Chris Rosebrough has posted a retraction from the “hand chopping” gaffe of last week. I told him I would post an update to my article on the subject. I want to make clear that, as I understand it, Chris had already been alerted that his statements were untrue and he had already recorded the show with the following retraction before I posted my article. There was some technical or scheduling problem that kept the show from being posted in a timely way. Good enough. But I still have some concerns remaining even after Chris has posted this retraction. This includes, among other things, the need to respond to a further challenge he presented which still does not quite properly understand theonomic teaching, and thus created another unnecessary straw man.
First, here is his retraction transcripted:
I need to issue a clarification—somewhat of a retraction, if you would—because I think it could be totally misconstrued. . . .
I gave a hypothetical example of how to answer a theonomist, and in my example I said something, well, that’s not true or accurate regarding the Mosaic covenant. Basically what I said was that the Mosaic covenant teaches that you have to cut off the hand of somebody that’s caught stealing. Now, that’s actually not what the Mosaic covenant teaches at all. The Mosaic covenant teaches that somebody that’s caught stealing needs to return what they’ve stolen and then some—you know, there’s a little bit of an extra that they have to give back. That’s what the Mosaic covenant teaches.
Now, the reason I need to issue the clarification, though—or the retraction—is because I don’t want you to think, number one, that’s not what the Mosaic covenant teaches, number two it was in the context of a kind of hypothetical argument—how to you argue with a theonomist. But there’s something really wrong with that argument as I laid it out—aside from the obvious “well that’s not what the Mosaic covenant teaches”—and that’s this: theonomists actually believe that sharia law’s requirement, you know, to cut off the hand of somebody who’s caught stealing, they argue that that’s actually unjust. And so I’m afraid the way I put that forward—especially, you know, saying the wrong thing about the Mosaic covenant—it would create a false impression regarding theonomists, and that’s not right.
First, I would like to express thanks that Chris posted a retraction. So often, when public ministries make such mistakes, they either ignore it and move on to the next thing, brushing their errors under the rug of time and cyberspace. Or worse, sometimes they actually delete comments or posts with no explanation, no retraction, and no apology. Chris transcended this unfortunately common practice and posted an actual retraction. This is strongly towards an example of humility and concern for truth even at the expense of what so often is confused for good “public relations.” Thanks to Chris for this.
Second, I am glad he called it a “retraction.” That said, however, I do feel that he went a little soft on himself. Such a retraction should only be called a retraction and nothing else, and accompanied by an apology. Even though the word “retraction” was there, also included were more blame-shifting or ameliorating descriptions like “clarification,” “it could be totally misconstrued,” “create a false impression.” None of these are applicable to this particular error at all. Nothing needed a “clarification”: the claim was a direct falsehood. That was what was clear, and it was indeed clear. It needed only to be rejected, replaced with truth, and apologized for in as far as it was attributed to theonomists and to God’s law. Likewise, this was also not a matter of potentially being “misconstrued.” This would imply that the error was in the hearer—as if it was even possibly their own fault for not representing what he said correctly. This is the opposite of what happened. The claim was an outright falsehood (not a deliberate lie, but a false claim nonetheless). The problem was not one of not construing what he said correctly, but of him misconstruing the teachings totally to begin with. Likewise with the “false impression” note: there was no false impression. On the contrary, it was a very clear impression made due a false statement. It is the statement alone that needed remedying.
Likewise, at the end of the subsequent discussion below, Chris adds the idea that “sometimes you just reach in and grab the wrong thing!” Again, this is not worthy. The problem was not drawing the wrong thing out of Mosaic law or theonomic teaching—this would imply it was actually in there!—instead, it was inserting something wrongly that was never there to begin with.
And finally, in all of this, there was no apology offered at all to those he offended (and I use the word in the objective sense) through the attribution of a clear falsehood.
Then, after posting the retraction, Chris doubled-down on his position with what he considered a stronger version of the same type of argument. Here is what he offered:
The point of this though is—kind of going back to the segment if you would—the point is that my argument with theonomists has to do with the fact that, you know, they’re saying unless a law—unless the penal portion of the civil law of the Mosaic covenant—is in force, that somehow a law is not just. And so let me give you a slightly different modified version—a better argument, if you would—that actually correctly portrays what’s in the Mosaic covenant, and that would this.
The Mosaic covenant expressly states that the person who breaks the Sabbath is to be put to death. This is true. This is not an overstatement. I know a little bit about the Sabbath; I debated Jim Staley [a Hebrew Roots movement proponent] on this topic. So the question that I think would be the better question to pose: is it unjust for the United States of America, or for any nation-state, to not execute Sabbath-breakers? I think that would be the better question to ask, if you would, for obvious reasons: number one, the Mosaic covenant does call the death penalty for Sabbath-breakers. It does—that’s part of the penal code of the Mosaic covenant, if you would. And on top of it, by asking that question rather than the one I asked on Tuesday, you won’t end up creating a false impression regarding theonomists or Mosaic covenant via your question. . . . Make sure you dot your “i”s and cross your “t”s. Don’t get your lines crossed when you ask your questions. You want to make sure you know your Bible when you ask your questions—and sometimes you just reach in and grab the wrong thing! . . .
While it is true that the Mosaic code did include such a penalty, is it also true that, as he say, “you won’t end up creating a false impression regarding theonomists . . . via your question”? Well, at least he goes far enough to put it in the form of a question. But to assume it would accurately represent theonomy still does not fly. That would only be true if theonomists believed no fundamental transformation to that law occurred with the Advent of Christ and the New Testament.
As it turns out, such a fundamental transformation has been taught by theonomists from the very first day. All Chris or his listeners would need to do would be to read the actual writings of theonomic authors on the subject. Here’s Rushdoony’s take, in a couple of relevant excerpts:
Now to examine the sabbath laws more specifically, it is at once apparent that, while the principle of the sabbath remains basic to biblical law, the specific form of sabbath observance changed radically in terms of the new covenant in Christ. . . .
St. Paul was emphatic in stating that the sabbath regulations no longer had their old binding force: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). None will argue that the old death penalty for violations of the sabbath is still binding, or ever has been since Christ. The whole of the New Testament forbids such an interpretation. . . .
Likewise, North’s take:
A key question then has to be considered: Why in the New Testament times has the church never advocated such a harsh penalty [death]? I hope to answer this question at the end of this appendix. The fundamental answer is that there has been a shift in the locus of sovereignty for Sabbath enforcement: from civil government and ecclesiastical government to self-government (the individual conscience). . . .
The church has admitted the following changes in the day of rest: 1) the seventh day to first (eighth) day; 2) the abandonment of sundown-to-sundown timing; and 3) the abolition of the death penalty imposed by the civil government. . . .
These alterations are of monumental importance. They represent a sharp break with the Mosaic law. . . .
With respect to the day of rest-worship, the external sanction of the Old Testament economy, the death penalty, has been abolished. It has been abolished along with the duty of the civil government to impose sanctions on individuals or firms that choose to work on the Lord’s day. . . .
So, it should be clear that it is not a proper representation of theonomists to assume the Sabbath-penalty question is a proper challenge to our position.
Granted, Chris is moving in a great direction. He has found an Old Testament legal principle which at least constitutes a valid point of inquiry. But it is not representative of theonomic teaching, as you can see. I would suggest, as I always have, that if you intend to challenge theonomy, you first engage theonomy. First, read theonomy. But don’t stop there. Make an effort to comprehend theonomy. Then, when you’re ready, 1) quotes us, 2) quote us in context, 3) base your inquiry or challenge on something genuinely reflective of what you discover in 1) and 2).
 Institutes of Biblical Law, 130, 133.