Life and Liberty
Life would have its utmost protection in a theonomic state. It would be protected both by the state and from the state. Murderers would be executed (Ex. 21:12–14, 18–25; Lev. 24:17, 19–22). Children in the womb would be protected as living persons. Anyone causing injury to an unborn child would be liable for damages (Ex. 21:22–25). Anyone willfully or through criminal negligence causing the death of an unborn child would be considered a murderer and subject to the death penalty. Abortion would, therefore, be strictly outlawed.
People would be strictly liable for the safety of others on their property. Those found negligent would be strictly liable for damages up to and including criminal negligence for life (Ex. 21:29–36; Deut. 22:8). Pets or livestock known to be a threat to life must be controlled as such. If one should cause injury, damages, or death, the owner could be held liable for all damages up to the death penalty (Ex. 21:29–30). The principle of liability in general, and for life in particular, certainly would extend to factory conditions, workplaces, businesses open to the public, machinery, and more.
Under biblical law, freedom is an aspect of life. While a rehabilitaional form of servitude would exist, the type of chattel (ownership) slavery practiced in the American South would never have existed. Kidnapping, human trafficking, and slave trading all would be punishable by death (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7). Likewise, terrorists, hijackers, all hostage-takers, and carjackers who hold people against their will. The slave traders of the Old South (and other places) would have been executed for their crimes. Likewise, the Fugitive Slave Act would never have been allowed. Slaves escaped from unbiblical jurisdictions would never be returned to their enslavers, but given refuge, freedom, and protection of law, and treated like every other citizen (Deut. 23:15–16). Refugees of war or tyranny would receive similar protections.
By these same life-freedom laws, citizens and families would be protected from the state itself. Government agents who seize children from parents, or who otherwise make false arrests or false imprisonments, could be held liable under laws against kidnapping. Police abuse would disappear as such accountability increased. The privacy of the home would be inviolate (Deut. 24:10–11). A man’s home is his castle, and the castle doctrine would return to its earlier strength, uncompromised by loopholes created by the Supreme Court.
Further, life is protected against malicious witness and fraudulent prosecution. Corrupt individuals who wish to harm others under the color of law will nevertheless meet several hindrances. Two or three witness are required to bring any conviction (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Upon any conviction, the accusers themselves must be the first among parties to an execution (Deut. 13:9; 17:7). Malicious witnesses, however, when discovered, will receive for themselves whatever penalty they wished to execute upon the falsely accused, up to the death penalty (Deut. 19:16–21). This would create a powerful deterrent, which is non-existent today, against false accusations and false prosecutions. Government officials will be held to the same standards as everyone else. Prosecutorial and police immunities would be greatly curtailed if not eliminated.
The laws of warfare maximize the protection of life even during the tragic event of war. Standing armies and military drafts are outlawed. Militias could only be mustered in response to an imminent threat or attack from an enemy. The law provides several exceptions to militia service, including an exception for those who are merely fearful. Anyone perceiving any particular cause to be unjust, and thus anticipating God’s judgment, could decline to serve. This and all other exceptions would not only save conscientious and innocent lives, but would discourage unjust wars. Such conscientious objection would also be considered socially acceptable and even laudable. Only after briefing and allowance for these exceptions would officers be appointed. War proceeds first with attempts at negotiation for peace. If the aggressor refuses peace, war may ensue, but only against military targets. Militias may not target innocents or food or water sources. Upon victory, the nation may extract the costs of warfare from the defeated aggressor (Deut. 20). This means no more lasting debts due to wars, and no more tax increases or inflation to pay for them.
In short, all attempts are made to spare innocent or conscientious life, and warfare is only conducted to repel invaders or attacks. Such laws also entail a foreign policy of non-intervention in general. A theonomic state does not police the world looking for monsters to destroy.
The government would have little to do with sex or marriage. The state would no longer issue marriage licenses. Marriages would be treated as private contracts. Divorces would be handled through private or church courts. Civil government would only enter the picture if necessary to enforce terms of divorce. The integrity of the marriage bed is protected against all forms of incest (Lev. 18:1–18, 20, 22–24). Homosexual marriage would not be a civil right (Lev. 20:13). Businesses could not be required to cater to homosexual celebrations, pretend weddings. Sexual acts with animals could be grounds for punishment (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 18:23; 20:15–16). Transvestitism, pornography, public nudity or indecency, and prostitution would all be shunned (Lev. 19:29; Deut. 22:5; 23:17). Certainly no government could require businesses or individuals to treat transgenders according to their chosen non-gender upon pain of fines or imprisonment. No-fault divorce and easy divorce would be abolished.
Overall, biblical law aims to uphold the biblical family unit—one man, one woman—and to abhor those forms of perversion that threaten its integrity or stability. There are a significant number of moral laws pertaining to sex and marriage, but few remain with civil government sanction.
Some of the most profound improvements would be seen in the areas of property and contracts. First, private property would be a sacred right which would remain inviolate from neighbor, state, and enemy alike.
Punishments for theft would be far more just than our prison system today. In general, the penalty for a convicted thief is restitution. A prison sentence in this light must be considered wholly pagan, unbiblical, and cruel. There is only a slight shade of comparison to what could occur under biblical law, and we’ll cover that in a minute.
More specifically, the standard punishment for theft is double restitution (Ex. 22:4) if the property is recovered. This involves one times the value for replacement of the stolen property, and a second times value as a punitive measure (thus the thief loses exactly what he sought to gain from his victim). If the property is not recovered, the restitution will include any lost production value—four or five times, or possibly more (Ex. 22:1; Prov. 6:30–31). In the rare case a thief comes to his senses and returns the property before he is caught, he is liable only for full restitution plus twenty percent (Lev. 6:1–5).
Thieves who break in during the night or whose actions are otherwise perceived to be life-threatening may be killed in self-defense or home-defense without guilt (Ex. 22:2), but even the lives of thieves are protected when it is clear they are not a threat to life (Ex. 22:3).
What happens if a thief steals only because he is poor and needs only to eat? Even then, Solomon says, restitution must be paid (Prov. 6:30–31). But what if he has no money to pay what is required? This is where the nearest thing to prison—and I hesitate even to place it in the same sentence as that word—appears. It is indentured servitude, often simply translated “slavery” in the Old Testament. The laws for restitution for theft clearly say that if he cannot pay, “he shall be sold for his theft” (Ex. 22:3).
Before we recoil at the thought of modern-day “slavery,” let us stop and consider a couple things. Biblical “slavery” is not slavery in any sense we have understood the word in American history. It is not ownership of a person, has nothing to do with race, protects the rights of the servant, and imposes specific checks and duties upon the custodian. The modern prison system is far closer to American slavery than anything discussed in the Bible. It is this to which we should direct our revulsion.
Modern prisons involve mass incarceration with chains, cages, mass strip searches, mass nudity, gang violence, fights, apathy, haplessness, loneliness, depression, mental illness, waste, sodomy, rampant masturbation, corrupt guards, drug trades (yes, even inside the prisons!), and much more. When a prisoner leaves, he is often a far more hardened criminal, and with more criminal gang connections, than before.
The biblical system, on the other hand, places applicable convicts in truly correctional or rehabilitation programs under custodians (“masters”). They are designed for training in work, discipline, skill, self-confidence, morality, productivity, and community. Private programs similar to this description (though they are few) have far greater success rates than prisons, and prevent recidivism at much higher rates as well.
Under biblical servitude, custodians do have a right to corporal punishment (just as civil governments in general do—Deut. 25:1–3—and parents as well), but are held to strict standards of liability. If a scourging leads to an injury, medical care is the master’s duty and the convict’s right. Any permanent injury, even as slight as a tooth, results in the servant’s freedom from their bonds. When a term of servitude is over, the custodian is required to supply the servant with capital for his future (Deut. 15:12–18).
Biblical penal servitude is similar to modern probation in some ways. Probation involves the loss of certain rights, including the right to bear arms, the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom to travel, the right to serve on a jury, and even the right to vote. The biblical model may or may not include some such things, but it would focus on the more beneficial aspects of training for work, social skills, etc., not provided under standard probation.
Governments must enforce just weights and measures. Cheaters, whether individual, corporate, or governmental, must be convicted as thieves and pay restitution. Governments and banks, especially, may not inflate currency (Deut. 25:13–16). This standard forbids all forms of bribery and lobbying government officials. It also outlaws all forms of government-funded welfare, including corporate welfare. Government confiscation schemes based in “asset forfeiture” laws would be abolished.
All government taxation is theft, and thus, all government-backed redistributions of wealth based in taxation are outlawed. This includes property tax (real and personal), sales tax, income tax, payroll taxes (social security and Medicare), import and export tariffs, transportation and gas tax, all excise taxes, so-called “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol, poll taxes, luxury taxes, ad valorem taxes, all license fees and other fees, and value-added tax schemes. And all others. All of them. Gone.
All public services would be privatized and be better off for it. Police, fire, EMT, 9–11 services, roads, bridges, libraries, civic centers, and even hospitals would be either privately funded services, or else donor-based charitable services.
Immigration would be no problem in such a society because all property would be private. There would be no government-owned property, roads, or borders in need of government agents to patrol or build a wall. Private property owners would be in full charge of whom they let on their property, or not, with the right of home defense against intruders. Further, there would be no welfare benefits to incentivize or reward interlopers who wish to seize amnesty even if they would be unwelcomed. In light of this, the immigrant population would be made of only welcomed and/or hardworking guests.
Like property, contracts would be strictly enforced. The state is charged with enforcing contracts, and with punishing those who harm others via slander or libel, false accusation, or who pervert justice through perjury, peer pressure, conspiracy, discrimination, class warfare, or bribery (Ex. 23:1–9). Further, the reputations of individuals and businesses would be protected from damages inflicted by slander or libel.
The final decision in any case would fall to juries. Juries would be fully informed of their right to decide not only facts but the nature and applicability of the law also. Judges would no longer be allowed to lie to juries concerning these rights, nor intimidate them in any way. Innocence must always be presumed and the burden of proof lay upon the prosecution. Great care must be taken to avoid ever convicting the innocent or righteous (Ex. 23:7).
Finally, covetousness in itself is not punishable by the state, but it is to be forbidden to manifest in the form of the politics of guilt and pity. People who may grow jealous of their neighbors’ wealth or success will not be allowed to engage in political class warfare in an effort to start government welfare programs. This also exposes the root of such political programs focusing on “income inequality,” “the rich,” “the one percent,” etc. The commandment is also helpful in confirming that property is primarily to be owned by individuals (“your neighbor”), not the state.
Yet, as society was allowed to operate freely, and the free market unleashed to address its needs and demands, collective wealth would grow. This has been demonstrated everywhere it has been tried: wealth inequality may grow, but the collective grows as a whole with it, and the poorest are always better off than under systems based on covetousness. In a sense, by seeking the Kingdom of God and its righteousness (law) first, all these things are afterward added unto you.
Many biblical laws which still abide are not “civil” laws—they lack any sanction for the civil government to carry out. They are still, however, social laws which Christ Himself judges in history. If and when the people refuse to carry out such laws like sexual purity, right worship, and care for the poor, Christ Himself will predictably bring judgment upon that nation (Lev. 20:1–5, 6, 22–24; 26; Num. 33:55–56; Deut. 12:29–31; 28–29; Jonah). Likewise, if the nation adopts the ways of pagan nations around it, God still brings judgment in history.
The biblical vision of a godly society is much richer and broader in scope that many people imagine even heaven to be. It is life lived to its fullest and at its freest. It is love in action: the love of God and love of neighbor. Biblical law shows us the bounds of love, and these bounds are peace, liberty, justice, and the prosperity that flows from these.
It is not hard to see that our society is far from this ideal in many ways, but that is no reason for despair. There are many ways in which we can be working towards our goals in the meantime. The vastness of liberty and great amount of widespread self-government required to make it work certainly seem like an intimidating challenge from our vantage point, but it is the vision and law given us in Scripture, and Christians are to embrace it in faith. We are to live it out to the greatest extent we can, and promote it among the nations, including our own time and place. We are to be faithful to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) trusting God that He shall bring it to full victory. In the next chapter, we will discuss how this vision will come to pass.