted some version of the myth of neutrality in order to promote their vision of God, man, law, sanctions, and time. Christian theologians and intellectuals have repeatedly been deceived by this myth. This has compromised their testimony regarding the God of the Bible and His impact in history. This has compromised their testimony in every field of thought and practice in which they have imported the myth of neutrality. This means virtually every field.

In Part 1, I discussed why history itself is not neutral. It is structured in terms of God’s covenant with mankind in Genesis 1:26–28. Now it is time to discuss why historiography cannot be neutral. It cannot be neutral because history is not neutral. God expects men’s historiography to be consistent with the covenantal structure of the processes of history. Men’s historiography must reflect this fundamental underlying structure, which philosophers call metaphysical. Because of the presuppositions of humanism regarding the autonomy of history and the autonomy of man, humanist historiography is always in revolt against God. I discussed this in Part 2.

B. Creeds and Historiography

I recommend a strategy for Christians to begin to reconstruct historiography: study the creeds of Christendom, especially the creed known as the Apostles Creed. It was not a creed written down by the apostles. It grew out of the church’s Council of Nicaea in 325. There are numerous versions of it stretching over centuries. This is called the received form.

I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of Heaven and Earth; and in Jesus Christ His only (begotten) Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven; and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, Author: James Orr)

In recommending that we begin with the creeds of the church in our attempt to understand the structure of history, I rely heavily on R. J. Rushdoony’s pioneering book: The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church (1968). I regard this book as indispensable for understanding early church history. It has been ignored by the academic community, the Christian intellectual community, and virtually all pastors. It helped structure my thinking when I read it in 1969, when I was beginning to research my doctoral dissertation on the economic thought of Puritan New England.

Chapter 1 is “The Apostles Creed and Creedalism.” In this chapter, he set forth principles of Christian historiography. He started with this principle: creeds govern the way we think in every area of life. Everyone has a creed, either implicit or explicit. There is no neutrality in creeds. Creeds are inescapable concepts. There is no such thing as a creedless society. There is no such thing as a creedless individual. Most people are not self-conscious about their creeds, but they do have opinions regarding God, man, law, sanctions, and time. They have opinions about the way the world works.

Rushdoony made a crucial observation about the uniqueness of the Apostles Creed. I regard his comment as fundamental for a correct understanding Christianity and its impact on the world. The creed makes affirmations concerning history.

The Apostles Creed is unlike all other creeds of other religions, whether humanist, Buddhist, Modern, Hindu, or otherwise. The face of all the religions is in a body of ideas or claims concerning reality. It may be a belief in the ultimacy of man, or the ultimacy of nothingness, in the office of a man (Mohammed as profit), or an ultimate dualism or monism, but, in any event, it demands a belief in certain ideas or claims. The Apostles Creed is radically different: it offers a synopsis of history, created by God the Father Almighty, requiring salvation by Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, who entered, lived, died, and was resurrected in history, and is now the Lord and Judge of history. His holy congregation is operative in history, which culminates in the general resurrection and everlasting life. The whole creed therefore is a declaration concerning history (p. 4).

Rushdoony was not aware of the biblical covenant model in 1968. Ray Sutton’s book was published in 1987. Yet, in 1968, he wrote clearly of the five principles undergirding the covenantal structure of history and historiography. He did not present them in the order found in the covenant model for history, but he did present them.

Point 1: Creation

Implicit in this declaration that God the Father Almighty is maker of heaven and earth is the claim of God to be the law-giver, determiner, and sustainer of heaven and earth and of all of history. He is its maker, and it is totally subject therefore to Him. An assertion of the doctrine of creation is also an assertion of the doctrines of sovereignty and of the eternal decree, of predestination (p. 5).

Point 2: Image

If God is the true source [of law], then the Word of God must be hearkened to by church, state, school, and every sphere of life as the one authoritative source of morality and law. As institutions and orders declare law, they must do it ministerially, as administrators under God. The Word of God therefore speaks to every sphere including church and state, and the Word of God is over the church and corrects and disciplines the church (p. 5).

Point 3: Law

The Creed thus has vast implications concerning history because of its declaration that God is the creator of all things. This declaration immediately makes God the source of all ethics, of all morality, and of all law. In all non-Christian systems, the source of ethics and of law is the state; it is the polis, the empire, or the kingdom. There is no understanding the gulf between Aristotle and Plato, for example, and Christianity, apart from this fact, and the gulf cannot be legitimately bridged. Either God is the true source of morality and law, or the state is (p. 5).

Point 4: Imputation

History is a succession of judgments, wherein God comes in clouds of judgment, and all these crises and judgments are for the shaking of the nations, to destroy the reprobate realms of man and to establish by sifting Christ’s faithful in His realm. As God declared through Ezekiel, “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more, until he, whose right it is; and I will give it to him” (Ezek. 31:27). The purpose of this overturning, according to St. Paul, is “the removing of the things that are shaken as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:27). The successive judgments have as their purpose the removal of destruction “of all things that are made,” i.e., of the humanistic and apostate orders of history, so that Christ’s kingdom which cannot be shaken may remain.” These are all partial judgments, forerunners to the final judgment (p. 172).

Point 5: Inheritance

Not only a theology, but an eschatology, or doctrine of last things, which renounces history or sees it as defeat, is faithless to Christianity. God is maker of heaven and earth, not Satan. History culminates in God’s plan and triumph, not in Satan’s victory. To the extent that any eschatology involves the victory of evil in history, to that extent it surrenders and retreats from history (p. 5).

C. Church and State

There is a war going on between church and state. The church claims to represent God in history, although not as the sole interpreter of God’s word and law. Christianity has always acknowledged the separation of church and state. But the state has not acknowledged the legitimacy of such a separation except when pressured to do so by a strong church. The war between church and state extends back to the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh. (I cover this in my commentary on Exodus, Volume 1: Representation and Dominion, [2012].)

Christian historiography must recognize the existence of this continual confrontation between Christianity and the humanist state. The absence of a clear-cut exposition of this conflict in history is characteristic of humanist historiography. Unfortunately, it is also characteristic of most Christian historiography. Christian historians do not return again and again to the confrontations between church and state throughout history. They do not regard this confrontation as inherent to history because of the war of the two views of history. Rushdoony made clear the nature of this confrontation. He did so in the chapter on the church.

The more faithful the Church, the greater its visibility, i.e., the more clearly its witness to the word and power of Christ in this world. But the true church is not alone in claiming visibility, and claiming to be the visible representative of Christ’s invisible order. The state claims its own kind of visibility; the state sees itself as the visible expression of the true order of man, and, sometimes also, of whatever gods may be. It then becomes a contest, first, as to who represents God’s true order, and, second, what is the order which is to be represented.

The humanistic order strives for visibility, first, as the dominant force in man’s society, as the omnipresent fact on the human scene, and, second, as the new order of salvation. Accordingly, man’s dominant concern in the era of humanism is political, since politics is the area where the hidden deity becomes visible. The 19th century was thus the era of political visibility; the religion of most men tended increasingly to become political. “Democracy” as the hope of the world found its culminating messianic expression in Woodrow Wilson’s dream of making the world safe for democracy by war and diplomacy (p. 181).

Church and state have separate legal jurisdictions. They also have separate systems of law. There is civil law, but there is also canon law, which governs the church. Canon law has a long tradition in the West, yet Christian historiography has generally ignored it. There are no detailed treatises of the historical development of canon law, and especially there are no discussions of the impact of canon law on the church in its development of the principles of Christian civilization. We do not have detailed studies of the interaction between civil law and canon law in confrontations between church and state for domination in society in the West. We need such studies.

In his chapter on canon law, Rushdoony set forth a coherent framework for any discussion of canon law in relationship to civil law. With respect to canon law, he wrote:

The independence of the church required it. Political absolutism, however, then as now, has been hostile to canon law. Instead of the multiple law orders, and multiple variety of courts, which characterized the era of Christian feudalism, absolutism in the state has worked steadily to reduce all human society to one law-order, the state. Every other realm must be subjected to the state rather than to God: the church, economics, science, education, agriculture, the arts, all things are made aspects of the life of the state (rather than of man under God) and therefore under the government of the state (p. 133).

There is a logic behind this. Rushdoony described it: “The supposition of the state in its absolutism is twofold. First, by asserting overall sovereignty and jurisdiction, the state is usurping the power and prerogative of God. The state makes itself the ultimate creator and lawgiver rather than God. Second, the state declares itself to be the true man as well as the true god. Every God-given aspect of the life of man, the state declares both to be its creation and also an aspect of its life” (p. 133).

D. Western Liberty

Rushdoony’s chapter on the Council of Chalcedon (451) is titled: “The Foundation of Western Liberty.” The Council of Chalcedon’s focus of concern was the question of the unique divinity of Christ. It produced this declaration:

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.

Most Christians have never heard of the Council of Chalcedon. They have certainly never read what you have just read. When they read it, they do not ask this question: “What has this to do with Western liberty?” Rushdoony made it clear exactly what this had to do with Western liberty. This declaration was a denial of the possibility of the divinity of man or of any agency of man. This declaration is as important today as it was in 451. He wrote:

The problem centered on the definition of the two natures of Christ and their union. Behind the problem stood the resurgence of Hellenic philosophy in Christian guise and the claims of the state to be the divine order on earth, to be the incarnation of divinity in history. The Hellenic faith held to a radically different concept of being than did biblical faith. The Christian distinction between the uncreated being of God and the created being of man and the universe placed an infinite gulf between the two, a gulf unbridgeable by nature and bridged only by grace, by grace of the salvation and by grace permitting a union or community of life, not of substance.

For the Greeks, as for non-Christian religions generally, all being is one undivided being; the differences in being are of degree, not of kind. In this great chain of being, it is a question of place on the scale or ladder of being, whereas for Christian faith the difference is one of divine and uncreated being as against created and mortal being.

In terms of this Greek perspective, salvation is not an act of grace but rather of self-deification. Moreover, the central institution in history becomes the state, because the state as the highest point in power in history maintains the nascent or incarnate divinity of being either in the body politic, the rulers, or in their offices. In various forms, this faith was the substructure of all pagan statism. Thus, the issue very literally was one between Christ and Caesar (pp. 63–64).

I am aware of no textbook on the history of Western civilization that is written self-consciously in terms of the theological conflict between humanism and Christianity. There is no textbook that describes the creeds and councils of the early church as setting forth the principles of Western liberty. Obviously, we cannot find textbooks written by humanists that explain this. The problem is that we cannot find textbooks written by Christians that explain this.

Chalcedon challenged more than humanistic political theory. It challenged non-Christian views of the structure of history. “Statist theology however demands that time govern eternity, and man govern whatever god exists, or, better, be his own god. Any theology which weakens the Definition of Chalcedon weakens the primacy of the triune God over history, and any theology which denies Chalcedon must of necessity to affirm history as the primary area of determination. Time then alone is the source of the historical, and the supernatural is denied” (p. 75).

Any denial of Chalcedon’s declaration goes beyond weakening the primacy of the triune God. It is a denial of the divinity of Christ. “God the Son not only does not determine time in history, He is denied historicity because He demands reference to the ontological Trinity, to eternity, to be understood. The only Christ permitted is a totally human Christ, one totally immersed in time and exclusively and totally a product of history. This is ‘the historical Jesus’ of higher criticism. ‘Demythologizing’ criticism has a similar goal: to reduce Jesus to history, to a total meaning from within history” (p. 75).

Few Christians understand the nature of the comprehensive challenge to Christ’s divinity by humanism. Is also a challenge to biblical ethics. Here is the issue: “A God who is not the creator is an alien to the universe: it is its own evolving law. A God who is truly the savior of the world is of necessity its creator: He has made it, and its only possible health is in the restoration to communion with Him. His law therefore as the only truly regulative principle for the world” (p. 77). “Sovereignty, duty, and law are inseparably united. The source of law in any system is not only the locale of sovereignty but also the god of that system. God only is the true sovereign and the true source of law” (p. 77).

Chalcedon’s declaration made it clear that Jesus Christ has two natures: divine and human. As the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ was God, but His perfect human nature was not divine. Man did not become God. This declaration was crucial for the maintenance of liberty. “To have permitted belief in the confusion of the natures would have meant that man could become an aspect of his own God, aspire to be, in his union with Christ, his own lawmaker and co-creator. Humanity would have been introduced into deity, not in a community of life but in a community of substance” (p. 78).

Thus, he concluded, “In the Christian view, man’s life is not comprehended by the state; it is comprehended only by the triune God. Man’s unity is only truly realizable in God and His Kingdom; man’s individuality is again only realizable in and through God. This means that man’s eternal destiny is a predestined one and bound to the grace of the ultimate One and Many, the Trinity. But it also means that man’s present life is freed from the predestination of the state. Man’s self-realization is not in the state but in God” (p. 79).

Conclusion

With this as background, I now discuss Christian historiography. Christians must be self-conscious in their understanding of the comprehensive warfare between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. This understanding must govern what Christians think about every area of life. They should be alert to the invasion by humanism and the categories of humanism into their thinking in every area of life. Christian historiography must be comprehensive. It must reconstruct the history of man in terms of the battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Who is Lord? Who is sovereign? Christians must be clear in their answer. This means that they must also be clear in their discussion of history.

They must understand history in terms of this covenantal warfare. Sadly, they have not been given guidance in this battle by Christian leaders. Self-conscious Christians who understand the nature of this warfare are rare. Therefore, most Christians have been guided by Christian leaders who have been confused about the comprehensive nature of the confrontation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Christian historians have rewritten history in ways that make it more humanistic in tone and content than Christian. Christian historians in their writing ignore God. They do not mention the providence of God. They ignore the laws of God. They ignore the structure of historical sanctions that God announced to the generation of the conquest.

When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; 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 8:10–18).

Christians today have eaten and are full. In every area of life, they have begun to forget the God whose sanctions have blessed them. They have offered thanks to modern science, modern politics, and modern economics for their blessings. It is time for Christians to rethink sovereignty, authority, law, sanctions, and time in terms of the biblical covenant. It is time for them to become highly suspicious of history as interpreted by covenant-breakers. It is time for them to adopt biblical historiography.

The Biblical Structure of History (13): Chapter 9, Nominalism

Gary North – November 08, 2021

The bits and pieces of records left from the past can be arranged into different and contending pictures. To be more direct, since human society is composed of relationships, many of them carrying implications of power and elements of concealment, one’s point of entry into a past moment will always affect one’s findings. No workable definition of objectivity can hide the likelihood that students of the human past will always have to deal with more than one version of what has happened. – Appleby, Hunt, and Jacobs (1994).

A. Covenant Model, Part 4

Part 4 of the biblical covenant model is oath. A covenantal oath invokes God’s sanctions in history, positive and negative.

Part 4 of biblical social theory is sanctions, positive and negative. It implies judgment, which is based on God’s imputation: good and evil, right and wrong.

Part 4 of humanist scholarship is nominalism: competing interpretations. These are judgments. There is no known way to reconcile them, for that would imply a uniform standard for settling disputes. Nominalism denies the existence of any such objective standard.

B. Realism vs. Nominalism

On what basis can men impute value to anything? Humanism has been searching for an answer to this question from the days of the pre-Socratics. Humanism has never found an answer that is consistent with its presuppositions about God, man, law, sanctions, and time.

I began this chapter with a quotation from their 1994 book, Telling the Truth About History (p. 262). The three authors made it clear that there is more than one version of what has happened. There are, in fact, so many versions of what has happened that nobody has a good enough memory to recall all of the competing versions of major events. Anyone who doubts this should try to compile a list of books on the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The three authors then asserted that this in no way undermines the coherence and accuracy of historiography. They wrote the following: “The fact that there can be a multiplicity of accurate histories does not turn accuracy into a fugitive from a more confident age; it only points to the expanded necessity of men and women to read the many messages packed into a past event and to follow their different trajectories as that events consequences contact and eight through time” (p. 262). The authors assumed that there are accurate histories out there, somewhere. On what basis philosophically could they legitimately assume this? In the mid-19th century, a few German historians did believe that there can be accurate historiography of objective past events. That faith was almost gone by 1920. It was publicly abandoned in the 1930s. The concept of objective historical accuracy did indeed become “a fugitive from a more confident age.” The last defense attorney of that elusive fugitive was Arnold Toynbee. He is forgotten by the general public and most practicing historians.

Men search for objective knowledge. Objective knowledge, by definition, is based on objective facts. Christianity teaches says that objectivity is based on God’s imputation, which is comprehensive. God created the facts, and He judges them in terms of His permanent standards. He is sovereign over history. His interpretation of history is objective because He has comprehensive knowledge of what has happened in the past, and He is in control of historical causation. He also has a perfect memory.

The humanist denies the existence of such a God. He thereby makes himself responsible for identifying objective facts in every area of life. The humanist historian must identify objective facts in the past. But he does not have comprehensive documentation of the past. How can he make accurate judgments about the objective past? How can he prove that his imputations of historical relevance are correct? What are the objective standards of imputation? There is no agreement among humanist historians regarding this issue, except to deny all objective standards.

I come now to realism vs. nominalism. First, realism. The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines philosophical realism: “Realism: in philosophy, the viewpoint which accords to things which are known or perceived an existence or nature which is independent of whether anyone is thinking about or perceiving them.” This definition excludes God, who perceives everything. All facts are interpreted by God. This is the basis of objectivity in every area of life. Deny this, and objectivity disappears—a fugitive in hiding.

In the history of Western philosophy, some humanists have sought objectivity outside of history. Plato sought objectivity in trans-historical conceptual forms. Behind every table in history is a conceptual form of a table that is outside of history. But Plato could not explain how the trans-historical forms are connected to the material realm of history. Aristotle also believed in forms, but he argued that they are embedded in the realm of matter. Both positions are called realism. The forms governing history are either transcendent to history or embedded in history. That is to say, they are either transcendent or immanent. Humanists have been unable to show how changeless transcendent forms are connected with the ceaseless change of history. How do people perceive these forms? This is the problem whose answers divided Parmenides and Heraclitus. Our minds are subject to change. How do we use our supposedly unchanging reason to identify that which is permanent—objectively permanent? There has never been any agreement on the answer.

Second, nominalism. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines nominalism: “Nominalism: in philosophy, position taken in the dispute over universals—words that can be applied to individual things having something in common—that flourished especially in late medieval times. Nominalism denied the real being of universals on the ground that the use of a general word (e.g., ‘humanity’) does not imply the existence of a general thing named by it.” This view insists that observers impute meaning to the world around them. There is no inherent meaning in the world. There is no inherent objectivity. Objectivity is a myth. There is no underlying reality. The only thing that matters is what individuals think matters. The problem here is that there are a lot of individuals who have opposing opinions about what really matters. There is no way to reconcile these competing opinions.

The humanist does invoke the God of the Bible to solve this problem. But God is the solution—the only solution. He interprets reality: objective. He speaks a word of judgment: subjective. He will impose final judgment at the end of time: objective. The humanist invokes mankind. But mankind is not unified. Individual imputations conflict. There is no agreed-upon way among humanists to determine which imputations are correct, and which are incorrect. As humanists have become more consistent with their philosophical presuppositions regarding human autonomy, there has been less agreement regarding objective reality and its interpretation. This applies to the study of history.

A major defender of nominalism in the writing of history is the French historian Paul Veyne. His primary work in this field is Writing History: Essay on Epistemology (1984). His main critic is Marcel Gauche, who defends realism. The debate is perpetual. This is because humanism is dualistic. Humanism is also dialectical: the attempt to hold two contradictory positions at one time. Neither Veyne nor Gauche defends a pure version of either nominalism or realism. Again, I quote Van Til, who said that scholars on each side of some irreconcilable humanistic dualism are like two washerwomen who make a living by taking in each other’s laundry.

In his important book, The One and the Many ([1971] 2007), Rushdoony made this comment on nominalism:

If God has truly causally created all things and is himself sovereign, self-contained, and triune, then no fact is a fact apart from Him, nor can any fact have a valid interpretation in and of itself. God-created factuality means God-interpreted factuality. Apart from God, there is only the concept of brute factuality, facts in and of themselves and without any relationship or meaning in terms of one another, a sea of meaningless and unrelated particulars, or else the absorption of all facts into the ocean of being and their loss of both identity and particular meaning. The first means a world of anarchistic atoms or particulars, and the second means a totalitarian and obliterating unity (p. 16).

With this in mind, consider the 1933 presentation of a dedicated nominalist historian, Charles Beard.

C. Charles Beard on Imputed Meaning

1. Beard’s Influence

Two years after Carl Becker delivered his 1931 speech to the American Historical Association, “Everyman His Own Historian,” Charles A. Beard delivered what was essentially a confirmation of Becker’s thesis: “Written History as an Act of Faith.” It was published in the January 1934 issue of The American Historical Review, pages 219–32.

Beard was a far more prominent historian than Becker was. He was the most famous and the most prestigious historian within the Progressive movement. In 1913, his book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, created a sensation. He argued that the Framers in Philadelphia in 1787 promoted a specific kind of ownership, which was not primarily land-based. They were part of the commercial class. They wrote the Constitution to benefit this class. He followed with this book: An Economic Interpretation of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915). In 1927, he and his wife wrote what immediately became the most prominent American history textbook in American colleges: The Rise of American Civilization. This book and its two sequels remained the dominant American history textbooks for the next two decades. In 1926, he was elected president of the American Political Science Association. This was unheard of: president of both societies. His academic influence was unique.

2. The Centrality of Man in History

I take seriously the title of the speech, “Written History as an Act of Faith.” This was religious language. Perhaps Beard was trying to be clever. If so, what was he trying to conceal by means of this cleverness? The content of the article indicates that he was struggling to provide answers to a series of epistemological problems that are the inescapable products of humanism’s rejection of Christianity.

The first issue that he dealt with was omniscience. He used the word. He understood its centrality in both history and historiography. Without omniscience, the world becomes incomprehensible: chaotic. He wanted to avoid this result. “The hypothesis of chaos admits of no ordering at all; hence those who operate under it cannot write history, although they may comment on history” (p. 226). He did not explain how people can even comment on history. He rejected the Christian God. He said that all historians had done this. “Contemporary historical thought is, accordingly, returning upon itself and its subject matter. The historian is casting off his servitude to physics and biology, as he formerly cast off the shackles of theology and its metaphysics” (p. 225). What did Beard substitute for an omniscient God? History itself. “What, then, is this manifestation of omniscience called history? It is, as Croce says, contemporary thought about the past.” This laid the epistemological foundation of his speech, namely, the authority of human thought. He invoked the name of Benedetto Croce. Someone else who did this was Collingwood, beginning in 1935. Beard spelled out the implication of Croce’s theory of history: it is created by autonomous individual thought.

History as past actuality includes, to be sure, all that has been done, said, felt, and thought by human beings on this planet since humanity began its long career. History as record embraces the monuments, documents, and symbols which provide such knowledge as we have or can find respecting past actuality. But it is history as thought, not as actuality, record, or specific knowledge, that is really meant when the term history is used in its widest and most general significance. It is thought about past actuality, instructed and delimited by history as record and knowledge—record and knowledge authenticated by criticism and ordered with the help of the scientific method. This is the final, positive, inescapable definition (p. 219).

First, he limited his definition of history to human beings: their thoughts and actions. This limitation points to man as a sovereign. Nothing outside of man was an element of Beard’s definition of history. This idea was widely shared in his day. It was also Collingwood’s view. Second, thought is central to his definition of history, as it was for Collingwood. “But it is history as thought, not as actuality, record, or specific knowledge, that is really meant when the term history is used in its widest and most general significance.” Men think. This was the starting point for Descartes: “I think; therefore, I am.” This is humanism’s substitute for God, who thought before He created the world. This raised a serious problem: nominalism. Without God, there is no authoritative thinker. Men disagree. This leads to epistemological chaos: pure subjectivism.

3. The Need for Imputation

History is everything that men have ever done. This is beyond human calculation. How can historians provide a coherent narrative? How can they make sense of the immensity of the past? By a careful selection of facts. “Every student of history knows that his colleagues have been influenced in their selection and ordering of materials by their biases, prejudices, beliefs, affections, general upbringing, and experience, particularly social and economic; and if he has any sense of propriety, to say nothing of humor, he applies the canon to himself, leaving no exceptions to the rule.” This evaded the problem: the historians’ colleagues do not agree with him or each other.

What he called the omniscience of history in all of its complexity becomes selected facts by historians. God was once thought to be omniscient, and omnipotent as well. Christians believed that He has provided coherence to history, both objectively and imputationally. He has directed everything. He has imputed meaning to everything. But He is gone in modern humanists’ thinking. This puts history in charge. But history is not in charge. It is blind. It is silent. It does not impute meaning. Then what will replace history? Historians. Lots and lots of historians. They will select what they think is important for their peers to remember. They will impute meaning to whatever they have selected. To do this, they must also impute meaning to everything they decided not to select.

This introduced subjectivism into the discussion. Beard embraced subjectivism wholeheartedly. “Contemporary thought about history, therefore, repudiates the conception dominant among the schoolmen during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the opening years of the twentieth century—the conception that it is possible to describe the past as it actually was, somewhat as the engineer describes a single machine” (pp. 220–21). This repudiation of realism has created a crisis for historiography. “As Croce and Heussi have demonstrated, so-called neutral or scientific history reached a crisis in its thought before the twentieth century had advanced far on the way” (p. 221). The crisis is spreading. “This crisis in historical thought sprang from internal criticism—from conflicts of thought within historiography itself—and from the movement of history as actuality; for historians are always engaged, more or less, in thinking about their own work and are disturbed, like their fellow citizens, by crises and revolutions occurring in the world about them” (p. 221). Subjectivism is now dominant. “Once more, historians recognize formally the obvious, long known informally, namely, that any written history inevitably reflects the thought of the author in his time and cultural setting” (p. 221).

Beard called history omniscient. This language was deceptive. Historians create history, he argued. He knew that historians are not omniscient. He had a word for them: guessers. “That this crisis in thought presents a distressing dilemma to many historians is beyond question. It is almost a confession of inexpiable sin to admit in academic circles that one is not a man of science working in a scientific manner with things open to deterministic and inexorable treatment, to admit that one is more or less a guesser in this vale of tears. But the only escape from the dust and storm of the present conflict, and from the hazards of taking thought, now before the historian, is silence or refuge in some minute particularity of history as actuality” (pp. 221–22). When omniscience becomes guessers, there is a crisis in men’s theory of knowledge.

4. The Desire for Meaning

He understood the psychological problem facing him and his peers: “. . . the historian would be a strange creature if he never asked himself why he regarded these matters as worthy of his labor and love, or why society provides a living for him during his excursions and explorations” (p. 222). I regard Beard as a salesmen of an idea: the nominalist view of history. A good salesman knows that one way to sell something is to remind the potential buyer early in the sales pitch that he has a problem. The salesman then offers a solution. Beard was doing his best to bring a message of hope to his fellow-guessers. But what was this hope?

He offered nothing. Not yet. Instead, he kept piling up the problems.

He insisted that there are no laws of history. This was his denial of realism. “Undiscouraged by their inability to bring all history within a single law, such as the law of gravitation, they have gone on working in the belief that the Newtonian trick will be turned some time, if the scientific method is applied long and rigorously enough and facts are heaped up high enough, as the succeeding grists of doctors of philosophy are ground out by the universities, turned loose on ‘research projects’, and amply supplied by funds” (p. 223). But without laws of history, there is no science of history, he said. This is a good thing, he said. This protects our liberty from the tyranny of historical laws. He was a junior Heraclitus warning his peers about Parmenides. “If a science of history were achieved, it would, like the science of celestial mechanics, make possible the calculable prediction of the future in history. It would bring the totality of historical occurrences within a single field and reveal the unfolding future to its last end, including all the apparent choices made and to be made. It would be omniscience. The creator of it would possess the attributes ascribed by the theologians to God. The future once revealed, humanity would have nothing to do except to await its doom” (p. 224).

What did he offer as a substitute? Something that sounded suspiciously like historical relativism. That had also been Becker’s substitute two years earlier. “Having broken the tyranny of physics and biology, contemporary thought in historiography turns its engines of verification upon the formula of historical relativity—the formula that makes all written history merely relative to time and circumstance, a passing shadow, an illusion.” But he immediately dismissed this suggestion. On what basis? Relativism. Relativism will fail—absolutely.

Contemporary criticism shows that the apostle of relativity is destined to be destroyed by the child of his own brain. If all historical conceptions are merely relative to passing events, to transitory phases of ideas and interests, then the conception of relativity is itself relative. When absolutes in history are rejected the absolutism of relativity is also rejected. So we must inquire: To what spirit of the times, to the ideas and interests of what class, group, nation, race, or region does the conception of relativity correspond? As the actuality of history moves forward into the future, the conception of relativity will also pass, as previous conceptions and interpretations of events have passed. Hence, according to the very doctrine of relativity, the skeptic of relativity will disappear in due course, beneath the ever-tossing waves of changing relativities (p. 225).

So, he invoked social evolution to forecast a world somewhere in the distant future that will abandon relativism, at least for a while. Then an absolute will appear, replacing relativism. And what will that absolute be? History!

Contemporary historical thought is, accordingly, returning upon itself and its subject matter. The historian is casting off his servitude to physics and biology, as he formerly cast off the shackles of theology and its metaphysics. He likewise sees the doctrine of relativity crumble in the cold light of historical knowledge. When he accepts none of the assumptions made by theology, physics, and biology, as applied to history, when he passes out from under the fleeting shadow of relativity, he confronts the absolute in his field—the absolute totality of all historical occurrences past, present, and becoming to the end of all things (p. 235).

When relativism is replaced by its successor, there will be three rival views of history to choose from: (1) history as chaotic; (2) history as cyclical; (3) history “on an upward gradient toward a more ideal order—as imagined by Condorcet, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, or Herbert Spencer” (p. 226). Beard rejected all three (p. 226). He then faced this challenge: you can’t beat something with nothing. What is the missing fourth option? This: the scientific method.

5. Deliverance: The Scientific Method

He had denied that history is a science, yet he was an apostle for the scientific method, which he did not define or even describe.

But members of the passing generation will ask: Has our work done in the scientific spirit been useless? Must we abandon the scientific method? The answer is an emphatic negative. During the past fifty years historical scholarship, carried on with judicial calm, has wrought achievements of value beyond calculation. Particular phases of history once dark and confused have been illuminated by research, authentication, scrutiny, and the ordering of immediate relevancies. Nor is the empirical or scientific method to be abandoned. It is the only method that can be employed in obtaining accurate knowledge of historical facts, personalities, situations, and movements (p. 226).

The scientific method preserves democracy and liberty. “It has a value in itself—a value high in the hierarchy of values indispensable to the life of a democracy. The inquiring spirit of science, using the scientific method, is the chief safeguard against the tyranny of authority, bureaucracy, and brute power” (p. 227). The scientific method is the barrier separating civilization from barbarism. “The scientific method is, therefore, a precious and indispensable instrument of the human mind; without it society would sink down into primitive animism and barbarism” (p. 227). Nevertheless, it has limitations. “So the historian is bound by his craft to recognize the nature and limitations of the scientific method and to dispel the illusion that it can produce a science of history embracing the fullness of history, or of any large phase, as past actuality” (p. 227).

Scientific history is the realm of realism. He had abandoned it. Scientific method presumably is in the realm of nominalism: agreement among historians. Yet he spoke of it as something real, something objective. Somehow, these supposedly antithetical concepts—scientific history and scientific method—can and must cooperate. This dualism must somehow become dialectical. First, there must be realism. There must be objective truth. There must be causation, even in the realm of ideas. There really are objective realities to investigate after all. “This means no abandonment of the tireless inquiry into objective realities, especially economic realities and relations; not enough emphasis has been laid upon the conditioning and determining influences of biological and economic necessities or upon researches designed to disclose them in their deepest and widest ramifications. This means no abandonment of the inquiry into the forms and development of ideas as conditioning and determining influences; not enough emphasis has been laid on this phase of history by American scholars” (p. 227). Second, there must also be nominalism: competing interpretations of history. Becker had announced two years earlier: every man an historian. Beard accepted this.

It is that any selection and arrangement of facts pertaining to any large area of history, either local or world, race or class, is controlled inexorably by the frame of reference in the mind of the selector and arranger. This frame of reference includes things deemed necessary, things deemed possible, and things deemed desirable. It may be large, informed by deep knowledge, and illuminated by wide experience; or it may be small, uninformed, and unilluminated (p. 227).

To sum up contemporary thought in historiography, any written history involves the selection of a topic and an arbitrary delimitation of its borders—cutting off connections with the universal. Within the borders arbitrarily established, there is a selection and organization of facts by the processes of thought. This selection and organization—a single act—will be controlled by the historian’s frame of reference composed of things deemed necessary and of things deemed desirable. The frame may be a narrow class, sectional, national, or group conception of history, clear and frank or confused and half conscious, or it may be a large, generous conception, clarified by association with the great spirits of all ages. Whatever its nature the frame is inexorably there, in the mind (p. 228).

This speech was a conceptual mess. He invoked epistemological salvation by an undefined scientific method, yet he warned against scientific history—the historiography of objective truth, of realism.

D. Multiple Imputers of Meaning

Collingwood insisted on the autonomy of the individual historian. The historian has to impute meaning to the past. He has to select from the vast array of historical documents those that are relevant to his narrative. Becker held the same view of imputation. The historian imputes meaning to the past. But he introduced the crucial fact of historiography: there are lots of interpreters. Becker multiplied them like locusts. Every man is his own historian. Beard also sided with subjective imputation as the substitute for objective history. Here was their problem. Mankind is not united. Humanism declares that mankind is autonomous. But this doctrine of autonomy does not stay bottled up in the concept of collective mankind. It spreads into every area of life. The many interpreters of the past disagree with each other about what was significant in the past. This is the curse of nominalism. The Bible describes it. There was initial agreement at the Tower of Babel, but God divided the people. There was a common confession, but God divided it. There was a common society, but God scattered it. This is nominalism’s problem. There is no way to reconcile philosophically the divided declarations of men regarding the past.

There are certain methodological agreements that enable professional historians to evaluate each other’s work. But footnotes do not unify historians. Footnotes are not in agreement with each other. Documents are not in agreement. There is no scientific methodology that enables historians to find objective truth. Their nominalist philosophy denies the existence of objective truth. This denial leads to relativism. Historians do not want to admit that their competing theories of history promote relativism. They protest are in vain. Their protests are denied by their subjectivist philosophy of history. They deny the legitimacy of nineteenth-century scientific historiography: realism. They invoke nominalism. But, with nominalism, it is every man for himself. It is every historian’s interpretation at war with every other.

Whatever unanimity exists among historians is a matter of convention, not historical truth, according to nominalistic philosophies of history. Historians within the guild band together to outlaw certain historical interpretations. In United States history, the most obvious of all the guild-banned narratives is this one: President Franklin Roosevelt lured the Japanese into the war in December 1941. The premier historian who promoted this view was Beard. In 1948, his final book appeared, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War. It was published by Yale University Press. In it, he argued that President Roosevelt had adopted measures that deliberately provoked the Japanese government to attack the United States, thereby enabling Roosevelt to take the nation into the war. Instantly, he lost his reputation. He died in September of that year. He became a retroactive pariah after 1948. Had he not died shortly after the book was released, and before the savage reviews of it appeared in professional historical journals, he would have learned that scientific methodology could not save his reputation.

E. Postmodernism

Postmodernism is an intellectual movement that has extended nominalism far beyond anything envisioned by historians in the 1970s. It is a view dominated by the idea that there is no objective truth. It is dominated by the idea that texts, including historical texts, must be interpreted entirely on the basis of their autonomous internal coherence, not social meaning imputed by self-interested outsiders. This view leads to radical skepticism. It is anti-establishment. The Wikipedia entry on postmodernism is accurate.

Postmodern thinkers frequently describe knowledge claims and value systems as contingent or socially-conditioned, framing them as products of political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies. These thinkers often view personal and spiritual needs as being best fulfilled by improving social conditions and adopting more fluid discourses, in contrast to modernism, which places a higher degree of emphasis on maximizing progress and which generally regards the promotion of objective truths as an ideal form of discourse. . . .

Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power. Common targets of postmodern criticism include universalist ideas of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, science, language, and social progress. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-consciousness, self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence.

Within the guild of academic historians, there were few practicing postmodernists until the twenty-first century. They have since multiplied in the humanities. Defenders of the academic establishments were disarmed after 1820 by the prevailing nominalism that today dominates the humanities. Postmodernists are anti-realists, but so are virtually all of the other members on a faculty. Realism went out of fashion along with high-button shoes.

Appleby, Hunt, and Jacob identified the problem in Telling the Truth About History. They dated in four decades late. “Since the 1960s, all the regnant absolutisms of the nineteenth century been dethroned. A many-pronged attack coming from a variety of perspectives has zeroed in on the goals of objectivity and truth-seeking. A fluid scepticism now covers the intellectual landscape, encroaching upon one body of thought after another. The study of history has been questioned and its potential for truth-finding categorically denied” (pp. 243–44). Fluid scepticism is not a solid foundation for epistemology.

Postmodernist historians deny that historical writing is based on truth-seeking. They see it as defending existing politics and existing social structures. The three historians rejected this interpretation. But on what philosophical basis did they reject it? By something they called “practical realism.” They did not define this. They did not even explain it. They were trying to create a new theory of history. They called for “a different, more nuanced, less absolutist kind of realism than that championed by an older—we would say naïve—realism. The newer version—what is called practical realism—presumes that the meanings of words are never simply in our head, nor do they lock on two objects of the external world and fixed reality for all time” (p. 247). There was never any historiographical movement that described itself as holding to practical realism. Modernists denied realism. The philosophers also denied it. It is true that all groups attempted to import realism when they got into the bind of complete relativism. Nominalists for centuries have adopted this unofficial strategy. But there was never any developed, self-conscious philosophical defense of a middle ground between the two positions. There was dialecticism: back-and-forth invocations of each view. There was also informal borrowing from each other’s position. But there was never a self-conscious effort to develop a philosophy of historical interpretation that was a functional hybrid between the two systems. Realism and nominalism are mutually exclusive philosophies.

The chief problem for nominalist historians is to find ways to reconcile competing historical interpretations. This is the problem of the imputation of meaning. If God is not there to do this, then man has to do it on his own authority. But man does not have the capability of doing it on his own authority. So, the three authors wanted a middle position. But they did not want to take a stand against imputed meaning. They wrote this: “The realist never denies that the very act of representing the past makes the historian (values, warts, and all) an agent who actively moulds how the past is to be seen. Most even delight in the task” (p. 249). Yes, realists do delight in the nominalist task. That is because they are really nominalists.

The three historians wanted human autonomy. They wanted historians to exercise the power to shape the past. “Practical realists are stuck in a contingent world, using language to point to objects outside themselves about which they can be knowledgeable because they use language. This slightly circular situation in which the practical-minded find themselves may not make for heroes, but it does help locate truths about the past. More important, practical realism thwarts the relativists by reminding them that some words and conventions, however socially constructed, reach out to the world and give a reasonably true description of its contents” (p. 250). They called this a “slightly circular situation.” It is 100% circular.

The three then invoked the objective reality of language. (This is also what a Christian historian should do, on this basis: God spoke the world into existence. Next, God spoke to Adam. Adam and Eve spoke with each other.) These three historians also invoked a common language. But they had no metaphysical foundation for this invocation. They had no epistemological foundation for it. The best they could come up with is this: “reasonably true description.” By what standard? By whose imputation? Revealed by what methodology?

They offered what they called a new theory of objectivity. “We think that a case can be made for a qualified objectivity after this refurbished objectivity has been disentangled from the scientific model of objectivity” (p. 254). But they never offered any philosophical justification for their hybrid system. All they did was offer hope in some future technical reconciliation of the ancient dualism. They told us what scholars must do. They did not tell us how these scholars are going to do it. They did not tell us why they are going to do it. They also did not tell us why no historian has done in the past four centuries. As you read the following passage, listen for a faint sound of Judy Garland singing “somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high.”

No longer able to ignore the subjectivity of the author, scholars must construct standards of objectivity that recognize at the outset that all histories start with the curiosity of a particular individual and take shape under the guidance of her or his personal and cultural attributes. Since all knowledge originates inside human minds and is conveyed through representations of reality, all knowledge is subject-centered and artificial, the very qualities brought into disrespect by an earlier exultation of that which was objective and natural. Our version of objectivity concedes the impossibility of any research being neutral (that goes for scientists as well) and accepts the fact that knowledge-seeking involves a lively, contentious struggle among diverse groups of truth-seekers (p. 254).

Their book describes many of the problems that humanist historians created for themselves when they abandoned faith in the Bible and faith in the providential God who created all things out of nothing by the power of His word. What the book does not describe is any philosophy that is half realism and half nominalism. It also does not describe the outline of a philosophically grounded methodology that will enable historians to bring forth objective reality out of the cacophony of competing autonomous interpretations by their peers.

Conclusion

There is a popular phrase: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but everyone is not entitled to his own facts.” In terms of humanist epistemology, everyone really is entitled to his own facts. This is the implication for every philosophy of autonomy. By the mid-1930’s, leaders of American historiography went public with respect to the impossibility of neutral historiography. This included the impossibility of neutral facts. All facts are interpreted, they admitted. But the inescapable implication of this admission is this: there can be as many historical facts as there are historians. Modern humanist historiography does not have a theory of objective historical events in the past, objective historical documentation, and objective interpretation of this documentation.

Rushdoony in 1968 contrasted the Christian view of history and the humanist view.

For the Orthodox Christian, who grounds his philosophy of history of the doctrine of creation, the mainspring of history is God. Time rests on the foundation of eternity, on the eternal decree of God. Time and history therefore have meaning because they were created in terms of God’s perfect and totally comprehensive plan. Every blade of grass, every sparrow’s fall, the very hairs of our head, all are comprehended and governed by God’s eternal decree, and all have meaning in terms of it. The humanist faces a meaningless world in which he must strive to create an established meaning. The Christian accepts the world which is totally meaningful in which every event moves in terms of God’s predestined purpose, and, when man accepts God as his Lord and Christ as his Savior, every event works together for good to him because he is now in harmony with that meaning and destiny (Rom. 8:28). Man therefore does not create meaning; instead, having rebelled against God’s meaning, having striven to be as God and himself as a source of meaning and definition (Gen. 3:5), man now submits to God’s meaning and finds his life therein. For the humanist, the dynamics of history are in titanic man, as he imposes his will and idea on the world. For the Orthodox Christian, the dynamics of history are in God the Creator, and man accepts those dynamics and rejoices in the blessings thereof when man accepts Christ as Savior and then follows the leadings of the sanctifying Holy Spirit (Foundations of Social Order, p. 8).

Consider this: “For the humanist, the dynamics of history are in titanic man, as he imposes his will and idea on the world.” But dynamic man, being dynamic, is always changing. He must impose his will on the world in order to keep rival dynamic men from imposing their will on him. In his 1945 novel, That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis has a power-seeking villain say this. “It does really look as if we now had the power to dig ourselves in as a species for a pretty staggering period, to take control of our own destiny. If Science is really given a free hand it can now take over the human race and re-condition it: make man a really efficient animal. . . . Man has got to take charge of Man. That means, remember, that some men have got to take charge of the rest—which is another reason for cashing in on it as soon as one can. You and I want to be the people who do the taking charge, not the ones who are taken charge of.”

Humanists find that they cannot exercise such control. They are not omniscient. The world is highly complex. This law of change confronts them: “You cannot change just one thing.” This is accompanied by the law of unintended consequences. This in turn is accompanied by Murphy’s law: “If something can go wrong, it will.”

What applies to planning for the future applies to our understanding of the past. The past was complex. Documentation is incomplete. It is often contradictory. Interpretations compete for public acceptance. Public agreement declines as the cost of producing and accessing rival interpretations decreases. Cacophony increases. Put differently, intellectual entropy increases. It increases when humanists become more consistent with their theory of the future: cosmic entropy. I cover this in the next chapter.

Christian Education: An Objective Theology of the Covenant

The Biblical Educator – January 15, 2022

By David Chilton (circa 1980)

Many of you will assume that the following article is just another article on infant baptism. But it isn’t. Many more will think it is not relevant to Christian school issues. But it is. So, on second thought, perhaps you’d better sit down and read it.

The Bible teaches us to think of salvation, the family, the church, and all of life in terms of the Covenant. From the beginning in the Garden, man’s relationship to God — which covered every aspect of his existence — was covenantal: that is, salvation was not individualistic (concerned only with the individual believer), but instead involved his entire household. This does not mean, of course, that all members of a believer’s household were regenerate: but we’ll get to that in a few moments.

Consider some examples of covenantal relationships in biblical history: Adam was the Head of the Covenant between God and all mankind; when he rebelled, he and all his descendants were damned (Rom. 5:12, 18). The godly line of Seth is contrasted with the ungodly line of Cain, the high point in each covenantal line being the seventh generation from Adam (Gen. 4:1 – 5:24). Then came Noah, with whom God established the Covenant by which his whole household was saved (Gen. 7:18; 9:9). The Covenant with Abraham also involved his household — not merely his children, but his slaves as well (Gen. 17:9-13). As Meredith Kline has conclusively demonstrated in By Oath Consigned (Eerdmans, 1968), the biblical idea of Covenant is an authority structure: the Covenant is imposed upon a man and includes all those under his authority — wife, children, slaves, and so on. This aspect of the Covenant is inseparable from the Covenant itself. Thus, when Paul told the Galatians that their conversion placed them in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal. 3:7, 29), he was telling them that their situation was exactly the same as that of any non-Israelite in Old Testament times who had become a believer: his initiation into the Covenant brought in his household (authority structure) as well (see Ex. 12:48). If you are in the Covenant, all those under your authority are to be placed into the Covenant structure as well.

Now, some of you are already disagreeing — and I haven’t even gotten to the main point of the article yet. But in order to keep you reading, let me ask you a question: Do you believe in the Ten Commandments? Forget the “theonomy” thesis for a moment; just concentrate on the original Ten. Do you believe they’re still valid? If so, you are required to believe everything I’ve said up to now., For if you believe in the Ten Commandments, sou must believe the Second Commandment, including the part which is rarely quoted: “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” (Ex. 20:5-6). This passage teaches that curse and blessing are covenantally passed from generation to generation. If you believe the Ten Commandments, Covenant theology is inescapable. (And, by the way, if you believe that much, then you must also believe what Deut. 28 says about blessings and curses passing through generations, ultimately affecting whole cultures. And that makes you, in principle, a theonomist. Welcome to the club) Now you know why those who reject theonomy are finding it necessary to dump the Decalogue. There’s no middle ground.)

All this is not just a bit of high-flown theologizing. It has a very definite bearing on our daily conduct. Our attitudes and actions toward one another must be in terms of the Covenant. This means much more than infant baptism alone: our whole life must be lived under Covenant law — and that holds implications which few of us have ever considered. In order to understand them, we must examine what Covenant membership involves.

Covenant Membership

The visible sign of admission into the Covenant is baptism (which has taken the place of circumcision, Col. 2:11-12). In the Old Testament, all those under covenantal authority were members of the Covenant. Period. This is not to say all Covenant members were regenerate — far from it. In the line of Seth, both Methuselah and Lamech were alive when God announced His Covenant to Noah — yet they seem to have been included in the ungodly world. Lamech died before the flood came, but Methuselah died in the year of the flood, and perhaps in the flood itself. Another example is Ham, who was certainly in the Covenant, but who inherited a curse instead of blessing. Ishmael and Esau were children of the Covenant, but to all appearances unregenerate. And many Covenant members throughout Israel’s history were unregenerate as well. I’m not saying any of this is ideal. We would like it to be otherwise. We would like all men to be saved. But I am saying this: Regeneration is not, and never was, the condition of Covenant membership.

If not, what is the condition? Covenantal obedience. Look at it like this. Let’s say an alien desired to join the Covenant in Old Testament times. He and all under his authority would receive the sign of circumcision, and from then on all would be ruled by Covenant law. All would have the right and responsibility to partake of the Old Testament version of communion (Passover and the other feasts). Can we assume that all members of the household were, subjectively speaking, “converted”? Not at all. Yet all were in the Covenant, with all the responsibilities and privileges that membership entailed.

Take a more extreme example. When Israel captured their enemies in battle, they took them as slaves. According to biblical law, these heathen slaves were immediately circumcised and included in the Covenant, with the right to eat at the feasts. Their defeat in battle and consequent status as slaves under a covenantal authority structure automatically rendered them members of the Covenant. They were required to put away their false gods and heathen practices, and to worship and obey the true God. Regardless of their personal attitudes, they were —objectively speaking — no longer heathen. They were members of Israel, the people of God. It has always been true, of course, that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom, 9:6); Covenant membership does not guarantee saving faith. But all Covenant members were objectively on the same footing. All partook of communion. All were blessed or cursed by Covenant standards. All were addressed throughout the Old Testament as “my people” — until the time came when Israel’s disobedience resulted in the excommunication of the nation as a whole, and the Covenant line began to be filled by the Gentiles, who were grafted into the covenantal tree of life (Rom. 11:17-24).

The essential point to grasp here is that one’s covenantal status — one’s membership in the church, the people of God —is based on objective, not subjective, criteria. There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible for admission to the covenantal meals. If you are in the authority structure, you are (or should be) in the church. Membership is not voluntaristic. In the Bible, if oaths had been sworn over you by your lord husband, parent, or owner), you were a member of the people of God whether you liked it or not. Ultimately, if you didn’t like it — if you rebelled against the Covenant — there was only one way out: being “cut off” from Israel (which, at the very least, meant excommunication).

Perhaps the best way to see what happens when we apply objective theology to practical issues would be to contrast it with the practice of two conflicting schools of thought — Realism and Nominalism.

Realism vs. Nominalism — vs. the Bible

Which is more important — unity or diversity? Should society’s needs come first, or should those of the individual? What is most basic to reality — collectivity or individuality? This issue is known in philosophy as the problem of The One and the Many (see R.J. Rushdoony’s book by that title). Historically, the question has been answered from three different perspectives. Realism (it’s called that in philosophy, for reasons that will become apparent; but Realism is not realistic, really) sees oneness and unity as being basic to all reality. It is the view that names, symbols and rituals are real things, which completely determine the particular things that they define. Nominalism, on the other hand, holds that symbols are just names, not realities. Nominalists see diversity and individuality as being most basic:

But the biblical answer is to be found in Trinitarianism. God is triune, and all reality is structured in terms of Him. A brief definition of the Trinity might be this: One God without division in a plurality of Persons, and three Persons without confusion in a unity of essence. God is not “basically” One, with the individual Persons being derived from the oneness; nor is God “basically” Three, with the unity of the Persons being secondary. God is One, and God is Three. There are not three Gods; there is only one God. Yet each of the Persons is Himself God — and They are distinct, individual Persons. But there is only one God. To put it in more philosophical language, God’s unity (oneness) and diversity (threeness, individuality) are equally ultimate. God is “basically” One and “basically” Three at the same time. And the same goes for all of creation. Both unity and diversity are important — equally important. Neither aspect of reality has priority over the other.

Let’s say a Realist and a Nominalist happen to see my wife kiss me. The Realist will say, “Aha! A kiss is symbolic of love. That kiss proves Darlene loves him!” But the Nominalist will retort, “Whaddya mean? A kiss is just a kiss, like the song says. Sure, it’s a symbol of love. But it doesn’t mean she really loves him. The question is, what’s the attitude of her heart?” I, however, am a Trinitarian; and when my wife kisses me, I recognize it as a symbol of her love, but I also enjoy it because it’s not a “mere” symbol. It is an act of love, and the two go together. I’m sure you’d like to read more of this hot stuff, but let’s go on to some less romantic issues of the Covenant, and consider how each of these views approaches them.

  1. Government. The Realist school, holding that unity is fundamental, maintains an episcopal form of church government —power from the top. The Nominalist, believing that diversity is ultimate, and that each person’s individuality is sacred, favors a congregational pattern in which power is exercised democratically, from below. Realism tends toward totalitarianism; Nominalism tends toward anarchy. The biblical form of government is presbyterian, in which there is a balance of power within a structure of authority.
  2. Baptism. Realists believe that ritual washing with water really removes original sin. Nominalists see baptism as “a visible sign of an invisible grace,” in which the important thing is whether the individual has already made a decision. They do not see baptism as a means of grace. To them, it is ultimately a “mere” symbol, and cannot be efficacious. The Bible, in contrast to Realism, does not teach that baptism regenerates; nor does it teach, in contrast to Nominalism, that one must give evidence of regeneration before being baptized. Baptism is a means of grace, and signifies not the subjective experience of the recipient, but the objective imposition of covenantal authority over him.
  3. Communion. For the Realist, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are really transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The Nominalist believes communion to be, again, a “mere” symbol of an inward attitude in the individual — and it’s the attitude that’s important. This is why most Nominalists practice open communion, in which anyone can walk in off the street and partake of the sacrament. The radical Nominalists (e.g. the Quakers) dispense with the sacraments altogether. The biblical teaching is that the bread and wine are always only bread and wine; and yet that in the Supper we are having dinner with Jesus, who feeds us with Himself as we eat and drink together.
  4. Excommunication. When a Realist church excommunicates you, you’re damned. The decree of those in power effectively consigns you to eternal perdition. Of course, if you’re a Nominalist, you’ll regard the decree as just so many words, and you’ll start attending a Nominalist church down the street. Nominalist churches hardly ever excommunicate anybody — and if they do, the judgment has all the awesome significance implied in not receiving the church newsletter anymore; and the excommunicated person gets his name listed on the rolls of another church. The biblical doctrine is that a lawful sentence of excommunication places a person outside the visible body of Christ, and denies him the opportunity to meet the Lord at His Table. But excommunication does not necessarily mean damnation. It is, in fact, a last-ditch effort to bring the offender back to the faith. The judgment is efficacious (one way or the other); but it does not make a determination of the condemned person’s eternal state. Excommunication has to do with the visible church.
  5. Church membership. For a Realist, eternal salvation is guaranteed by membership in the visible church — baptized children are unquestionably regarded as regenerate. For a Nominalist, eternal salvation has little, if anything, to do with church affiliation: everything depends on the individual’s decision to accept Christ — and if he has “decided for Christ,” he is considered a Christian. Church membership is nice, but purely voluntary. Children are unquestionably regarded as unregenerate (except for the Nominalist’s “safety net” — the wholly mythical, unbiblical notion of an “age of accountability,” before which children are not accountable to God for their actions, and are “saved” without being regenerated). The biblical view of church membership is objective and covenantal: All baptized persons (church members) who have not been excommunicated are to be regarded as in the household of God. They must be addressed as members of the Body of Christ, and even “little ones to Him belong.” Communion is to be served to all church members unless they are under discipline. But communion is to be withheld from those who are not members of a church, regardless of their claims that they have accepted Christ. Unless they belong to Christ visibly, through membership in a real authority structure, there is no objective basis on which to regard them as Christians. Note: I am not saying a non-member is necessarily unregenerate; just that there is no objective evidence he is. Nor am I saying that communion may be served only to members of my own congregation or denomination; but that communicants must belong to a visible structure somewhere. Communion is thus neither “open” nor “closed,” but restricted.

Theology: Objective and Subjective

All those who are united to a visible church — by which I mean any orthodox, creedally-defined church — are to be regarded as fellow members of the Covenant. Their theological understanding may be woefully limited or defective; nevertheless, by their baptism into the triune Name, they are under the covenantal authority of Christ, and belong to Him. They are to be served communion. They should be required to tithe. In short, all the rights and responsibilities of Covenant membership belong to them. Voting and office-holding, however, are not automatic rights of the Covenant, and may legitimately be restricted to those heads of households who have received sufficient instruction in the faith, and who demonstrate in their lives those characteristics appropriate to the exercise of such responsibilities. Our ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) must be objective. Yet this is not to discount the necessity of regeneration and personal faith. Regeneration cannot be visibly perceived (John 3:8), but it is no less real. Preachers must exhort their flocks continually to believe, repent, and obey the demands of the Covenant to which they were sworn. But they must not address their people as “presumptively unregenerate,” for Covenant members are the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ. Read the writings of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles — do you ever find them speaking to the church as heathen? Never; not even in I Corinthians, and the congregation in Corinth was really a mess. Church members, even erring ones, are addressed as called saints (the same expression as holy convocation in the Old Testament). They are commanded to live in terms of their covenantal calling, and exhorted to refrain from living after the manner of the heathen (who were always differentiated from them). There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible, because there is no need for it: Baptism is the confirmation into the Covenant. You will never find a distinction in the Bible between “communicant” and “non-communicant” membership, because all Covenant members took communion (except for those who were excommunicated). One obvious objection to all this is that it can result in multitudes of disobedient, rebellious, apparently unconverted people taking communion. And such an objection is completely correct. That will be the result, until the day comes when church officers repent of their lily-livered pussyfooting and get serious about church discipline. The Table can be protected. But it does not need to be protected from children.

One of the chief reasons for the downfall of the Puritan theocracy was its confusion between subjective and objective theology. The Puritans rightly understood that eternal salvation is inseparable from regeneration and faith; but they confused that with requirements for church membership and communion. Thus they devised “tests of saving faith” which members had to pass successfully before being admitted to communion. These soon degenerated into demands for a subjective, datable experience of conversion — and such an experience had to conform to specific canons produced by the scholars of New England. If your experience didn’t match the order contrived by the theologians — if you had no memorable “experience” at all— in short, if all you had was a love for God and a desire to serve Him in covenantal union with His people: Sorry, try again next time the session meets.

The result was that thousands of church members became “non-communicants,” thousands more never attempted to join the Covenant, and the Puritan Hope of a Christianized culture went down the drain. Solomon Stoddard’s misguided attempt to salvage the situation was demolished by his grandson, Jonathan Edwards: and for all the good that was done by Edwards, White-field and the Tennent family in the Great Awakening, that event marked the end of a hope for a covenantal theocracy in America. Joining the Covenant became entirely relegated to a subjective, “spiritual” (i.e., neoplatonic) realm, completely unconnected to objective Covenant union in a visible church. Authority and discipline went out the window, and so did the possibility of Christian reconstruction. Now, almost 250 years later, true evangelicalism is synonymous with philosophical Nominalism. Subjective theology is the order of the day, and any attempt to return to a biblical worldview looks to most people like heresy. The first time I read Norm Shepherd’s article on “The Covenant Context for Evangelism,” I thought he had abandoned Calvinism. The trouble was that / hadn’t been reading Calvin. I’d been reading Arthur Pink, Gardiner Spring, and the Banner of Truth.

There are many applications we could make of Covenant theology, and I’ve hinted at a few already. But I’m running out of space, so I’ll suggest one more, with specific relevance to Christian schools. If the children in your school belong to Covenant homes, do not treat them as if they need a- conversion experience. Instead, speak to them on the basis of the oaths to which they are already bound. They are in the Covenant, they are members of Israel, the Body and Bride of Christ. They are not little angels, but they’re not little pagans either. They have been sworn to Jesus Christ as His own. Objectively, they are His children; subjectively, they must live as His children.

(For further reading on the issues raised here, see Shepherd’s article, mentioned above, in The New Testament Student and Theology, ed. by John H. Skilton [Presbyterian and Reformed, 19761; Jim Jordan’s “God’s Hospitality and Holistic Evangelism” [Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. VII, No. 21; Jordan’s “Theses on Paedo-Communion,” available from Geneva Divinity School; Edmund Morgan’s Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea [Cornell University Press, 19631; and Terrill Elniff’s The Guise of Every Graceless Heart [Ross House, 19811.)

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? (https://bit.ly/KantUniversal)

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).

Conclusion

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 (www.garynorth.com), 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.

Conclusion

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]. https://bit.ly/Bahnsen-Kline)

Conclusion

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).

Conclusion

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.