This is part two of my two part commentary on my debate with the Anabaptist Todd Lewis, for part one of the article, click here and for the full video click here. The three main points that he used to defend his position of total pacifism are the prophecies in Isaiah 2:1-4 and Micah 4:1-3 about the nations “beating their swords into plowshares”, which he interprets it to mean that Christians personally beat their plowshare and give up all means of violence, even in self-defense, the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells us to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-40), and early church fathers such as Ireneus, Treutellian, and Origen. I will focus on these main parts of the argument then go into my cross-examination of Todd’s position.
Beating Swords into Plowshares
When I read about nations beating their “swords into plowshares” in the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, I do not see how it talks about personal pacifism in a very clear cut and dry way as Todd kept insisting because the only thing is clear from the context is that nations will stop making weapons of war and waging war against one another, and in turn will redirect their creative and innovative energy formerly dedicated to war to the commericial sector. We’ve seen an example of this in just the previous century with Germany and Japan, they were mighty military powers up until they lost World War II and afterwards had redirected that same industriousness to become two of the most technologically innovative and powerful economic powers in the world today. Yet you will still find civil governments that enforce laws in both these countries through police forces armed with guns and they still have armed forces, albeit much smaller and less active in foreign conflicts.
To go from nations beating their weapons of war into commercial and agricultural tools to total pacifism where not even personal self-defense is allowed and civil governments, including police, will be entirely abolished, is quite a leap. In fact, such an interpretation would undermine the passage because a society where good people do absolutely nothing to stop evil men, regardless of how few there are of evil them compared to the good, will not be a peaceful society for very long.
I shared my personal interpretation on those passages, which is based on postmillennialism, where these nations will be demilitarized and no longer waging war or learning the ways of war because of the success of the Great Commission. His counter-argument is that though he may concede that there maybe a future demilitarization of all nations, it doesn’t change the fact that there are things that Christians are to give up right away when they convert, like prostitution for example. Here he commits the fallacy of equivocation, because he confuses the issue of imperialism and militarism on global level with personal self-defense on an individual level and civil government using the sword to maintain order in its own territory.
“He Shall speak peace to the nations” – Zechariah 9:10
Again this is very vague passage from Zechariah 9:10, Todd interprets it to mean literal peace as in pacifism. The bible uses the word “peace” in different ways, Isaiah says that the rebellious Israel of his day did not know the “way of peace” (Isaiah 59:8), which the prophet contrasted with their wickedness, practice of injustice, and rebellion against God, which would indicate that the “way of peace” is God’s law as revealed through Moses, which at the time still called for civil penalties that even Anabaptists would concede were in effect back then, even if they would disagree with their continuing validity. The Apostle Paul used Isaiah 59:8 and the surrounding verses to make the case that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin and condemnation from the law and that no one can be justified by the works of the law (Romans 3:9-20). Also Paul calls faith in Jesus Christ “the peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philipians 4:7). Also Psalm 34:14 says that “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace.”, which would be unusual if peace could only mean total pacifism, which would be impossible in a dispensation of divinely sanctioned violence.
Did Jesus overturn Lex Talionis in the Sermon on the Mount(Matthew 5)?
Todd argues that Jesus overturned Lex Talionis, I argued that He didn’t because He was talking about pharisaical distortion of lex talionis that calls for personal retaliation. Todd argued that is no evidence in Jewish rabbinic history of Rabbis ever teaching that “Eye for an eye” called for personal revenge and it is a novel interpretation introduced by RJ Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen and that Jesus was talking about the actual Law of Moses. I’m not expert on rabbinic history, but I don’t need to be because the only alternative to saying that Jesus was rebuking a pharisaical distortion of lex talionis is saying that Jesus was rebuking His own Word, which is absolutely absurd because God cannot rebuke Himself. Also let example the passage in its full context:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Whenever in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says “You heard it said” followed by “But I say to you”, he is contrasting the “You heard it said” with “I say to you”. Where in the Mosaic Law does it talk about getting slapped on the cheek, getting sued for your tunic, going two miles with someone that forces you to go one, or withholding things from those who beg you or want to borrow from you?
Matthew Henry comments:
In these verses the law of retaliation is expounded, and in a manner repealed. Observe,I. What the Old-Testament permission was, in case of injury; and here the expression is only, Ye have heard that is has been said; not, as before, concerning the commands of the decalogue, that it has been said by, or to, them of old time. It was a command, that every one should of necessity require such satisfaction; but they might lawfully insist upon it, if they pleased; an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. This we find, Ex. 21:24 ; Lev. 24:20 ; Deu. 19:21 ; in all which places it is appointed to be done by the magistrate, who bears not the sword in vain, but is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath, Rom. 13:4 . It was a direction to the judges of the Jewish nation what punishment to inflict in case of maims, for terror to such as would do mischief on the one hand, and for a restraint to such as have mischief done to them on the other hand, that they may not insist on a greater punishment than is proper: it is not a life for an eye, nor a limb for a tooth, but observe a proportion; and it is intimated (Num. 35:31 ), that the forfeiture in this case might be redeemed with money; for when it is provided that no ransom shall be taken for the life of a murderer, it is supposed that for maims a pecuniary satisfaction was allowed.But some of the Jewish teachers, who were not the most compassionate men in the world, insisted upon it as necessary that such revenge should be taken, even by private persons themselves, and that there was no room left for remission, or the acceptance of satisfaction.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible Mathew 5
Historic argument for pacifism from the church fathers
I felt that Todd was falling back heavily on the historical argument from the early church fathers for pacifism, which is outside of my area of expertise. He maybe right that the Clement, Ireneus, Tertullian, and Origen were pacifists and that Ireneus had the same interpretation of the “beat swords into plowshares” prophecy that he does. Even if that were true, the issue in the end would still need to be decided by scripture not by counting noses throughout history, especially with an arbitrary cut off point at Constantine’s conversion. I argued with Todd that the early church fathers could have been wrong and just because someone shows up early in church history doesn’t necessarily mean they are orthodox. The Gnostics and Judaizers showed up in the very beginning of the early church and were directly rebuked by Paul in his inspired epistles.
Todd insisted that these are the orthodox church fathers, which still begs the question, “how do we determine that they are orthodox?” While it may make sense to appeal to the earliest church fathers to support the historicity of a certain theological position, the final arbitrator is still God’s Word. Roman Catholics argue that the bible cannot be understood by itself as a closed system and it is somewhat ironic that Todd, as a fellow Sola Scriptura Protestant who constantly attacks Roman Catholics for making tradition equal with scripture, seems to be making a similar argument. The argument is that what the bible says on this subject of use of force too unclear if you just use the bible, that you also have to use the “pacifist” church fathers to get most accurate interpretation. Also whether or not these church fathers are pacifists is up for debate. According to an article by Glenn Peoples, the evidence for pacifism among the early Christians is exaggerated by ideological pacifists in the modern church and in fact some Christians served in the military and church fathers prayed for the military victory of the Roman Empire.
Also by saying that we have to go to the early church fathers to know what’s the correct interpretation is a denial of the doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture, which basically means that the bible is clear enough to be correctly understood by readers who diligent study it without any help of church authority or tradition. This doctrine is denied by most Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and it is ironic to see Todd as an Anabaptist who claims to be a Sola Scriptura Protestant falls into the same camp. He claims that I cannot use verses like Romans 13 talking about the civil government to qualify the seemingly pacifistic teachings in the sermon on the mount and other places, that I just have to accept the “plain meaning” and not do the hard work of the Reformers, comparing scripture with scripture.
Denial of distinction between Ceremonial and Moral Law in the Mosaic Code
Todd denied that there is a distinction between ceremonial and moral law in the Mosaic code because he said that “if you break one part of the law, you broke it all, you have to keep the whole thing”. Here he seems to be commiting the word-study fallacy, where you try to find out what the bible says about a certain subject by looking up all the verses where the word is mentioned without taking consideration what those individual verses mean in their perspective context and forming a conclusion from there. He is quoting James 2:10 which says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”, which doesn’t mention any ceremonial law, only moral violations such as favoritism, murder, adultery. In fact, if James expects his audience to continue in the ceremonial law, then he is contradicting the author of Hebrews who tells us the ceremonial law is done away with.
Theologians have historically distinguished between the ceremonial, civil, and moral law, which they have to because James implies that the law still stands he tells Jewish believers be doers of the word, not just hearers and says if you break one part you break it all, while Paul said that the law was a guardian that was to guard us until the coming of Christ and now is no longer needed now that He came (Galatians 3:24-29). So unless you want to pit the Apostle James and the Apostle Paul, you have accept that they are not talking the part of the Mosaic Law. When the word “law” is used in the New Testament, it sometimes refers to only moral law, as in the book of James and in Romans, other times it is used to refer to only the ceremonial law as is apparent in Paul’s epistles to the Galatians. Anyone who want to be taken as a serious bible scholar will have to distinguish between moral, ceremonial, and civil law in the Mosaic economy.
Three uses of the law
In order to demonstrate that parts of the law of Moses are still relevant for today, I asked him about the three uses of the law, the pedagogical, civil, and personal use. Pedagogical use is to teach us of our sinfulness and lead us to Christ, the civil use is curb evil in society, and personal use is to reveal God’s will for how we ought to live now that we have accepted Christ. Granted that he no longer believes in the civil use for the New Testament age, I asked him about the other two uses. He asked me “you are you talking about the moral law or the Mosaic law?”. I asked him “where is God’s moral law revealed in the bible? where was it first introduced”. He tried as best as he could to avoid giving the obvious answer, which is the 10 Commandments, because it would force him to concede on his position that none of the Mosaic Law is relevant for today. All of those commandments clearly apply for Christians today, even you want to quote another part of the bible to answer the question “where does the bible tell you not to have any other God?”, you are still assuming the continuing validity of the 1st commandment, which makes total discontinuation of the Mosaic code impossible.
Romans 13: Governing authorities are ministers of God… as long as they are not Christians
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
It would seem to most people that Romans 13 says that civil governments that use the sword to punish evildoers are serving a legitimate and good purpose, which would make any pacifistic interpretation of the New Testament a little problematic. The Governor is a minister of God, who is meant to carry out his wrath on criminals and those who seek to subvert the peace of society. Todd, being unwilling to give in, was forced to the irrational conclusion that civil governors using the sword are serving a legitimate purpose ordained by God as long as the governor is not Christian. Any sane person would see the absurdity of such a position. If something is a sin for a Christian, it is also a sin for the pagan, because God doesn’t have double standards. The Apostle Peter says:
“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Also if the job of a civil governor is to be an agent of God’s wrath against evildoers, you would think a Christian be most qualified because he would be the most in tune with God’s moral standards, which are necessary to determine who those evildoers are who ought to be punished. Also a pagan will always have a relatively skewed understanding of God’s moral law because his heart and his mind is in bondage to sin. Can God use pagan rulers to do His will? Yes, He can hit a bullseye with a crooked arrow. He used King Cyrus to bring the Jews back from captivity. Does that make a pagan ruler the ideal? not by any means.
Also the idea that Constantine would have been required to step down if he became a Christian, as Todd has argued in this and in another Christian hangout completely flies in the face of Psalm 2 which says:
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
There it says, kings, be wise, and kiss the Son or else. This is a clear command for kings to repent and turn to and serve the King of Kings. In the preceding verses, God the Father says to the Son:
You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break[b] them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Do you think the Son forgot to ask the Father?
Now if these kings step down upon conversion as Todd says they should, then Christ would no longer have these nations as an inheritance because they would be given over to pagan rulers will still seek to impose tyrannical and anti-Christian rule.
Also if God only ordains and calls pagans to be civil governors, then God has a calling for someone’s life that is outside of His revealed moral will for all humanity, which is repentance and submission to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It would be as absurd as saying that God called me to be a prostitute, a hitman, or an abortion doctor.
Phinehas, The Vigilante
The one argument that threw me off guard, because I argue that the death penalty was and should only be carried out by civil government, was the story of Phinehas, the levitical priest who took the law into his own hands by slaughtering a Jewish-Moabite couple and turn back a plague from God(Numbers 17:7-9) . Although I couldn’t find an answer for it because I’m not familiar with the story, but he tried to argue that this indicates that Jews were allowed to be vigilantes in the Old Testament, that they didn’t have to wait for the proper authorities. But this is only one story and there is nothing in the law that directly commands such vigilantism, and if it did, it would make the legal system where the defendant is innocent until proven guilty by two or three witnesses unnecessary. Where there is a clear legal command given to the people, they have to bring the suspect before the proper authorities to be charged and convicted. For example:
And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; 4And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel: 5Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die. 6At 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.
This is the exact transgression that Phinehas acted on his own against, where the people themselves are directly commanded to bring the guilty party before the gates to get a fair trial and due process. Just because Phinehas acted out of the norm and was vindicated for doing so, doesn’t negate this clearly spelled process that God commanded of Israel. Also rampant vigilantism would lead to anarchy and many more innocent people being killed based on the faulty prejudgments of vigilantes or because people could simply kill someone and accuse their victims of committing a crime to absolve themselves, which is why we have a legal system today and why Israel did back then. In some parts of the bible, God is giving us a command, in other parts He is simply telling us a story. For example, just because Noah was commanded to build an ark, it doesn’t mean we are all commanded to build arks. Todd also tried to use the Jewish rebellion in the Book of Maccabees to say that Jews were allowed to be vigilantes under the Old Covenant, which I do accept as a part of the canon of scripture and of which I was surprised that he did as an Anabaptist and a Protestant. He said that he accepted it as a part of the canon because Menno Simons, the founder of the Mennonites did. I asked him if he believes in praying for the dead, he said no. Then I showed him that Maccabees teaches and praises the practice of praying for the dead:
It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.
2 Maccabees 12:46
He was bewildered and had no idea how to respond. I asked him if “Maccabees teaches prayers for the dead, would you reject it as part of the cannon”. His answer was that he needs to do more research on that subject.
My overall impression of the debate is that Todd seems to be very sincere in his convictions, so much so that when I raised several questions on several bible verses, he was forced into a corner where he came to weird and puzzling conclusions when the obvious solution is not taking such ultra-literalistic approach to the sermon of mount which leads to total pacifism, which creates problems with Romans 13, Psalm 2, and other verses and acknowledging that at least some of the Mosaic code, what is not ceremonial, is valid for today.