KERUX: JNWTS 32/2 (December 2017):18-21
Perhaps the most unique distinctive of Theonomy is its view that the modern state is required to use the same penalties for crimes that God gave ancient Israel in the Old Testament.
Here we will argue that comparing Hebrews 12:18-29 (esp. v. 25), Heb. 2:2-3 and Heb. 10:28-29 with one another and with Heb. 9:13-14 indicates that the judicial penalties of the old covenant, like the ceremonial laws, have passed away in light of their fulfillment in Christ.
The penalties, like the sacrifices, have passed away in their older form because their essential reality is fulfilled in Christ and his administration of the new covenant.
To this end, we first observe the similarity between Heb. 12:18-29 and Heb. 9:13-14. The first of these passages deals with the penalties associated with Mt. Sinai and the second with animal sacrifices instituted by the law. The similarity between them indicates that the penalties of the old covenant have passed away in the same way that the animal sacrifices have passed away. This similarity is indicated by the similar constructions in which we find them. These are the “how much more” constructions in the New Testament used to describe displacement and replacement of the old by the new.
Hebrews 12:18-29 teaches that the final judgment of the new covenant and New Jerusalem (vv. 22-29) is far greater than the judicial penalties associated with Mount Sinai (vv. 18-21, 25b). In Hebrews, when that which is greater comes, it fulfills that which is lesser, and that which is lesser passes away. That is, it passes away in its lesser/previous form, but its essential reality abides in its fulfillment. Thus, we will see that comparing Heb. 12:18-29 with Heb. 9:13-14 indicates that Christ will fulfill the punishments of Sinai in the last judgment just as he fulfilled the animal sacrifices in his death and resurrection.
To consider this comparison, we first look at Hebrews 12:18-21. It tells us we have not come to Sinai and its form of judgment. Verse 20 lists one of these forms of punishment—stoning. Verse 25 contrasts this type of Old Testament penalty with the greater final judgment of the new covenant. “For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven.” This indicates, like verses 18-21, that these penalties have passed away to make room for their fulfillment in the final judgment.
The use of the construction “for if…much less…” underscores this point. It is practically parallel to the construction “for if…much more…” in Heb. 9:13-14—“For if the blood of goats and bulls . . . sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ . . . cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Clearly, the writer of Hebrews used this construction in 9:13-14 to contrast the blood of the new covenant with the sacrifices of the old covenant, which have passed away.
As we have seen, the writer used the same construction in Heb. 12:25 to compare and contrast the final judgment on new covenant breakers (“much less shall we escape”) with the penal codes of the old covenant (“those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth”). This suggests that the old covenant penal sanctions have also passed away. That is, this similar construction (a comparison and contrast) indicates that the old covenant judicial penalties have passed away in the same manner that the old covenant sacrifices have passed away. In other words, these penalties have passed away in their old covenant form in order to make way for their new covenant fulfillment in the final judgment.
At first glance, one may wonder from Heb. 12:18-29 whether the writer is only dealing with the punishments surrounding Mount Sinai. Does he also mean to include the standing penal codes of the Jewish theocracy and kingdom?
Hebrews 2:2-3 is instructive here. It uses the same kind of construction that we have seen in Heb. 9:13-14 and 12:25—“For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Just as in 9:13-14 and 12:25, the writer is indicating that an element of the old covenant has passed away to make room for its fulfillment in the new covenant.
What is it that has passed away in Heb. 2:2-3? It is all the standing judicial penalties of the old covenant, not just the penalties imposed on those who transgressed at Mt. Sinai. Hebrews 2:2 indicates this by referring to the “just recompense” that was inflicted on every transgression and disobedience; that is, it refers to all the penalties inflicted on lawbreakers in the old covenant. The similarities between this passage and Heb. 9:13-14 and 12:25 indicate that the standing penal codes given through Moses—no less than the animal sacrifices—are unique formal aspects of the administration of the old covenant that have passed away. That is, they have passed away in their old covenant form to make way for their fulfillment in the new covenant’s final judgment.
This conclusion is further strengthened by Hebrews 10:28-29, which also speaks of the standing penal codes of the old covenant. It states, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God.” While this construction does not begin with “for if” like the others, the phrase “how much severer” is very similar to the “how much more” phrase in Heb. 9:13-14. In Heb. 9:13-14 the blessing of OT animal sacrifices is compared and contrasted to the blessing of Christ’s NT sacrifice. Similarly, in Heb. 10:28-29 the OT penal sanctions are compared and contrasted with the curse of Christ’s NT final judgment. In light of this, the penal codes of capital punishment under Moses have passed away in the same manner that the animal sacrifices have passed away. These penal codes have been replaced by Christ’s final judgment just as the animal sacrifices have been replaced by Christ’s final sacrifice.
We may miss this comparison if we fail to notice that the final judgment here noted is an administration of the new covenant just like Christ’s sacrifice. This is underscored by the fact that those here described will be punished for trampling underfoot the blood of the new covenant (Heb. 10:29).
Thus we conclude, just as the animal sacrifices represent forms of sacrifice that have passed away because they are fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice, so the penal codes of Moses represent forms of punishment that have passed away because they are fulfilled in the final judgment. Both the sacrifices and penal codes passed away as lesser/previous forms of administration, but their essential reality abides in their fulfillment.
Let us consider two possible objections to this argument. First, someone might say—“if all the penal codes have passed away, then the death penalty for murder has passed away; but we find that penalty in Genesis 9:6 before the Mosaic covenant.” In response, we would appeal to the point that all the penalties uniquely administered by the old covenant have passed away. Therefore, the death penalty for murder (Gen. 9:6), which was clearly instituted by a covenant with all humanity (Gen. 8:20-9:17) and had universal significance, does not pass away. It remains in effect. Only certain relationships it later attained to in the broader Mosaic covenant have passed away—such as its relation to cleansing the holy land of defilement.
Second, one might object that we have “confused abrogate with fulfill”. However, if this is the case, the same argument must be leveled against the replacement of OT animal sacrifices by Christ’s final sacrifice. When Christ fulfilled those animal sacrifices, the former animal sacrifices that were offered year after year passed away.
A proponent of animal sacrifices might object—“this is to confuse abrogate with fulfill, for on your view the animal sacrifices have been abolished—so that no sacrifices occur year after year (not even Christ’s)”. (In this, they would be making an objection parallel to the Theonomic objection respecting the penalties.) To this we might respond, “in replacing the OT animal sacrifices, Christ did not abolish the essential grace previously administered in those sacrifices. Instead, he fulfilled that essential grace, providing the ground for it. Christ has only displaced the old form of sacrifice (copy and shadow of the heavenly things, Heb. 8:5) which looked ahead to his final sacrifice.”
So also Christ, the administrator of the new covenant and its final judgment, has abrogated the former penal sanctions given by Moses under the old covenant. Christ did not abolish the essential judgment previously administered in those penal codes. Instead, he fulfills that essential judgment in himself as the final judge who will execute justice at the final judgment. He has only displaced the old form of judgment, which looked ahead to his execution of final judgment.
There is still more in Hebrews that supports these conclusions. However, what we have seen so far should suffice to show that the author of Hebrews held that the standing penal codes of the old covenant were unique forms of administering that covenant just like the animal sacrifices. Both have passed away (as parts of that older formal administration) with the coming of Christ in the new covenant. Their essence is fulfilled and embodied in his final sacrifice for sin and his final execution of judgment at the last day. The older administration of animal sacrifices and Mosaic penal codes has been displaced because of its greater fulfillment in the new—in Christ Jesus. As a result, Hebrews indicates that God does not call modern governments and their ruling officials to turn to the judicial laws of the old covenant as the standard for present-day penal sanctions.
Even John Calvin did not believe that general equity required present-day states to execute adulterers and homosexuals (as we find in the penal sanctions of the old covenant). “For the Lord through the hand of Moses did not give that law to be proclaimed among all nations and to be enforced everywhere” (Institutes, 4.20.16). This spirit lay behind the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF, 19.4).
 The article is a reworking of a letter I sent to the editor of New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, originally published in Vol. 15, No. 8 (August/September 1994):23-24.
 Notice how Gen. 9:6 is enfolded within the inclusio “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 9:1, 7), placing it within a broader section (Gen. 9:1-7). This section is then enclosed between two other sections (Gen. 8:20-22 and 9:8-17). In the first, God gives his universal promise “never again [to] destroy every living thing” with a flood (Gen. 8:21); and in the second he makes the same universal covenant with “every living creature” (Gen. 9:10, 12), “all flesh” (Gen. 9:11, 15) or “every living creature of all flesh” (Gen. 9:15, 16). The rainbow (Gen. 9:12-17) is also a natural and universal sign, emphasizing the universal character of the covenant.