IBL02: Second Commandment (Craig Press)

Law and Equality


*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:02 Deuteronomy 23, verses one through eight. Deuteronomy 23, one through eight.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:19 “He that is wounded in the stones or has his privy member cut off shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord. A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord, even to his 10th generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord. An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord. Even to their 10th generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever because they met you not with bread and with water in the way when you came forth out of Egypt, and because they hired against thee Balaam, the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:02 “Nevertheless, the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam, but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee because the Lord thy God loved thee. Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days forever. Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother. Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian because thou wast a stranger in his land. The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the Lord in their third generation.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:44 The passage which I have just read is one of those which is very offensive to many modern people. It lists certain laws with respect to membership in the congregation, by which was meant Israel, both civil and ecclesiastical. That is, those who were listed could not become members or could become members only under certain circumstances or a certain passage of time in the religious side of the nation or citizens in the political side of Israel. Those persons listed are, first of all, eunuchs, second, bastards to the 10th generation, Ammonites and Moabites to the 10th generation, Edomites and Egyptians to the third generation.

R.J. Rushdoony: 02:52 This is did not mean they could not be believers. They were not forbidden to worship. Indeed, there was every inducement to worship. Now, as we pause for a moment before going into the implications of these laws, we need to recognize why these laws are so offensive to the modern mind. This is one of the passages held up as an example of how barbaric the bible is. The reason, of course, is that for us, law has an entirely different function than it did for Israel. Biblical law, being premised on God’s absolute authority and the priority of God in all things has a different foundation from modern law.

R.J. Rushdoony: 03:57 Now to analyze these differences so that we see them clearly and unmistakably, I’m going to read a few passages from a standard work, James Embry, Limitations of Taxing Power and Public Indebtedness. This is a standard law book, which for years was authoritative. Now newer editions have replaced it because there’s been so much in the last 10 years, but the basic premises of the more recent editions are the same as those laid down by Gray in 1906.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:45 Now, let us analyze Gray, see what he has to say. First of all, Gray declares, “That order is usually regarded as the prime object of government will not be denied. The means of enforcing order differs in different communities, and it is reasonably plain, other things being equal, that the best government for enforcing order is the government which is able without checks of any sort to impose its restraints upon the individual, that is the despotic government. Why then, if order is the first object, and a despotic government is the best means of enforcing order, are not all governments despotic?

R.J. Rushdoony: 05:36 “Because all men are born equal. Because every man born on the Earth has the same right to use the Earth as every other man. Thus, it is perceived that this order, which is the object of government, is not the ultimate end of government, but it’s merely a means whereby the equality to which men are born may be enjoyed. If this be true, the ultimate principle upon which governments depend is equality, and the law of unity, which regulates the operation and the organization of government is the law of equality,” end of quote.

R.J. Rushdoony: 06:17 Now, what Gray was saying was simply this: Governments nowadays have two purposes. One is order, and the other is equality. If you want order, then you need a despotic form of government. You need a totalitarianism regime. But the true purpose of government is not order. That’s a secondary purpose at best. Its true purpose is equality. Therefore, he says, a democratic form of government will work towards equality.

R.J. Rushdoony: 07:01 Now, as he goes on, he admits that equality is a mathematical term. But this does not deter him. We would think that, having recognized that the word equality is a mathematical term, that is an abstraction. How can it be applied to people? Because an abstraction is an abstraction. It doesn’t conform to reality except when reality is cut and dried, as it were, so many two-by-fours. 10 two-by-fours are equal to 10 two by fours because all the two-by-fours have been sawed up. 10 trees are not equal to 10 trees. These are living things. But this doesn’t deter him. He recognizes it’s an abstraction, that it doesn’t conform to living reality. But all the same, he is bent on affirming that equality must be the function of the law.

R.J. Rushdoony: 08:16 Moreover, Gray admits that this is a new concept. In fact, Gray goes on to say the idea of equality being the purpose of government is very new in the United States. Moreover, he admits that it is only about 50 years old. Now, since this was published in 1906, this means it was something that came in with and since the Civil War. But before, the idea of equality had nothing to do with the United States, its form of government, and the laws of either the federal government or the state government. He admits it is new, but nonetheless, he denies that it be applied. In fact, he assumes that it shall be because, he says, this is now the new concept of the purpose of government in the United States.

R.J. Rushdoony: 09:20 Now, mind you, he’s writing in 1906. He continues, and I quote, “It is plain that equality does not necessarily consist in mere equality of contribution. For every man, rich or poor, to pay the same would be the greatest inequality. Whether it consists in proportionate contribution according to property is a question which has been much discussed. In the common forms of property taxation, this is the method in which the courts have usually found that sufficient equality inheres. A great economist has said that equality in taxation consists of equality of sacrifice. The courts have usually measured equality in taxation by reference to the amount of benefits received rather than by considering the sacrifice of the taxpayer. The economists of the present day seem to prefer the idea of equality of sacrifice.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 10:29 As he goes on to say this is increasingly the idea that is coming to the fore. Now here, in 1906 in a standard law book of the United States, you find in essence the Marxist thesis, from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs, long before the Russian Revolution, more than a decade earlier. So, he says, “Equality means equality of sacrifices. Those who are rich must pay more. Equality must rule.” One more passage to give you an idea of the nature of Gray’s thinking, quote, “The power of the state acting through its governmental agencies to tax its citizens is absolute and unlimited as to persons and property. Every person within the jurisdiction of the state, whether a citizen or not, is subject to this power, every form of property, tangible or intangible, stationary or transitory, every privilege [inaudible 00:11:43] or income which exists within the jurisdiction may be reached and taken for the support of the state.

R.J. Rushdoony: 11:58 “This doctrine is involved in the general theory of the state. The state exists for the purposes of law, order, and justice. The institution of property, the preservation and security of life, liberty, and property depend upon the existence of the state. In as much as all private ownership of property is postulated on the existence of the state, the state may properly exhaust all the resources of private property in the support and preservation of that existence. In as much as all privileges and all liberties derive their value from the protection of the state, the state may take any share of the value of those privileges and franchises for its support, even to the extent of the whole value.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 12:50 Then, he proceeds to give a number to legal decisions which support this thesis. In other words, in 1906, on the basis of this idea of equality which had arisen since the Civil War, the courts upheld that the state has the right to take all your income, all your property, everything you have to defend you, supposedly, in your right to life, liberty, and property. In other words, totalitarianism was absolutely, fully, totally affirmed. This in a law book of 1906 which contained nothing revolutionary, which was just a summation of what the law [inaudible 00:13:44] at that time.

R.J. Rushdoony: 13:47 Is it any wonder that we have since had the 16th Amendment, the income tax amendment, a welfare economy, and a progressive drift into socialism? The miracle is that it has not come faster. For that, I think we can thank the Russian Revolution. It at least jolted some Americans out of their daydream and the drift which the law was taking.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:20 Now this, since it was a part of our law by 1906, makes it possible for us to understand why the passage we read is so offensive to the modern mind. If, after all, not order but equality, total equality was already by the beginning of this century seen by our courts as the purpose of government, how could anyone look at anything in the Scriptures that taught something other than equality without be shocked and without feeling, “Well, this is barbaric,” “This is antiquated,” or else saying, “Well, this was for that period, and these laws are done away with, so we don’t have to worry about this. This was a part of the old legislation for ancient times, and it doesn’t apply. Because what the Bible was teaching along was equality, but it had to deal with people in terms of their times, and so you had, at that time, provisions that made for inequality.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 15:31 There’s no wonder that we have not only the things I referred to, the income tax amendment and growing socialism, but the Civil Rights Revolution. Was not the Civil Rights Revolution written into the law from these citations? Was it not written into the fabric of our society when the law books were teaching it at the beginning of the century? But in biblical law, the idea of equality has no standing. Indeed, the idea of equality is a modern idea, dating back two and a half centuries at the most in Europe, and as Gray admits, only since the Civil War, a hundred years, in America.

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:37 In biblical law, neither equalitarianism nor oligarchy or despotism, to use Gray’s term, have any standing. The purpose of the law is not equality. The purpose of the law is to establish God’s justice and God’s order. God is the source of law, and the covenant is the principle of citizenship. The covenant is restricted in terms of God’s law. So, what did the covenant specify?

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:20 Well, the covenant did not permit criminals to be members of the covenant, either religious or civil. It did not permit men who were not free men to be members, that is to be persons with citizenship or church membership, that is voting power. They couldn’t do either. They could enjoy the blessings of living within the commonwealth, but they could not exercise authority.

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:56 It did not permit men who were not men, eunuchs, to exercise the same power. It made it possible to restrict foreigners, like Ammonites and Moabites, who lacked the cultural and racial background of character, for a long period of time, until such time as, we’ll say 10 generations of character, faith and character, they could qualify. In other words, there was no concept of equality here. The covenant was restrictive. This did not mean they were denied justice. This did not mean they could not be believers.

R.J. Rushdoony: 18:48 Now, when our country was established, the concept of church membership and citizenship was identical. Sometimes, you read in occasional history books, not many bother to report the fact, that in colonial America, it very often happened that while everybody in the community went to church, the church membership was very low. Sometimes, only seven or eight would actually be full-fledged members of the church.

R.J. Rushdoony: 19:26 Indeed, Dr. Jay Franklin Littell, who is quite a left-winger, has claimed that America was not Christian at that time because in 1800, for example, he says, only about 15% of the people were church members. But what does that mean? Only 15% were members, but everybody went to church. Well, they were all believers. They went to church and worshiped. But the 15% who were members were those who were deemed to be of sufficiently good character, sufficiently strong and independent men to be entrusted with voting power in the congregation.

R.J. Rushdoony: 20:18 In an earlier period, only those in the earliest Colonial period, only those who had voting power in the church had voting power in the state. In other words, men of responsibility. Did this mean that the government was for their benefit? Not at all. It meant that only those who were responsible were entrusted with the authority, and the community as a whole agreed to it. It did not feel that there was any injustice rendered to anyone. It did not feel that the courts were unjust to others. It felt that those who were responsible should exercise responsibility, and the right to vote in church or in state is a responsibility. Thus, we see from this passage there is first, no equalitarianism here. There is an obvious discrimination, an obvious distinction made between people. There is a restrictive membership. The very idea of restrictive covenants comes right out of the Bible. Restrictive covenants, of course, have been abolished by our courts in recent years. This carried over into the New Testament. For example, the whole point of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 was simply this: They recognized that there was a moral distinction between the Jews and the gentile believers. The Jews, after all, had a long background and tradition of moral character. The gentile believers … Well, until they were converted, fornication was not even a sin for them. It was hard for many of these believers, which we know from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, to realize that it was a sin. After all, they were used to taking it for granted as though it were nothing.

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:56 So, the Council of Jerusalem permitted separate congregations. It didn’t say they could not take in gentiles, but it permitted and established separate congregations, and it laid down minimum requirements for all these separate congregations. They had to conform to minimum standards or they were not a church. Thus, there was segregation. There was discrimination, but we must say secondly, there was an absolute requirement at the same time of one standard of justice for all in terms of Exodus 12:49. This was true in the Old Testament. This was true in the New. In the New, the standard was, of course, as it was in the Old, for all believers who were gentiles, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

R.J. Rushdoony: 24:07 Thus, what this passage tells us very clearly is that equalitarianism is a modern idea. It did not even exist until fairly recently. It cannot be forced back onto the Bible without violence and dishonesty. Even Gray in this law book admits that it is a fairly new idea. The purpose of the law is not to level men to equalize them, but to establish God’s justice.

R.J. Rushdoony: 24:51 In relationship to all men, I must maintain God’s one law, God’s offer of salvation, God’s justice. In relation to my family, I can be partial. To my group and my society, restrictive. I can do this in good conscience before God, provided I do not deny justice to others. This then is the biblical standard: Equality, which is the modern purpose of government, has no place in biblical law. It is totally hostile to biblical law. It is no wonder then that John Dewey declared that there was no place in democracy for biblical Christianity because, he said, biblical Christianity is an aristocratic faith. It makes for division between the sheep and the goats, the saved and the lost, the good and the bad, between heaven and hell.

R.J. Rushdoony: 26:09 So, in effect, John Dewey made it clear that democracy ultimately would have to wage war against biblical faith. The line is drawn clearly. Either the purpose of government is equality, and we continue in the direction we ought to the destruction of all justice and order, or we re-establish biblical law and deny that equality is a valid concept for man and society. Let us pray.

R.J. Rushdoony: 26:51 Our Lord and our God, we give thanks unto thee for thy work. We thank thee, our Father, that thy word is true, that thy word is not only written in thy book, but across the pages of all creation so that men and nations who despise thy word shall be destroyed by the very nature of things, for thy word is truth. Make us bold and strong in thy word, oh God, and confident that thy word shall prevail, that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. Give us faith and courage, therefore, our Father, and so build for tomorrow in the confidence that thy word shall not return unto thee void, and thy truth shall prevail. Bless us for this purpose in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder