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Stumbling Out of the Gate: Joel McDurmon Fails to Make the Case for Theonomy

Seth Dunn

“And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast.” Leviticus 20:15

Joel McDurmon of The American Vision recently debated Pulpit & Pen’s own JD Hall on the resolution: “Mosaic Civil Laws are Obligatory for Today.”  Dr. McDurmon argued for the affirmative while Mr. Hall argued for the negative.  In the close of his opening statement, McDurmon recounted the story of Thomas Granger, as it can be found on Wikipedia, as follows:

“In September of 1642, a man by the name of Thomas Granger was the first person to be hanged in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  He was a servant in Plymouth County.  At the age of 16 or 17, it’s unclear, Mr. Granger was convicted of buggery with a mare, a cow, two goats, divers sheep, two calves, and a turkey.”

For his crime and in keeping with the principles laid down in Leviticus 20:15, Thomas Granger received the death penalty.  After recounting Granger’s story, McDurmon asked the following rhetorical question, “Was that penalty just?”  After apparently pausing for effect, McDurmon continued, “Was the penalty unjust? I would like to hear my opponent answer that question tonight.  He has to answer ‘By what standard is it unjust?’ or ‘By what standard is it just?” Because if God’s law is just, then it is obligatory but if it’s unjust you have to tell me why.”

By closing with this statement, McDurmon hung his entire case upon it.

In order to win the debate, McDurmon implied, JD Hall would have to show that Granger’s punishment was unjust.  Doing so would ostensibly put Hall in the awkward position of denying that God’s law was just. If Hall agreed that the punishment was just, then he would be contradicting his negative position; for, if the punishment was just and it was carried out in accordance with God’s law, then Mosaic Civil Laws are Obligatory for today.

McDurmon placed Hall on the horns of a dilemma. Fortunately, for Hall, it was an irrelevant one.  McDurmon’s implication was based on the proper application of the law of the law of the excluded middle but an unsound modus ponens argument. In the end, the just state of Granger’s punishment did not support the contention that Mosaic Civil Laws are Obligatory for today.  By implying that it did and by doing so in the close of his opening statement, McDurmon presented a very weak case for the affirmative side of the debate and exposed the wrongheadedness of his position.

Let’s examine the propositions in McDurmon’s argument in order to identify how it fails:

C = Granger’s punishment was carried out in accordance with God’s civil law

J = Granger’s punishment was just.

O = Mosaic civil laws are obligatory for today.

Using these three propositions we can put McDurmon’s argument into modus ponens forms:

  1. If C then J
  2. C
  3. So J
  4. If J then O
  5. So O

A plain reading of Leviticus 20:15 supports the truth of statement #2.

The standard for justice is, as McDurmon and Hall would both agree, is God’s nature.  God’s nature is revealed in his word; again, McDurmon and Hall would both agree on this.  Since Granger’s punishment was done in accordance with God’s word, as written in Leviticus 20:15, then it was just.  Thus, statement #1 is true.

Since statement #1 and statement #2 are true then statement #3, by modus ponens, is true.  This where things were supposed to get tough for Hall.  According to the Law of the Excluded Middle either J is true and Granger’s punishment was just or J is not true and Granger’s punishment was not just.  As statement #1 shows, to deny the truth of J is to deny the truth of scripture.  The Bible proves that Granger’s punishment was just.

But does this imply O?  No, it does not. McDurmon’s argument is valid but unsound.  Statement #4 is false.

Even before Leviticus was written by Moses, God existed.  God existed before Moses wrote the first word of the biblical text.  Since God existed, justice, which is grounded in His nature, existed as well.  There simply was no Mosaic civil law before God gave it to the Israelites through Moses.  For thousands of years before the law was handed down on Mount Sinai all the way into eternity past, justice was grounded in God’s very nature.  It still is. As Hall pointed out during the course of the debate, Cain’s murder of Abel was unjust even though the Mosaic civil law did not yet exist.  Under the Mosaic code, Cain could have been justly put to death.  However, God, who can only do justice, justly put a mark on Cain that prevented people from killing him.

According to a Lockean natural rights philosophy, as embraced by the founding fathers of the United States, each man has a property in himself. This property is granted by God, the originator of all property rights to mankind.  According to such a philosophy, which is congruent with scripture, a law is just if it does not violate one of the inalienable rights granted to man by God.

Man does not have an inalienable right to buggery.  None of the Mosaic civil laws, including Leviticus 20:15, violated an ancient Israelite’s God-given inalienable rights.  Therefore, the Mosaic Civil law was not unjust.  However, at the same time, such laws (though just) are not obligatory.  McDurmon did not make the case that they were but rather presented a rabbit trail of a closing statement.

JD Hall was under no obligation to refute proposition J or proposition C given that both propositions are true and neither of them supported the case that Mosaic civil laws are obligatory for today.

Neither did Joel McDurmon in this debate.

A video of the debate is posted on YouTube.  What do you think of each man’s arguments?


[Contributed by Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.