Religion, Politics and the Death Penalty

This thread started as a friendly Facebook conversation between myself and some fellow Christians: Matt Lyons (a good friend I’ve known since elementary school) and Justin Aichele (an acquaintance from my undergraduate years at Missouri State). The original impetus for the dialog was an article published at LiveScience.com titled Low IQ and Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice. That article can be read here, or if that link fails, it can be found unedited as a Google doc here.

I’d like to point out that the article’s intention was to point to trends and describe what it found. It makes no attempts to prescribe what will or must be, and it freely admits that what may be true for groups does not always hold true for individuals. Case in point, the article states that, “There are multiple examples of very bright conservatives and not-so-bright liberals, and many examples of very principled conservatives and very intolerant liberals.” I affirm that no group, political, religious or otherwise has the corner on the market in stupid, hostile and arrogant people any more than another has all the brilliant, peaceful and humble individuals.

All that being said, the article in question offered nice kindling for a spirited political discussion regarding which United States political platform (Democratic or Republican) does a better job of reflecting values consistent with Christ and the broader teachings of the biblical text in general. I contend that Jesus would campaign for neither the political Left nor the Right, but rather that he would have acerbic criticisms for both political parties as well as the pundits and peons who take up the respective banners (myself included). I am convinced that Jesus would call his followers to far more radical lifestyles and political statements than what either party is used to at present.

Nevertheless, if we feel led to vote our most cherished beliefs and values, it is inevitable that such things will spill over into which current political party we gravitate toward. As it stands, I remain convinced that while the political Left has a legion of problems, contradictions and embarrassments in general, it seems to have less  of these than its Conservative political rivals on the so-called “Right” side of the continuum when it comes to following Christ. This is the basis for the following discussion, and I hope readers (and participants) find it helpful and challenging in mutually beneficial ways.

Update:

This particular thread has been bent towards the issue of capital punishment, and it offers a splendid case-study in how people can bend their theology to fit their political allegiances.To summarize my own position on the issue, when Jesus asks that his followers love God and their neighbors as themselves, I understand that my “neighbors” are everyone and that killing them is not likely to be what Jesus had in mind when it came to “loving” others. As such, I am confident concluding that capital punishment is completely inappropriate for people who value Christ more than their personal feelings and political dogma. As odd as it might seem, some Christians don’t see it this way. Read on.

And if you want some insight into why I vote Democratically, you might find my writing helpful here: Yes We Can (be Christians and Vote Democratically)!

As always, thank you for reading and participating!

-Corbin Lambeth

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About C_Lambeth

I currently live in the Pacific Northwest. I graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor's of Science and from George Fox Seminary (now Portland Seminary) with a Master's of Divinity. In addition to knowing Christ and helping others know him, I am passionate about peace, the environment, Christian feminism, justice for all (not just the wealthy) and being a lifelong learner. Please feel free to comment on any of the posts here or to suggest new posts altogether. Thank you for reading me! -CL
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30 Responses to Religion, Politics and the Death Penalty

  1. Matt L. says:

    Obama’s intelligence is widely known and written about. I find it interesting that among the remaining Republican candidates, two hold multiple graduate degrees (Romney, Santorum), one holds a Ph.D. (Gingrich), and one holds a medical degree (Paul). One of the most common ways to shut down a political discussion is to call that person’s intelligence into question. As long as either side can make a cogent argument based upon facts and data, I think it is harmful to shut down the other side by simply calling them “stupid”. Compare facts with facts, data sets with data sets, and the side that makes the best policy argument wins the most votes. As this article stated: “Hodson was quick to note that the despite the link found between low intelligence and social conservatism, the researchers aren’t implying that all liberals are brilliant and all conservatives stupid. The research is a study of averages over large groups, he said. “There are multiple examples of very bright conservatives and not-so-bright liberals, and many examples of very principled conservatives and very intolerant liberals,” Hodson said.

  2. Matt L. says:

    I will say this. This is strictly a personal observation. The more I read and learn about various subjects (chiefly history), the more liberal I become. In fact, I might as well trade in my GOP hat for an Obama hat because I cannot support Mitt Romney.

  3. Justin A. says:

    Matt: Are you sure about that? I’m not a built-in Romney fan, but ever since I heard Obama start speaking, I find how easy it is to see his naivete….especially in his foreign policy. You mean you aren’t seeing liberal spin on history? At all??

  4. C_Lambeth says:

    On a side note, in a recent issue of Christianity Today (a publication not known for a left-of-center voice), it reported that the more that Christians read their Bibles, the more politically “liberal” they become.
    -CL

  5. Justin A. says:

    A fundamental, anti-Kingdom problem with liberal thinking is that they seem to be all about freedom, hence their intense distaste for Bible-based rules and laws, however, in their zeal for total freedom, I have yet to see the other side of that coin in God’s eyes, which is responsibility. In fact, it seems clear from their own mouths that the effort to propagate their thinking means to let go of the rules and absolutely do not hold anyone to the real consequences of their decisions. Seems like this could possibly lead to a kind of anarchy. What do you think?

  6. C_Lambeth says:

    Justin, I am tempted to respond with some examples of the “fundamental” anti-Kingdom problems with extreme political Conservatism, but instead let me just say that there are problems on both sides of the political spectrum. The point that the Christianity Today article was making is that Jesus seemed to care more about people than economic, cultural and military power and prestige. In our current context, that sounds more like a left-of-center platform than its opposite. The issue of abortion is a classic example. Jesus seemed to care about the already-born as much as he (potentially) does about the unborn. If Democrats err on one side of this coin (and I affirm that they do), then Republicans err on the other.

    -CL

  7. Justin A. says:

    I will agree, for sure, that there are problems on each side, but I think it can be shown that, in general, the conservative side more closely resembles values of Christ. I think that the issues of economic, cultural and military power and prestige probably need to be pondered against the context in which they are exist to get the full impact of those things. As pertaining to the unborn, if we mention children and what Jesus said about protecting them from sin, then we might conclude that He was a bit more concerned for the more innocent and fragile ones than those who can make their own choices. How can the stain of the legal (and encouraged) murder of the unborn be fully calculated? The original article mentions “resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice” but does not tell us how they are defining ‘prejudice’. This seems pretty slippery if this term is anything like ‘tolerance’ and how that has come to mean anything but tolerance by the liberal side which often uses it. Anyway, while I acknowledge there are shortcomings on both sides, I’m not aware, at the moment, of anti-Kingdom problems with extreme political Conservatism, but I may have a blinder on. What would be the top 2 or 3 that come to mind for you, Corbin?

  8. C_Lambeth says:

    Apart from being against abortion, I see nothing in extreme Conservative politics that reflects Kingdom values. And contrary to your assertion, Jesus talks far more about the already born than he does the unborn. In fact, unless you buy into a hard-core Augustinian understanding of Original Sin, aborted fetuses seem to get a one-way ticket to heaven, whereas the inmate on death-row has something eternal to lose.

    As for the “context” of Conservative political worship (?) of economic and military might, I don’t think it matters. God warned Solomon to avoid chasing after wealth, entertainment and military power regardless of context. Why should we make excuses? And other categories: Immigration, healthcare, social programs, the environment… it seems that the Left does a far better job (but far from perfect) at reflecting Kingdom values for people more than the wealthy, powerful, popular and pretty.

    -CL

  9. Justin A. says:

    You may need to define what you mean by extreme Conservative politics. Some things that come to mind are: pro-life; anti-gay marriage; healthy criminal justice; pro-social responsibility (like being responsible for actions in relationships); pro-fiscal responsibility; pro-entrepreneurial capitalism. Do these oppose Scriptural values? If so, which ones, or maybe you have a different list. By downplaying abortion by claiming that murdered unborn babies have a one-way ticket to Heaven can hardly account for the repulsive injustice of someone simply making a ‘choice’ to murder the innocent. This would not be unlike saying that the Holocaust was not that big of a deal and Hitler had the right to make the choice he did against God’s chosen people, wouldn’t it? On another note, if we did not have the military power we do and there came along a bigger power like, say, China, what do you think would be the outcome? Do you think they would simply live a life of good will toward us? I don’t think so. Do you not think that the military power we do have helps keep people with bad intentions in check? For example, would Iran be a country to be trusted with such a powerful weapon as a nuclear bomb? Or, if the economic status suddenly changed and we no longer could buy Saudi (an ‘ally’) oil, do you think they would continue to be friendly with us just because? Seems like the presence of wealth has to be explored and sifted out. Wealth is not wholly condemned in Scripture, but the worship of money is. However, there are those who do not worship it, but have it. Either way, Scripture would support one voluntarily sharing or giving away their wealth above some sort of law system that demanded it. Would you agree?

  10. C_Lambeth says:

    Justin, it seems that you aren’t hearing me when I say that I am not an advocate of abortion. That being said, I am troubled by your eagerness to execute imperfect human justice by executing imperfect humans. Abortion is murder. So is capital punishment. There is no way around this. I happen to be against both because of my relationship with Christ. Like too many other Conservative types, I hear you not advocating for a truly pro-life position but merely one that is anti-abortion. This should not be. As for the rest of your post, I hear you saying: “In weapons we trust; In capitalism we trust; In money we trust.” Despite your arguments, these are not things that Christ asks us to trust in. Ironic that our currency claims that “In God We Trust,” no?

    -CL

  11. Justin A. says:

    Corbin, I wasn’t thinking that you are advocating abortion, but it seemed like the comment about murdered babies going to heaven didn’t accurately underlie the gravity of this crime, so that’s why I commented like I did. I’m super glad to hear that you do not advocate abortion. That being said, it hardly seems accurate to equate the willful murder of the innocent unborn to the execution of the criminal for a capital offense that was thoroughly investigated, albeit all who are involved were imperfect people. That shouldn’t shoot down the whole system, should it? My take on Scripture is that it paints very well that this is a physical, fallen world in need of a Savior. In that, people do very, very bad things for which there are consequences and when the initial crime is of a grave nature, then by that person choosing to do the crime (knowing that it can be punished by the death penalty) then that person also chooses the punishment and should therefore receive it. This is not a joyful position, mind you, but one of great sadness, first for the initial crime committed and then for the just punishment that must be yielded. It seems as if in this issue we would be wise to consider afresh the victims of the crime.

    As far as the rest of what you said, I don’t put primary trust in these things, however they do exist…with us or outside of us. Specifically, what would be your reasons to criticize weapons and capitalism and money? Let me say that I hope this discussion isn’t a burden to you. I enjoy them and for sure all is done in good nature realizing we are discussing ideas, not people, so it’s safe to throw the ideas around.

  12. C_Lambeth says:

    Capital punishment is murder, state-sponsored murder, but murder nonetheless. You attempt many justifications thereof (“thoroughly investigated” & “consequences”), but it doesn’t change the fact, and history has proven again and again that we oftentimes convict the not-guilty. The picture is even more suspect when we factor in the ethnicity and finances (or lack thereof) of the executed. Do you have any idea how many wealthy white people are executed in our nation? Maybe you simply believe that they/we are morally superior? And it is odd that you should mention the Old Testament, where eye-for-eye dominated. Can you not see that this makes the whole world blind (pun intended)?

    As for my criticisms of money/ capitalism and military might… I am amazed that you can’t see the problems with your trust in them vs. trust in God. I have a bank account, and I am thankful when our nation uses its military for good (which isn’t very often I’m afraid), but I do not trust in them. Sacrificing people and things that matter (like peace and our life-support system) just so we can line our wallets and then defend them is reprehensible and so far out of line with what Jesus taught that I am truly perplexed that so many Christians have let this love of financial empire cut-in on their walks with God.

    Don’t get me wrong, while I think a VERY strong case could be made that the early church was socialistic (maybe even communistic), I am very aware of the failings of those systems when they are forced on those who do not choose them. But if they fail because they pretend that greed does not exist, capitalism (and our war machine that defends it) fail because it pretends that greed is good. This is a catastrophic ignorance and failure to value what Jesus valued.

    -CL

  13. Justin A. says:

    Hey Corbin,
    Do you think that no small effort goes into an investigation of a serious capital crime? Do you believe that when someone chooses the crime knowing full well the consequences that they should not, in fact, be held responsible for their choice?

    As I understand, in this point, governments are ordained by God and have the right to punish the wrongdoer (even if the government is a tyrannical, persecutive one like the Roman government):

    Romans 13:1-4Let 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.

    –So, I would argue that since government has the right to punish the wrongdoer, it within their scope to take the life, or murder, the one who is guilty of murder. Like I said this is not a joyous occasion, but rather a sad one, both for the crime committed (thinking of the victim) and the price that should be paid (perhaps to prevent a repeat). Do you think it’s possible for the death penalty to be justice for a murder or multiple murders?

    We need to do some more number crunching [when it comes to convicting and executing the not-guilty]. I’ll totally agree that it’s a real shame when the innocent gets wrongly punished, however, I bet we could just as accurately say that history has proven again and again that we oftentimes convict the guilty, right? Also, we should factor in the additional crimes committed when someone guilty of a capital crime doesn’t get the death penalty, but eventually gets paroled and then kills again. Honestly, we cannot forget to think of the victims of the crimes. Don’t you think we should lean toward them? Seems like they often get forgotten.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Justin,
      I know that you have raised a host of issues, of which capital punishment is only one, but for the sake of reasonable conversation management, I must ask that we keep it to one topic at a time.

      Now, on to responding to your last post: Of course I recognize that much effort usually goes into criminal cases. Usually. Certainly there have been glosses and manipulated evidence as well, but the bottom line is that human justice is not only imperfect, but far from even being close. If my doubt in human legal systems’ fairness is my weakness, your overconfidence in them is yours.

      Your follow-up question, (“Do you believe that when someone chooses the crime knowing full well the consequences that they should not, in fact, be held responsible for their choice?”), is a logical fallacy called a “false dichotomy,” or “fallacy of the excluded middle,” which presumes only two possible outcomes. You argue that if the death penalty is not applied, then criminals must not be held accountable, but this is false and indicates that you misunderstand my position. Not only is the fallacy inapplicable to me, but neither do I know anyone who doesn’t want criminals to be held responsible for their action(s). I wonder how you came to such a position, but regardless, your question is a misleading caricature. The issue isn’t about holding perpetrators responsible in general but rather about God-honoring applications of authority in particular. The issue is about how we carryout justice, not how we ignore injustice.

      To be clear, I agree that criminals must be held accountable and prevented from continuing to murder etc., but in no way does this necessitate the death penalty. You rightly mentioned the possibility of repeat offenders if paroled, but again this does not require capital punishment as the only alternative. And as far as “justice” goes for the family members of victims, I don’t know if adding to the death-toll is healthy for them either when it comes to true Kingdom principles. Surely you can see that hatred and vengeance are as inappropriate for Jesus-following victims (and their families) as they are for the offending criminals. As per Luke 6:37 et al., Christians MUST forgive, but this does not mean we allow ourselves (or others) to be hurt by the offender again.

      So let’s talk about the passage in Romans that you quoted above. There are two things that need to be said here, the first of which is that I suspect you are being inconsistent in the application of this passage. Do you think that these verses only have “punishing wrongdoers” in mind, and if so, then why is that not stated or mentioned anywhere in verse 1 or 2? Alternatively, is this section in Romans intended to be a blank-check for human governments to do whatever they want, or is it only when they reflect God’s will that they are his “servants” and thus supported by the passage?

      When conflicts arise between the laws and decrees of human governments and those of God, are we not to follow God and scoff at human meddling? I have no doubt that you are hypercritical of our current President and “resist” government authorities that permit things which you abhor, but I must ask on what grounds do you do so? Our minds may gravitate to issues like abortion (something that we both seem to be opposed to), and I certainly think we are right to resist that on the basis that it does not honor Christ. But what you need to see is that the issue of capital punishment must be subject to the same rubric: It does not honor Christ, therefore we are obligated to oppose it. The willful taking of human life (unborn or already-born) is not the way of Jesus. More on that below, but if we want to cite Romans 13.1-4 in particular (or the Bible in general), we have to let it play on its own terms rather than trying to force it to support our own political agendas on specific issues while granting exceptions to others.

      If your general consistency is the first issue I must raise about your use of Romans 13 to support the general role of government, the second one is specifically about capital punishment. The text you cited is not about the death penalty per se, but rather about living in peace (rather than rebellion) with good governments that uphold justice. I can understand how a person who doesn’t understand Jesus might be persuaded that capital punishment is the responsibility of governments who function as “God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer,” but that is inapplicable to you and I if we take our faith seriously. If we read the context around this section of text, we discover in Romans 12:19-21 that Paul instructs Christians to “not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

      I think it is safe to say that we can call criminals our “enemies” in this case, at least “public enemies” if nothing else, so it would seem that exacting an “eye-for-eye” style of revenge is a clear violation of Scripture. When “Christians” push for capital punishment, they are essentially saying to God, “We don’t really trust that you will punish people sufficiently, so we’re going to take matters into our own hands.” And could it be that being “overcome with evil” means that we start playing by its rules and start acting as accessories to evil by carrying out evil instead of standing against it? Would not murdering those who murder fall into this category? What does murdering those who murder prove except that murdering is an acceptable way to handle certain situations? How can we feed, clothe and quench the thirst of our enemies if we merely kill them? Being a Jesus follower means living radically different than the rest of the world that does not know or follow him, but the death penalty is (human) business as usual.

      So far, we’ve merely quoted Paul in the immediate context of the text you tried to conscript for the death penalty, but when we look at Jesus, the case for capital punishment vanishes altogether. I can think of several instances where Jesus speaks against issues related to capital punishment and for themes of forgiveness and treating others well despite their failings, but rather than starting on a case for each of them, can you offer even one example where Jesus advocates murdering those who murder or even taking the life of an enemy in battle?

      Finally, you asked me if I “think it’s possible for the death penalty to be justice for a murder or multiple murders?” My answer is “No, absolutely not,” at least not when carried out by human hands and not when done by those who claim to follow Christ. The reason why is because of Jesus Christ. He said that if we have seen him, then we have seen the Father, and nowhere do I see Jesus advocating for the so-called “justice” that you seem to think capital punishment carries forth.

      To come full circle, when the issue of capital punishment surfaces, it seems that the political Left does better at reflecting Kingdom values than its Conservative political counterparts.

      I look forward to your reply, Justin.
      -Corbin

  14. Mandy P says:

    Thank you Corbin, for offering this pro-life point on the death penalty. It is a little funny that you posted it today: St. Valentine’s Day, a feast for a victim of capital punishment.

    Justin, like Corbin, I have to disagree with you on many points but since we are speaking about Capital Punishment I will stick to that topic. The way it is carried out in this country is very often unjust. Many of the individuals on death row are poor men of color. They can’t afford highly skilled attorneys. I could go more into the lack of justice that occur for capital punishment cases if you would like.

    Corbin hit the nail on the head regarding revenge. There are actually groups made up of family members/ friends of murder victims that are against the death penalty. Bill Pelke’s Grandmother was murdered and he now is very much involved with Journey of Hope, an organization for all murder victims (including those killed by the death penalty). http://www.journeyofhope.org/ is the website. He is against capital punishment because of his faith.

    Finally, of all people Christians should be appalled by the death penalty every time they look at a Crucifix Jesus is the most famous victim of Capital punishment carried out on an innocent victim. Our good Shepard, who advocated leaving behind the 99 to find the one lost sheep it would seem would advocate against Capital Punishment because of those innocent lives lost. Shouldn’t we get rid of the Death Penalty, a punishment that does not deter crime (punishment needs to be implemented immediately to be the most effective), because of our faith…our faith that God can touch any life at any time, even a criminal who is imprisoned for life? I am honestly much more compelled by folks like Sr. Helen Prejean, Bill Pelke, and John Deer than by any political candidate/ party. Sorry, I get really fired up about this topic and then stop making any sense so I’m going to stop there.

  15. Justin A. says:

    Sorry it’s taken so long for my response…I don’t have a lot of time to devote, but the journey through Scripture has been great, as always, and very clarifying. As we take a look at Scripture on this topic, I hope to read and accept it with the same heart of the writer of Psalm 119: 14-16 – “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. 16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (ESV)

    The question is whether the Bible supports the right of a state to punish a crime with a death penalty. I found some excellent websites that state things probably better than I will and I borrowed their material a bit. I’ll include the links so you may read further on this topic.
    
First of all, let’s look at what the Old Testament says about capital punishment.

    
Genesis 6:11-13
    God Himself exacts capital punishment through the Flood for the wickedness of man.
Just after the Flood, God says this to Noah (Gen. 9:5-6) “5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

    
God clearly takes the murder of humans seriously because they are bearers of His image. So, God sets up a pre-Mosaic law precedent that when someone commits murder, they are to be punished by the taking of their own life. So, a theme begins here that capital punishment is required for the crime of murder. Obviously, we would do well to echo God’s understanding that the punitive judicial action and the crime are very different, which I think it’s easy to see.

    After freeing the Israelite slaves (through capital punishment) God then begins to shape them as a nation and provides His perfect Law.

    
Exodus 21:12Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.”
    Leviticus 24:17 “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.

    Numbers 35:30, 33If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. 33 You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.

    Interestingly, verse 33 here says that land polluted by the blood of murder cannot have atonement made for it except by the blood of the one who shed it.

    [See also] Deuteronomy 19: 11-13, 15, 18-19
    [In these Deuteronomy verses] God even gives the procedure as to how many witnesses are needed in order to prevent a maligning of the system. And if a witness is lying to use the system improperly, then he gets the same punishment he sought for his brother. So, we can see that God commanded people not to murder, but then gave direction in all 5 books of the Pentateuch of how they should be punished if they do commit murder. It must follow that God saw murder and the capital punishment for murder as wholly different OR He contradicted Himself, which is not possible.

    Not only did He give the capital punishment for murder, He also commanded (not recommended) that capital punishment occur. To do otherwise would have been disobeying God. Clearly, then God gave the right of capital punishment to the state (Israel’s nascent government after freedom from slavery) and this is most definitely what readers of the original text would have understood. Notably, there are many other instances when life was taken as a punishment…sometimes by God directly or sometimes by people as directed by God.

    From here, the question is, “Does the New Testament teach that the well-established Old Testament right of the state for capital punishment has been removed?”
As we look at Scriptural examples, we should keep in mind what Jesus said about the unity between Him and the Father:

    John 5:19-20 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

    John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”
    John 12:49 “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.”

    
So, Jesus’ messages must be in unity with the Father. To say that Jesus took away the right of the state to punish murders via capital punishment would challenge the unity spoken of by Jesus.

    Some people think that Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery removes the right of the state to punish via capital punishment. Actually, that’s not the case at all.

    
[See] John 8:1-11
    
Interestingly, Jesus is put to the test [in John 8:1-11]. If he defies Mosaic law then He discredits who He says He is and therefore His entire ministry and His connection to the Father. However, this is simply a test by misguided scribes and Pharisees who are not really interested in justice. So, Jesus satisfies both the Law and the mockery of justice. He, in fact, affirms capital punishment, here, but provides mercy in this case of mockery and when the man involved was not brought with her as should have happened.

    
Jesus said something interesting about the law in Matthew 5:17-18Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

    
Not abolishing the law would mean that punishment for murder would remain. 
He also said something interesting in verses 21-22You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

    
So, here He raised the bar of who deserves judgment to the level of the thought life. Then, He says that anyone who insults another image bearer with ‘You fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire. This would be a very strange, out of place phrase if He opposed capital punishment.

    
When Jesus, Himself was about to face the death penalty what better time would it have been to denounce the whole affair? However, He did not denounce the right of the state to capital punishment, but affirmed that it was a right from above in John 19:10-11.

    Clearly, Pilate was misusing the power of capital punishment because he was about to crucify an innocent man, but he was not, in general, misusing the power ‘from above’ for capital punishment. Jesus clearly tells him where the power of the state (Roman state, here) for capital punishment comes from.

    
Here is a quote from one of the main articles I read because I cannot say it better, “As Clark University Professor Michael Pakaluk so perfectly expressed the point, “If no crime deserves the death penalty, then it is hard to see why it was fitting that Christ be put to death for our sins….” If we didn’t deserve the death penalty ourselves, then why would Christ need to suffer it on our behalf in order to satisfy the justice of God? Denying the death penalty directly assaults the justice of the Father—the One who required His own Son to pay precisely that price in our stead.

    Finally, but not exhaustively, Paul gives Christians some wise counsel when it comes to authorities in Romans 13:

    Paul says that governing authorities are from God. It does not say that Paul is referring to righteous authorities, but any authority. Paul lived under unrighteous Roman rule, so we must conclude that even bad governments are God’s avenger on the evil. In fact, there were no righteous governments in Paul’s day. The Jews didn’t really have a government beyond some very limited powers. All was subjected to Rome. So, Paul confirms the right of the state to carry out capital punishment by saying ‘he does not bear the sword in vain’. The warning would be for Christians not to be fooled into thinking that if they broke the law they would not somehow be subjected to the same punishment that every other citizen would be subjected to. And, if we live with good conduct, then there is no threat.

    In conclusion we can see very clearly that the Old Testament demands capital punishment for murder (and other crimes) and that the governing authority has this right. We can also see that this pre-Mosaic Law right has not been removed. Instead, it is fully supported in the New Testament verifying the unity that Jesus said He had (and in fact does have) with the Father. Through this we see a very important lesson in that we are commanded to forgive those who sin against us, but that most definitely does not equate to the offender being absolved of the punishment they may be due from the state. We, as Christians, can aggressively advocate for forgiveness AND advocate for earthly, physical justice at the same time without having a vengeful heart. God reminds us in fact in a verse above that to not punish a murder with capital punishment leaves a stain on the land. Pretty strong words of His for sure.

    For some additional reading:
Bible and the death penalty (http://www.justiceblind.com/death/johnson.htm)
    
Capital Punishment in the Bible (http://focusmagazine.org/Articles/capitalpun.htm)
    
Does the Old Testament Affirm Capital Punishment? (http://www.crosswalk.com/news/does-anything-in-the-old-testament-affirm-capital-punishment-11574674.html)
    
Did Jesus Support Capital Punishment? (http://www.crosswalk.com/news/did-jesus-support-capital-punishment-11575216.html)

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Justin, I apologize, but it seems that you have misunderstood my argument again. You stated that, “The question is whether the Bible supports the right of a state to punish a crime with a death penalty.” But this is not the issue at all. The actual question is if killing killers is something that legitimate Jesus-followers ought to support or resist. As such, most of your defending the “rights of the state” is irrelevant to the question. You mention that neither Paul nor Jesus denounced the practice of capital punishment itself, but this cannot be used as evidence for their enthusiasm for the practice. It also fails to consider several things, not the least of which is that it was neither man’s purpose to take on the state itself (or its legal codes). Would you rather Jesus have been a political figure? Secondly, neither Jesus nor Paul condemned other practices afoot in the Roman Empire that all Christians today recognize as evil and outmoded because of Jesus and the trajectory of what following him means in new contexts and situations. Slavery comes to mind. Would you argue that slavery is a right of nations that honors Christ and should be protected and exercised today?

      I must confess that I am disappointed you have ignored almost everything I wrote to you in my previous post regarding Romans 13 (the context of Rom. 12:19-21 in particular). Nevertheless, what I have been able to glean from your latest post is that you do in fact believe these verses are only about punishing wrongdoers, that governments do indeed have a blank-check from God to do whatever they like, and that human allegiance is not bound foremost to God, but rather to whatever their respective governments declare legal. Do I have that right? Please offer a corrective on anything I have misunderstood here.

      I am also dissatisfied that you merely cut and pasted or paraphrased the majority of your last post, culling large sections of text straight out of the articles you listed. I am very aware of how conservative politics has handed Christ his hat on this issue, but I am far more interested if you have any original thoughts on the issue. I encourage you to be as independent as possible in your posts.

      In the meantime let me say that I agree with you that God takes murder very seriously and clearly authorizes the use of capital punishment in the first covenant he established with Israel. We actually have nothing to argue about on that front. As you have said, that “theme” began in the old covenant. Somewhat alarmingly however, what you seem to be ignoring is that the previous covenant was radically altered by, through, and in Christ. Are you aware that God established a new covenant through Jesus? Previously, I believed that I knew how you would answer this question, but given your recent writing I am not so sure anymore, and at this point my question cannot be merely rhetorical. Before I respond to the rest of your previous post and continue the dialog, I must ask what significance you think Jesus brought to the relationship between God and humanity, particularly as it pertains to the first covenant?

      I look forward to your reply to these questions, Justin.
      -Corbin

  16. Justin A. says:

    –Ok, the question is whether legitimate Jesus followers ought to support capital punishment as a just punishment for murders. My answer, based on the Biblical stand that God, Himself takes this seriously and has stated that this is to be the state punishment has not been changed through any New Testament verses as I think I have shown in my previous post. So, in letting the verses speak to me and trying not to read into them, my answer is, Yes, this is absolutely legitimate based on Biblical precedent.

    –However, you seem to think that this sort of punishment somehow negates Jesus command of not to take eye for eye or tooth for tooth, but turn the other cheek and love the enemy. Is that true? Do you see state punishment of the murder with capital punishment as violating what Jesus said? I do not see it as a conflict, because God sees a difference between individual to individual behaviors and state behaviors, like punishment. This must be true or God has contradicted Himself. Do you, Corbin, see this difference? So, again, taking the cue from Him in His Word, yes, I, as a Jesus Follower support the judicial capital punishment for murder and I am certain that I am in line with Scripture.

    –Do you think that a person can forgive the guilty in their heart, and yet advocate for the right punishment? What are your thoughts on the separation of the heart level forgiveness verses justice?

    You said: “As such, most of your defending the “rights of the state” is irrelevant to the question. You mention that neither Paul nor Jesus denounced the practice of capital punishment itself, but this cannot be used as evidence for their enthusiasm for the practice.

    –Well this would be the clearest indication we have of what they thought. Don’t those verses clearly communicate that they simply accepted that the state has this right, whether it is used in a perfectly just way or not? I believe given the verses and the context themselves, it’s super clear. As far as defending the rights of the state, did I not repeat what was written?

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Yes Justin, I can see the distinction you are trying to make between the crime and the punishment. Admittedly, that has been helpful, but within the context of Christ-followership, the difference is still irrelevant. You seem to be willing to grant flawed legal systems and governments an exemption from what Jesus taught in Matthew 5 because of your esteem for the Old Covenant and what I suggest is a misapplication of Romans 13. The fact remains that Jesus did NOT say: You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. And if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; unless you are the government, then you must execute whomever your particular laws say you can.

      Yet this is precisely what you are arguing for. I understand that you want to differentiate between individuals and the “state.” But for all your investment in the “law and the prophets,” I would think that you’d know that God does indeed judge nations at least as much (or more) than specific individuals in the OT, and nowhere is this more apropos than with democracies. The old adage holds true here as well: What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I don’t understand how you can miss the double-mindedness of saying it honors Jesus for the state to carry out executions, while saying that it is sinful for individuals.

      You say that you are “certain that you are in-line with Scripture,” but I have to ask if this certainty precludes any possibility that your stance on the issue might change. Are you willing to consider that maybe you’ve gotten things wrong in your esteem for the Old Covenant? If your politics are challenged by Jesus, which (or who) will you choose? You may ask me the same, so I will tell you ahead of time: yes, I am open to the possibility that I don’t know it all; and yes, I will follow Jesus before I follow my political affinities. I hope that all Christians will.

      Next, you asked me if I, “think a person can forgive the guilty in their heart, and yet advocate for the right punishment?” My answer is: Of course I do, because yet again the issue is not about ignoring justice but rather Christ-honoring justice. I do hope you will quit framing the discussion in terms of this false dichotomy wherein one has to choose between the death penalty or nothing.

      But let’s talk about forgiveness for a moment. According to the Bible, it means that you hold no grudge and even desire good things for the one who offended you. This doesn’t mean that you allow yourself to be hurt by them again, but neither does it require that you have them killed. Your misplaced enthusiasm for capital punishment violates the type of forgiveness that Jesus advocated in general (and in particular in Matt. 5.44 & Luke 6.28). Since you asked about my personal feelings on the issue, I have to tell you how I consider those who have wronged me. If they repent and Christ covers them with his blood, then who am I to hold a grudge or try to punish them? Alternatively, if they refuse to repent and reject Christ, then any punishment I (or my government) might hand down will be absolutely pathetic to the loss they will experience once they’re eternally separated from God. Either way, as per Romans 12.9, it is God’s role to avenge, not mine (nor even the state’s).

      You then refer to Jesus’ and Paul’s lack of denouncing the death penalty as “the clearest indication of what they thought.” This boggles the mind if applied to Jesus because it is an argument constructed completely from silence. Your earlier enlistment of John 8 (the woman caught in adultery) is equally head-spinning. In that passage Jesus refuses to let the Pharisees carryout their misunderstanding of judgment by exacting capital punishment on the woman, yet somehow you have come to believe that this proves his affirmation of the practice. I don’t get it. Clearly Romans 13 allows for some disagreement regarding the issue, but your attempts at enlisting Jesus for your cause are insufficient. I’ll get to the misapplied implications of his unity with the Father in a later post, but for now let me say that not speaking out against something is not the same as approving it.

      Finally, you say that the verses you used and their context are “super clear,” but you overstate the case. The argument you have made hinges on a single verse in Romans 13, the incomplete covenant of Torah and the total silence of Jesus on the issue. Your argument also requires that we ignore much of what Jesus actually said (not to mention what other authors in the biblical text have written).

      As a minor point of contention, you did not merely “repeat what was written.” Just like you are doing now, you added many of your own conclusions and opinions to what Scripture has said. This isn’t wrong of its own accord. Everyone does it out of necessity, but you sound as if you might not be aware of the difference. What I mean is that there is what the Bible says, and there is what people SAY it says, and these are not always the same. I hope you don’t lose that important distinction.

      -CL

  17. Justin A. says:

    You said: “[Your enlisting Jesus’ and Paul’s silence as affirmation of the death penalty] also fails to consider several things, not the least of which is that it was neither man’s purpose to take on the state itself (or its legal codes). Would you rather Jesus have been a political figure?

    –I think He did fine expanding the eternal Kingdom as He did it. It sounds like you are putting words in my mouth about this. Please don’t. I’m simply trying to let Scripture speak to me outside of/independent of what aspects of our culture might think….to the best degree that I can.

    You said:Secondly, neither Jesus nor Paul condemned other practices afoot in the Roman Empire that all Christians today recognize as evil and outmoded because of Jesus and the trajectory of what following him means in new contexts and situations. Slavery comes to mind. Would you argue that slavery is a right of nations that honors Christ and should be protected and exercised today?

    –I didn’t realize we were talking about slavery. I thought the main topic was judicial capital punishment. That being said, I would encourage the same thing that Scriptures do. And that is that slaves who become believers should serve their masters as if they were serving Christ. Masters should treat their slaves in love as a brother. If a slave can get his freedom, then he should. I believe these are the basic ideas in Scripture, aren’t they? Seems like the infusion of the Spirit in a population would cause a natural dying out of slavery, wouldn’t it?

    • C_Lambeth says:

      I am not putting words in your mouth at all. I asked a question because of the clear implications of where your argument leads. First you reasoned that Jesus and Paul approved capital punishment merely because they did not denounce it. While this is a stretch on its own, I suggested that they did not speak out against the practice because it would have been a political move, clearly outside of their mission. Now you readjust and admit that Jesus came not as a political messiah (but to preach the Kingdom), and you protest my insinuation that you wanted to make Jesus a political figure on the issue of capital punishment. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t very well say that Jesus endorsed the state’s right to exercise capital punishment without making him a political figure. I realize that, like Paul in Rom. 13, Jesus affirmed that Pilate would have no authority over him were it not for the Father, but also like Paul in Romans 13, this does not constitute a blank-check approval for whatever Pilate or the Roman government does. The bestowal of authority is completely separate from the ethical application thereof. Stated another way, God’s giving authority does not guaranty that such authority will be used in accordance with his will.

      Perhaps you are tempted to turn this argument around and suggest that I am trying to make Jesus a political figure by claiming that he was/is against capital punishment, but the difference between our positions can be highlighted on the issue of slavery (thankfully, like abortion, something you and I both acknowledge as not what Jesus-followers should engage in). I first said to you that the trajectory of following Jesus has implications for new contexts and situations that were not specifically addressed by him in the Bible. Surely Christian opposition to things like slavery and abortion fall into this category. In a particularly brilliant moment you replied with: “Seems like the infusion of the Spirit in a population would cause a natural dying out of slavery, wouldn’t it?

      Yes, Justin!This is exactly what an infusion of the Spirit should bring in people who are committed to Jesus! The Spirit leads Christ-followers into Christ-following positions on issues that Jesus did not specifically address in the NT! Don’t dismiss this. This is the key for helping you move towards Christ on this issue. The infusion of the Holy Spirit should invariably lead legitimate Christ-followers to protest condemnation, vengeance and death wherever they find it, whether carried out by individuals, governments or any other entity.

      The insight you have come to on the issue of slavery is nothing short of the admission that what is technically “legal” or a “right” for a nation’s governance, is not necessarily Christ-honoring and when it isn’t, it should therefore be opposed. This undercuts the argument that Jesus must have affirmed capital punishment merely because he did not denounce it. It also demonstrates that governments “established by God” can indeed go wrong and should therefore be opposed whenever they do by Christians out of allegiance to God rather (than fallen humanity). As per Romans 13, this doesn’t give Christians a blank-check to violate the law or burn this mother down any more than it does the state, but it does call them to oppose the anti-Christ practice in whatever ways they can in ways that also honor Jesus.

      This is the linchpin for our discussion. Capital punishment should be legally opposed by Christians, not because it is illegal for all nations to engage in, but because it does not honor the person and teachings of Jesus Christ or the trajectory of the New Testament and New Covenant. It really is that simple. To be doubly clear, this does not overturn Rom. 13 at all, for as you stated, “The warning would be for Christians not to be fooled into thinking that if they broke the law they would not somehow be subjected to the same punishment that every other citizen would be subjected to.” Here again you have it exactly right. If the Rom. 13 passage is not a blank-check for Christians to do whatever they want, then neither is it a free-pass for governments nor a blind affirmation of the death penalty, nor even a command that Christians passively accept anything from their government without batting an eye. It IS a passage extolling Christians to be civil in their pursuit of Christ. It IS a sober warning that following God is not an excuse to ignore good governance. The entire section of text is about the responsibilities of believers, not the rights of the state. It’s written to Christians, not the Roman senate.

      More on that later, but first let me respond to your other claim that you’re merely trying to let Scripture speak to you independently of what our culture says and thinks. I am glad that this is your desire, but the irony is that you are not thinking outside that box at all. In fact, you seem to have let your political culture dictate your theology on this issue. As far as I know, the majority of U.S. citizens support the death penalty. It is a large part of your Republican political subculture as well. This alone doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but neither does it mean it’s good or moral. What is clear though is that the death-penalty is not counter-cultural at all. Indeed, the world demands blood for blood, life for life, eye for eye and tooth for tooth… but not Jesus. Other than inadvertently trying to circumvent the covenant that Jesus established by misapplying his unity with the Father, you have yet to provide a single instance where he says its okay to take life for life, eye for eye etc. Does this not get your attention? Have you even considered the possibility that your enthusiasm for capital punishment has more to do with your politics and vengeful/ fallen/ what-seems-right-to-a-man nature than it does with what Jesus said and did and who he is? Could it be that you search the Scriptures to support your political position rather than searching them to find God’s heart? Is Jesus not the full, complete and superior revelation of God as God himself? Do you not think it is more prudent to emulate Jesus than the Pentateuch? You are not my enemy, Justin, and I am sorry if I appear to be gruff at times. At the bottom of it all, it is the desire to be a disciple of Christ and help point others in the right direction that motivates me here. If you are convinced that you’re following God on this issue, then know that I feel the same way about the conclusions I see in the person of Jesus.

      -CL

  18. Justin A. says:

    You said:I must confess that I am disappointed you have ignored almost everything I wrote to you in my previous post regarding Romans 13 (the context of Rom. 12:19-21 in particular).

    –Not sure if this will help or not, but upon rereading Romans 12 and 13, I think it is masterfully written. In Chapter 12, we are instructed how to live as lovers of Jesus in terms of our behavior with one another even with those who would make themselves our enemies. This is clear and awesome and most certainly is cultural transforming. AND, in chapter 13, we are reminded that (although we gain a new identity in Christ) we live under the (temporal) power of local governments. Are we not told that everyone is subject to them? Are we not, also, warned that those who do things deserving of state punishments, that they should, in fact, be ready to withstand those punishments? Are we not told that these authorities are God’s servants who even bear the sword?

    –I’m not sure what you are seeing or not seeing here, but if we follow Chapter 12 well, then our runins with the local government should be minimal, at best, and at most should contribute to the transformation of our local culture. However, should we (or anyone else) choose to break those rules, then we should be ready to receive the punishment that would go with the infraction. What do you think I am missing here?

    You said:Nevertheless, what I have been able to glean from your latest post is that you do in fact believe these verses are only about punishing wrongdoers, that governments do indeed have a blank-check from God to do whatever they like, and that human allegiance is not bound foremost to God, but rather to whatever their respective governments declare legal. Do I have that right?

    –No, I don’t think you have it right. Does my explanation above help? I never said anything about a blank check. What do you mean? I cannot argue that the state doesn’t have the right from God to punish the wrongdoer, however as they might misuse this right, I can’t imagine that they won’t also have eternal punishment to deal with. As far as human allegiance not being bound foremost to God, you make a very incorrect assumption here. Frankly, I’m surprised you would even suggest this.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Justin, regarding your first paragraph, on the one-hand you can see that the gospel is culturally transforming, but then you default back to giving the state a blank-check rather than seeking to transform it as well. Why do you automatically exempt the state from being transformed with the rest of culture?

      I’m glad that I don’t have your position quite right yet, but it seems that you are being inconsistent. You asked me what I think you’re missing here, and it is this: You are missing the non-negotiable part where Jesus-followers resist the status quo and seek to bring everything under the leadership of Christ. I simply don’t understand what you mean when you say that, “our runins [sic] with the local government should be minimal, at best, and at most should contribute to the transformation of our local culture.” Should not Christ transform them both through his people? Can you please elaborate?

      Now I know that you object to this “blank check” that I keep mentioning, but it is clearly where your argument leads. You refuse to make any distinction in Romans 13 between “good” governments and “evil” ones, preferring instead to believe that it is for all governments at all times in all places regardless of whether they share God’s values. Here’s what you wrote: “Paul says that governing authorities are from God. It does not say that Paul is referring to righteous authorities, but any authority.” And in the very next sentence you say, “…we must conclude that even bad governments are God’s avenger on the evil.

      First of all, this fails to consider what the text itself tells us about the governments that qualify for this verse, namely, ones where “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (NRSV). Surely you are aware that not all governments have upheld such standards, or maybe you believe that Hitler’s systemic genocide against Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals and communists was God acting as “avenger on the evil”? That’s just one example. Perhaps a more up to date showpiece is the systemic persecution of Christians by governments like those of China, Pakistan and several nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Would you have me believe that these governments are merely carrying out God’s will and avenging evil? Are Christians who witness such abuses of authority NOT called to resist, challenge and transform such policies and practices? Not according to your argument for Romans 13.

      Whether you like it or not, your argument clearly indicates that whatever it is that governments do, because they are established by God, it is always God’s will and they are merely acting as his arm. This sounds an awful lot like a blank-check to me. This is a problem and fails to consider the majority of Scripture (like Acts 4:17-21) where people are called only to tolerate the government so long as it does not resist the will of God.

      As I said in a much earlier post, you are also being inconsistent on the issue because you are permissive on the government’s use of the death penalty on legal adults, but this does not stop you from opposing abortion et al. even though this too is an established right of the state. How can you interpret God’s “establishing governments” out of both sides of your mouth like this? Given your objection to the “blank-check” metaphor, it seems that you want to play with special rules for your political position at the expense of everything else your doctrine must let in the door with it. If, as you say, we need not make any distinction between “good” and “bad” governments, and if “we must conclude that even bad governments are God’s avenger on the evil,” then on what grounds do you oppose abortion, or universal healthcare coverage, or why do you feel it necessary to vote against a certain U.S. President this fall? Are not all these things established by God? Do you not want to honor Romans 13 or what Jesus said to Pilate before the cross? You simply cannot have it both ways.

      -CL

  19. Justin A. says:

    You said:Please offer a corrective on anything I have misunderstood here. I am also dissatisfied that you merely cut and pasted or paraphrased the majority of your last post, culling large sections of text straight out of the articles you listed. I am very aware of how conservative politics has handed Christ his hat on this issue, but I am far more interested if you have any original thoughts on the issue. I encourage you to be as independent as possible in your posts.

    –Thanks for the encouragement to be independent. Although I did rely on articles written better than I can, I absolutely concur…only because they simply allow Scripture to speak what it says. So, your accusation that I didn’t have any original thoughts is kind of insulting. Is that what you meant to communicate?

    –So, it seems that a sticky point has to do with how an ungodly government carries out punishment given that it’s written that they have this right to punish the wrongdoer from God, Himself. Is that a correct statement? If not, please tell me what you think about this scenario. If true, then how do you deal with the idea that God Himself used very ungodly people (Assyrians and Babylonians, for example) to carry out physical, brutal punishments on His behalf?

    You said:In the meantime let me say that I agree with you that God takes murder very seriously and clearly authorizes the use of capital punishment in the first covenant he established with Israel. We actually have nothing to argue about on that front. As you have said, that “theme” began in the old covenant.

    –We agree, however, specifically for murder it started before the Mosaic covenant in Genesis.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      I apologize, Justin. I am not trying to be insulting. It just seemed that you leaned too heavily on other people’s thinking rather than doing your own. While I protest your conviction that the articles you pasted from “…simply allow Scripture to speak what it says,” I am glad that you are taking a different track. Nevertheless, I ask that you try and see the various authors’ interpretive efforts and biases as they are. It sounds as if you believe they have none.

      You asked me if you made a correct statement by claiming that even ungodly governments have the right to punish wrongdoers. So, yes, I think this is correct, but what I want you to see is that I have never argued against this. That is the first mistake that you make use of again and again. PLEASE: The question is not punishment in general, but capital punishment in particular. Insofar as you have gone here with “punishment” yes, this is correct.

      However, in response to your question about the Assyrians and Babylonians (“…how do you deal with the idea that God Himself used very ungodly people -Assyrians and Babylonians, for example- to carry out physical, brutal punishments on His behalf?”), the mistake you are tacitly making is three-fold. First, you are presuming that the “death penalty” is synonymous with war. I see that they are related, but they are not the same thing, so your example confuses the issue at hand more than it clarifies. Secondly, it is only God who can give and take life of his own accord. Just because he uses people to do this in one instance, it does not follow that he does so in all instances. If you argue otherwise, we are back to the blank-check problem. Thirdly, your implication is that the wars of the Assyrians and Babylonians themselves were good. They weren’t good; Israel was judged (not individuals), and many children (and undoubtedly pregnant mothers) died in the process. God nevertheless permitted it to serve his revised purposes in this particular case, but it doesn’t mean he would have preferred things to be different. Perhaps you are tempted to say the same thing to me about current manifestations of the death penalty, but that leads back to the second mistake highlighted in this paragraph, namely, that because God allowed evil people and evil actions to fulfill his warnings to Israel here, he must similarly use ALL evil actions as an extension of his will in ALL other times and places.

      Finally, you tried to amend my statement about the punishment for murder in the Pentateuch, by claiming God’s command to execute offenders preceded the Mosaic Covenant: “[capital punishment] started before the Mosaic covenant in Genesis.

      I am not sure what your point is here, but I suspect it is once again irrelevant. Even if we were Jews and denied that Jesus is both the messiah and that he “completed” the law and the prophets, it does not change the fact that God’s first handling of murder was not with the death penalty at all. According to Genesis 4:8-16, banishment is the punishment God selected for Cain’s murder of Able, and this precedes the pre-Mosaic punishment for murder that you seem to esteem so much. It would seem that maybe God is not as consistent as you previously thought, no?

      -CL

  20. Justin A. says:

    You said:Somewhat alarmingly however, what you seem to be ignoring is that the previous covenant was radically altered by, through, and in Christ. Are you aware that God established a new covenant through Jesus?

    –Yes, I’m aware of this. Are you aware that Jesus said He didn’t come to change even one letter of the law? What explanation do you have for that? How would you characterize the previous covenant being ‘radically altered by, through, and in Christ’?

    You said:Previously, I believed that I knew how you would answer this question, but given your recent writing I am not so sure anymore, and at this point my question cannot be merely rhetorical. Before I respond to the rest of your previous post and continue the dialog, I must ask what significance you think Jesus brought to the relationship between God and humanity, particularly as it pertains to the first covenant?

    –Jesus became the final Sacrifice for sins. The punishments that we all deserve (like capital punishment) for our sins were taken by Him, upon His body and God accepted this. Jesus is the only way that Justice and Forgiveness can occur for us, fallen people. He fulfilled the first covenant, the law, like no one else. For everything that the law was intended to do, it was fulfilled in Him, specifically only He can both help us to not sin and even to help us remove the desire for sin. He raised the bar of at least some of the requirements of the law making more of us guilty, but makin His grace all the sweeter.

    –You stated that, “The question is [not] whether the Bible supports the right of a state to punish a crime with a death penalty. The actual question is if killing killers is something that legitimate Jesus-followers ought to support or resist.”

    –My question for you is whether the answer to the second question as you pose it contradicts the answer to the first (as my previous post established). If I think that killing murderers is NOT something that legitimate Jesus-followers ought to support, then am I not in conflict with the idea that the Bible supports this? I submit that they are in conflict and need to be resolved.

  21. C_Lambeth says:

    Justin, I am going to respond to your post above in reverse order, with the last first. Whether the early parts of the Bible support the right of a state to execute people in general is immaterial because of what Jesus says in particular. The Bible says a lot of things (many of which I suspect that you completely ignore), and others of which do, in fact, contradict each other. We don’t hear God saying and doing the same things in the New Testament as he did in the Old Testament. However, what we DO have is a clear progression of God doing whatever it takes to meet humanity and redeem it and to help fashion it into the kind of people that are truly his. His character does not change, but clearly his approach to humanity undulates and has many twists and turns as well as proactive and reactive alterations. Admittedly, his advocacy of killing killers was mandated at various points in the biblical text, but it is now outmoded in Christ in the new covenant. As the supreme revelation of God, Jesus must be the focal point on how we are to treat others, friends or foes. In Matthew 22:37-40 he tells us that the greatest commands are that we love God first and others as ourselves. He makes no exceptions or distinctions about individuals or nations, and it is difficult indeed to imagine that loving others as we love ourselves means that we want to kill them.

    So, if you still need an answer to your question about my understanding of Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:17, I will provide it in depth after you answer my first one to you on the topic: “Before I [Corbin] respond to the rest of your previous post and continue the dialog, I must ask what significance you think Jesus brought to the relationship between God and humanity, particularly as it pertains to the first covenant?” I think I know what you might say, but please explain it so I won’t be accused of putting words in your mouth again.

    As for the rest of your post above, it seems that “cognitive dissonance” is the only label that comes to mind. I agree with you when you say that, “Jesus became the final Sacrifice for sins. The punishments that we all deserve (like capital punishment) for our sins were taken by Him… .” In fact, that entire paragraph is wonderful, but it begs the question: If the law and the prophets have been completed, why do you require that we act as if they have not been? Why do you reference Numbers 35:33 in support of your position and talk as if the blood of animals and sinful humans has the power to take away sins and satisfy justice? Until you tell me what alterations (if any) Jesus brought to the Old Covenant, I’m afraid I can’t make heads or tails about your seemingly duplicitous position.

    I look forward to your reply.
    -CL

  22. Justin says:

    Corbin, sorry for the much-delayed response. I’m glad for the correspondence we’ve had outside of the blog we had a while back. I think it was good. I’m going to try to write my response as frankly and honestly as I can but with as much respect as I can, too.

    My response should be quite a bit shorter than your last response, mainly for 2 reasons. The first one is that I think there is a very important point that we disagree on that I think undergirds a lot of what you have written. The second reason is that, honestly, a lot of your comments were based on assumptions put on me that took away from the discussion. I’m most interested in what Scriptures say. I’m hoping with our agreement to be civil, that any further comments will be free of this element.

    The bottom line is that I fundamentally rely on the Scriptures that I presented earlier. You mentioned in a FB post that….well, here’s a couple of statements. “Justin, this is exactly the issue: We do not simply ‘let the Scriptures speak as they are.’ You and I do not disagree in the least about what the Bible says. We disagree about what it means.

    Yes, I think we are disagreeing about what it means. Then, you said, “If [it were true that they speak on their own without interpretation], Justin, all you would do is quote Scripture at me. The proof is in the pudding though, for you have gone way beyond merely reciting Bible verses to me. You have drenched it with your own rationale, commentary and interpretive efforts.” However I maintain that the verses that we are given that I listed are actually very clear and that the commentary I’ve added (going with your thought) is in line with the meaning, not in opposition to the meaning.

    Here is the trail:
    Old Testament:
    Gen. 9:5-6
    Exodus 21:12
    
Leviticus 24:17
    
Numbers 35:30, 33
    Deuteronomy 19: 11-13

    New Testament:
    John 5:19-20
    
John 10:30
    
John 12:49
    Acts 25:10-11
    John 19:10-11
    Romans 13:1-7

    The theme of retributive justice in the form of capital punishment is undeniable in the OT Scriptures quoted. Along with that is a clear distinction between the lawless act and the rightful punishment for the act.

    Corbin said:Yes Justin, I can see the distinction you are trying to make between the crime and the punishment. Admittedly, that has been helpful, but within the context of Christ-followership, the difference is still irrelevant.

    Here is I think a fundamental element to your position…..that there is no difference between the crime and the punishment. I totally disagree and so does Scripture. This is clear. If there is no difference between the crime and the punishment, then where does that take us, really?

    Corbin said:You seem to be willing to grant flawed legal systems and governments an exemption from what Jesus taught in Matthew 5 because of your esteem for the Old Covenant and what I suggest is a misapplication of Romans 13.

    Yes, I absolutely have a very high esteem for the Old Covenant. In the spirit of Psalm 19, I think it’s a treasure. If governments have no ‘exemption’ as you say from Matthew 5, then…
    [Side note: Matthew 5 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.–Interesting wording Jesus gives regarding the commandments.]…the government cannot murder (kill an innocent person/radically different from rightful punishment); cannot lust, divorce, make oaths, cannot resist an evil person, and must love their enemies.

    So, holding to this thought (no difference between the individual and the state) then the state could never incarcerate a person nor could they even levy a fine because that would be a retaliation and/or it would be resisting the evil person if they did not want to pay the fine or go to jail. If we throw in the 1 Corinthians 13 description of love (no distinction between the individual and the state) the state could never make a demand of any kind because that would mean it would, “insist on its own way” which is out-of-bounds for the love we are called to.

    Corbin said:Next, you asked me if I, “think a person can forgive the guilty in their heart, and yet advocate for the right punishment?” My answer is: Of course I do, because yet again the issue is not about ignoring justice but rather Christ-honoring justice. I do hope you will quit framing the discussion in terms of this false dichotomy wherein one has to choose between the death penalty or nothing.

    How could there be punishment of any kind that satisfies Matthew 5? (or 7?) I’m sorry, but when you said that there was no difference between the crime and the punishment, the individual and the state, this led to the dichotomy. Ultimately, then, there would simply be no place for a government of almost any kind. Certainly, good or bad, they would not be able to “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer”, thereby contradicting OT themes and NT themes, specifically Romans 13. That would point to anarchy as the only way to mechanically come close to satisfying Scripture if there is no distinction between the individual and the state. Personally, I think that anarchy would be worse than even a bad government. If I wanted try that out, I could go to Somalia, the country closest to anarchy that we have.

    So, for me, as I’ve tried to show here and even from the beginning, the Scriptures teach that there is a difference between individual and state (crime and punishment) allowing for continuity of the OT themes on judicial capital punishment into the NT era as well. This means that any discussion where this point is not agreed upon, honestly, will not go anywhere because we’ll always come back to it.

    Regarding Romans 13, Corbin said:Now I know that you object to this ‘blank check’ that I keep mentioning, but it is clearly where your argument leads. You refuse to make any distinction in Romans 13 between “good” governments and “evil” ones, preferring instead to believe that it is for all governments at all times in all places regardless of whether they share God’s values.

    No, it doesn’t. This is putting words in my mouth. I think we agree on the point that governments have the right to punish the wrongdoer and that they will not be absolved of judgment. In other words, they will be held accountable for their actions. I believe that we differ here, in that you think they should not have the right to capital punishment (because they might misuse this right and they are not absolved of accountability) but I maintain that Scripture says even though a right bestowed on the government by God might (probably will) get abused that they then lose that right. I don’t find any Scripture that supports that if an authority abuses its authority given to it by God, then all governments lose that authority.

    Corbin said:This is the linchpin for our discussion. Capital punishment should be legally opposed by Christians, not because it is illegal for all nations to engage in, but because it does not honor the person and teachings of Jesus Christ or the trajectory of the New Testament and New Covenant. It really is that simple.

    I totally disagree here, brother. Capital punishment should NOT be legally opposed because the precedent of punitive capital punishment is clearly established in the OT and carried through the NT. In other words, God valued the image-bearer tremendously in the OT and He hasn’t changed that.

    Separately, capital punishment or any punishment is not really the problem, is it? Isn’t the problem really the original crime. This can be avoided, can’t it? I mean, any person can simply choose not to do the crime or murder. And if they know the punishment (whatever it might be) then they choose the punishment at the same time as they choose the crime. Isn’t this a theme in Scripture, too? We all must face the consequences, physical and spiritual, for our actions and when we know ahead of time (knowing the law of the land) we have no reason to oppose the punishment if we committed the crime, including murder and punishment that goes with it.

    Sorry, this got longer than I originally intended. Basically, Corbin, if we can’t agree with Scripture that there is a difference between the individual and the state, then we might just have to agree to disagree and call it good. So, I tried to clarify this central point once again. Then I provided a few examples of statements I just couldn’t agree with or mischaracterized me and my thinking.

    So, I tried to be clear, but respectful. I hope that came through. I have a much clearer understanding of the topic since we started the discussion. I was probably 85% sure, then I read the Word and now I’m 100% sure that Christians should support the right of the state to have capital punishment. I noticed that you said on your blog that this was a case study of people who ‘bend their theology to fit their political allegiances’. I hope that my discussion has revealed clearly that this statement most definitely mischaracterizes me. Particularly, it makes it look as if I never consulted Scripture before making an opinion, which absolutely is not how it happened. Would you consider altering your statement to reflect what actually happened? Also, for the record for me, Biblical values and principles come before political ones. Currently, the Republican party seems to have more values in line with Scripture than the Democratic party. Actually, historically, I think it could be shown that the Democratic party has moved its values away from Biblical values. That’s easy to show from their current platform. Mind you, I’ve never said that the Republican party is not without any faults. I will always reduce support for a party with a platform that by-and-large isn’t in alignment with Scriptural values OR choose the party that will do the least amount of damage.

    Blessings, brother,

    Justin

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Justin,
      So much for your post being “shorter” than the one I offered before it, eh? 🙂
      Unfortunately, that is not where the irony of your last comment ends. You argue that you’re not interpreting/ adding or subtracting to the text because you think that when you do so, you are “in-line” with the Bible. I have to ask: Do you suppose that when other biblical interpreters engage the text, they do so in ways that they believe are NOT in-line with the Bible? Have you not considered that ALL honest Christians interpret the text in ways that they believe honor it and explicate its true meaning? What you have yet to realize is that at each and every turn on the subject of interpretation, you prove my point over and again: you are adding to the meaning of the text by the mere fact that you are interpreting it, not just quoting it. Don’t shy away from this fact. Accept it. Embrace it and take ownership of it. All of us interpret the text. It NEVER speaks on its own as if we were blank slates or completely devoid of any religious, philosophical, linguistic, socio-economic, ethnic and cultural status or imprinting. Each of us are saturated in these things (and more) when we open our Bibles and start reading. It is inevitable and unavoidable.

      The problem isn’t that we each have our own perspectives and fishbowls when we come to the text. The problem is pretending that we don’t have any, and that is precisely what you are doing. Worse than that, it seems to me that you have given your political allegiances such access to your theology and interpretive efforts that you cannot distinguish between where they end and Christ begins. Discussing this is what I imagine it would be like trying to convince a fish that it is wet. The task is practically impossible because the fish has no reference point for what “not-wet” is. I am not trying to be insulting here, but I am trying to free your mind, even if only a little. I do hope you will consider this paragraph, but enough of this for now.

      Concerning the rest of your recent comments, I must confess that I am having more difficulty tracking with your logic. You quote my recognition of the helpfulness in your distinction between the crime (of murder) and what you call “retributive” punishment of killing (but not murdering) the perpetrator. I gladly offered that this was a “helpful” distinction, but even as you quote me, you pile on as if I said the complete opposite. Let me be clear: I understand that the Old Covenant made a distinction between the crime and the punishment thereof (at least in those cases when it was carried out in the ways precisely articulated by the Old Covenant). If you can see that I understand this, it renders much of your last post’s points irrelevant, especially concerning your hyperbolic argument that governments cannot impose any kind of end or limitations on criminal behavior. If you still think they are worthy arguments, perhaps you would be so kind as to tailor them to a position that I actually hold?

      I am tempted to offer additional rebuttals on your other arguments as well, but there is enough for you to reply to already, so I will make only two more statements/ requests of you:

      1) I can’t help but notice that you consistently ignore my request for you to explain how you see if and/or how Jesus changed anything. Given your silence on this issue, and the trajectory of your posts so far (particularly surrounding Matt. 5.17), it seems that you believe nothing has changed at all, that the entirety of the Old Covenant remains unaltered and that Christians must first uphold all of the OT’s laws if they want to be in a proper relationship with God. I am left with no other conclusion to draw. Is this accurate? Will you please clarify your position on this one for me?

      2) When I previously said that, “Capital punishment should be legally opposed by Christians, not because it is illegal for all nations to engage in, but because it does not honor the person and teachings of Jesus Christ or the trajectory of the New Testament and New Covenant,”
      you answered that you “totally disagree here” because you believe that “punitive capital punishments” have not been changed in the least, anywhere in the Bible. In one of our other threads, you agreed with me that ALL of the text should be interpreted through Jesus rather than the other way around, but when it comes to this issue, you interpret Jesus only through the lens of the Old Testament and a misunderstanding of Paul’s purpose in Romans 13. To cut to the chase, when Jesus tells us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (and that these are the 2 “greatest” commandments), you apparently believe that condemned criminals are either not our neighbors, or that the best way to “love” them is to have them killed. I am pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind and that you couldn’t be more out of sync with him on the issue.

      looking forward to your reply,
      -CL

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