Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Purging the Evil from Our Midst—A Case for Capital Punishment from a Christian Perspective (III)

Two More Key Texts
A discussion or debate on capital punishment can be a very emotional one since vying ideologies are at play. Especially for Christians it is imprudent simply to declare that you are either in favor of or against the death penalty without taking a good hard look at the biblical evidence. To that end, we have previously listened to the Word of God as it spoke to us about God’s plans and purposes as they come to us in Genesis 9:6. In this installment we want to go farther and examine two more pertinent, germane, and highly relevant texts: the 6th commandment and Romans 13:1-7.

Exodus 20 & Deuteronomy 5—(The 6th Commandment)
The 6th commandment forbidding murder is simple and straightforward and in the Hebrew text quite short.[1] We are told, “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13.) The version in Deuteronomy is identical. In Hebrew and the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX; Septuagint), there are only two words in this commandment.
In our modern society, many Christians are not in favor of the death penalty. As often as not, their views are based on emotion or a faulty interpretation of Scripture or what is commonly called “the ethics of Jesus.” We must be clear that the ethics to which Jesus adhere and that he taught in no way contradict or in opposition to what is taught in the remainder of Scripture. So, therefore, we should not expect a different “ethics of Isaiah,” “ethics of Moses,” or “ethics of Paul,” to cite just a few examples.
Moreover, based on equally faulty exegesis or logic, some Christians believe that capital punishment ought to be suspended if the convicted criminal repents while on death row (it’s not difficult to understand how that might occur) and becomes a believer. Suffice it to say that I disagree with those opinions for a number of biblical reasons. Time does not permit us to delve into the numerous scriptural references that deal directly or indirectly with this matter, but I do want to touch on the two in question in this issue.
It will be helpful to begin with a basic understanding of the meaning of the Hebrew word used in Exodus and Deuteronomy. The Hebrew verb rashach has no clear cognate in any of the contemporary languages of its day.[2] The meaning in Exodus 20:13 is, “You shall not murder.” What is clear is that the word is does not carry the connotation of killing in general, but has to do specifically with murder. Noteworthy is the use of the word in Numbers 35 where the cities of refuge are described. Scholars agree—which is a small miracle—that the cities of refuge were designated for accidental death, which we call manslaughter today. According to statistics, there are fourteen occurrences of the Hebrew word in Numbers 35.[3]
It becomes clear then that the Hebrew word is not a general prohibition against all forms of killing, but it deals specifically with the notion of murder. In Numbers 35:27, 30, for example, the root word describes killing for revenge and in 2 Kings 6:32 it is used of assassination. For some, this interpretation of the biblical prohibition against murder would rule out the execution of convicted murderers by the State, because their deaths would be—in some sense—premeditated, revenge, or a form of assassination. We shall hold on to that argument as we proceed because it’s important that we understand rightly what the sixth commandment entails.
For the present, however, we must understand that with the coming of Christ (the first coming), God’s people no longer have the same arrangement that they had in the Old Testament. There, religion and state formed a theocracy. In the New Testament Church, however, religion and state are separated. The Church may not and should not put anyone to death. The keys of the Kingdom give the Church the power of excommunication, but not the power to put someone to death. That particular power is now entrusted to the state (cf. Rom. 13:1-7). We shall have the opportunity to investigate what the New Testament says about this later in the article. Let’s continue in our discussion of the 6th commandment.
All of life is ethical and all of life is worship of God. Christians need to remember this also in their discussions regarding capital punishment. To worship God alone is the essence of the law. I know many might not believe that, but it’s true. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he answered in this manner: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37.) Mark’s gospel adds, “and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). To live is to worship God by living life on God’s terms only. The law of God is total because God is totally God, absolute and omnipotent. Real health for man is spiritual wholeness in terms of God’s law.
So what does this commandment command and forbid? In general, it is clear that the 6th commandment requires us to reflect upon man’s inherent value that accrues to him by virtue of the fact that he is made in the image of God. Some of the sins this commandment prohibits are unlawful death, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, desire of revenge, reckless self-endangerment, envy, hatred, and anger—just to mention the most obvious.[4]
This commandment does not, however, prohibit the police from shooting and killing criminals, the state from performing lawful executions, or a country taking part in a just war and killing the enemy. In my own Presbyterian tradition, the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q/A 136) explains that the 6th commandments forbids “all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense…” All too often, Christians have fallaciously “jumped the gun” and illogically concluded that the prohibition of not murdering given to us in the 6th commandment can be extrapolated to include capital punishment, police protection, and the waging of war. What is prohibited in the commandment, from the physical point of view, is what we call today premeditated murder (Ex. 21:14).
We also confess as Christians that the government bears the sword of punishment and execution precisely to prevent murder.[5] That is to say, that whether the secularists agree or not, it is legitimate for the Church to be in favor of capital punishment based on the Word of God. Moreover, it is a proper position to hold that since the government is given the sword by God for the specific purpose of implementing the death penalty where warranted, there is a deterrent factor to be reckoned with. With this in mind, let’s now transition to a brief explanation of what Scripture teaches in Romans 13.

Another Look at Romans 13:1-7
It is not totally out of place to take just a few moments and examine what the New Testament text, Romans 13:1-7 has to say about capital punishment. This is an essential exercise for us, since there is so much confusion among modern Christians—and non-Christians—regarding what these verses actually mean. Therefore, it will behoove us to spend some time paying close attention to what the Holy Spirit teaches us here.
In the first place, we’re going to treat this section of Holy Scripture as put there by God and as applicable to us today. I say this because in the past some modern German liberal scholarship has denied that these verses have anything to do with Christians.[6] Certainly, we expect that kind of thing from liberal scholars. It is more than just a little disconcerting, however, when Christians today also manifest an air of confusion about what this text means practically.
This brings me to my second point and that is this: as modern Christians we must be prepared to possess sound principles of interpretation and allow each text to speak for itself and, where necessary, to compare the text in question with other pertinent portions of the Word of God. I say this because there is good reason to see these verses connected to the preceding context in Romans 12. William Hendriksen writes this in his commentary on Romans, “Paul has urged the addressees to sacrifice their lives to God. Grateful and complete self-surrender is the only proper answer to the marvelous mercy God has shown. This means, of course, that the new life must reveal itself in every sphere of Christian enterprise and endeavor.”[7] The apostle has written regarding the Christian’s relationship to various individuals and groups in the twelfth chapter.[8] It makes sense, then, that chapter thirteen would deal with yet another of these relationships: that of the Christian and the civil authorities.
Historically, a large number of the congregants in Rome were Jews. Its stands to reason that the Jews would have liked very much to have been out from under the oppressive yoke of the Romans. Apologetically, Paul seems to be writing to the civil government—in an oblique manner—and reminding them that Christians are not opposed to government officials. They are, rather, supportive of government.
Near the end of chapter twelve, Paul had spoken clearly to the Christians about the matter of non-retaliation. In order to establish the clear principle that civil disobedience is—with notable exception—wrong. Rather than avenging ourselves in this life we are to leave vengeance to the Lord and, in civil matters, to the state.
The first verse sets the stage for what Paul is going to say about civil authorities when he tells us, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” For some, the troubles begin at the outset. What does Paul mean? What about evil rulers? That’s where we like to start. Hendriksen is correct when he explains, “The civil magistrates to whom Paul refers, from the emperor down to the rulers of the lowest rank, in the final analysis owed their appointments and right to govern to God. It was by his will and in his providence that they had been appointed to maintain order, encourage well-doing, and punish wrong-doing.”[9]
The second verse carries this notion a step farther and reminds the Christians that whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed. A modicum of commonsense will be of great service to us here. For there are inevitably those who get a horrified look on their face and ask, “Do we always have to obey the government?” Well, always is a small word with a large reach. The obvious answer, then, is: No. When the government requires that we violate part of the revealed will of God to obey a law of the state, then we are duty bound to disobey (Dan. 3:18; Acts 5:29). Paul understood his times and knew that certain civil authorities could be tyrannical and dictatorial.
What is key to remember is that, “Paul means…that all human authority is derived from God’s authority…”[10] The text, then, is not referring to individual heads of state (Nero, Domitian, Hitler, Stalin, Hussein) but that the state as such should acknowledge that its authority is derived from God (cf. John 19:11).
Living in California facilitates becoming jaded as far as our civil officials are concerned. Our state representatives in Sacramento are—with notable exception—frustrated hippies, who never really extricated themselves from the sappy Socialism and the anti-Vietnam War mentalities that dominated the 1960s and early 1970s. We have government (welfare) programs out the wazoo. Every year we have a school bond and—surprise, surprise—nothing ever gets improved in terms of education of the children; so next year we perform the same drill again. On and on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Barf.
Our illustrious former Governor, Gray “Brownout” Davis managed to sink the state so far into debt that it will take us years to recover. Our federal Senators Boxer and Feinstein are some of the most liberal politicians in Washington, surpassed only by John Kerry and Ted “Driving School and Get Me a Drink” Kennedy. Even though we have a reputation for being from another planet, many Californians are quite sane—well, a few anyway. When you have to live in a state where a majority your legislators are liberal, it can be tough. Nevertheless, we have a mandate as Christians to embrace the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), including Paul’s words in Romans 13.
The words in Romans 13:4-6 are to be taken together and describe for us the state’s authority and its ministry. The two must be taken together if the civil magistrate is to fulfill his or her God-given mandate. A lion’s share of the problems citizens have faced down through the ages is when the state neither understands it authority (from God) or its ministry. The civil servant is to be just that: a servant. Politicians of all stripes, dictators, and heads of state have far too often either forgotten or ignored this truth. Perfection in terms of the state is God’s business; responsibility and proper fulfillment of the office of civil magistrate is the task of man.
At the same time, these verses are significant biblical statements for those of us who are looking “to develop a balanced biblical understanding of the state,” for “central to it will be the truths that the state’s authority and ministry are both given to it by God.”[11]
Not every state will operate in the same fashion. Some will be good, others better, and a few might manifest the best possible human government. At the same time, some governments will be bad, others worse, and still others the worst imaginable. Not every government will serve the purposes of the gospel. Some will persecute Christians physically while others will persecute them psychologically. Moreover, we can see that in the face of less than ideal governments, the apostle is willing to put himself aside for the sake of the gospel. After all, hadn’t Paul been mistreated by the civil authorities? (cf. Acts 16:19-24; 2 Cor. 11:25.)
So we ask: What is the ministry that the Lord has entrusted into the hands of government officials? John Stott is correct when he draws a parallel between the themes found in the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of this letter. Those basic themes are good and evil. After laying out the Christian’s attitude towards evil in chapter twelve (12:9, 17, & 21), “Now he depicts the role of the state in relation to good and evil.”[12] The verses 4-6 clearly delineate the “complementary ministries of the state and its accredited representatives.”[13] What might those ministries be? Clearly, what Paul describes is both the restraint and punishment of evil.
Receiving the approval of the ones in authority means that as long as we obey the laws of the land the civil magistrate will tend to leave you alone. Break the speed limit and a friendly CHP officer will dispassionately write you a fat ticket. Rob someone and you will incur disfavor with the government.
In God’s providence, he gives us civil authorities (v. 4). Whether he acknowledges it or not, the civil magistrate is God’s servant. The Lord is not particularly interested in whether the magistrate is a so-called atheist or not. He is responsible to acknowledge that he rules by derived authority from God. Part of God’s common grace upon all mankind is that civil authorities typically have the good of the people in mind. “As the result of the work and watchfulness of these governmental representatives the believer is able to lead ‘a tranquil and quiet life in all gravity and godliness’ (I Tim. 2:2).”[14]
Interestingly, the fourth verse also speaks in terms of those who do “wrong” (kakòn). Christians should be very hesitant about going against what is right and wrong both in terms of Scripture and in terms of civil legislature. Very simply put, we are to obey God first and foremost, but also obey the civil magistrate except where man’s laws require us to violate God’s. We ought to obey the speed limit, stop at stop signs, not steal, care for our neighbor’s well being, and the like.
For those who insist on acting upon other premises, we are warned that the civil magistrate is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (v. 4). To this end, the government does not bear the “sword” in vain. The word Paul uses here for “sword” (máchaira) was employed earlier in the letter in 8:35 to indicate death. Other New Testament texts make use of this word as a form of execution (cf. Acts 12:2; Rev. 13:10), so it is not a “stretch” to say that he uses it here as a “symbol of capital punishment.”[15]
This point has been made before and some (Christians) choose to ignore it. Why? The short answer is because it doesn’t fit with their preconceived notions. This ought to be a sufficient warning for all of us. It is a spiritually dangerous way to interpret the Bible to force it to say what we want it to say. Many struggle with this because they are unwilling to allow the Bible to speak for itself. Let’s say that a young college student has been taught by his liberal professor that Pacifism is the way to go and that all killing is unjustified. In the course of reading through the Bible, our student arrives at the text under consideration. Now he’s in conflict. The Bible speaks of capital punishment but he has been taught to believe that the death penalty is wrong. The easy solution is that the Word of God trumps all of our notions—preconceived or otherwise. It is the wise Christian who will submit to the truth of Scripture even though it cuts against the grain of what he’s always thought or believed.
It is also noteworthy that it is a “given” that the state understands the difference between good and evil and that it can and must recognize evil for what it is. Being an “activist judge” is no excuse for not punishing evil. Right now in America we are witnessing the rise of those in political authority—and especially those in the judicial branch—who seem less concerned about rightly and precisely interpreting the law than they are to espouse their own life and worldview. Recently, we have observed incidences of convicted murderers being released from prison only to murder again. Convicted felons are allowed to walk free after only the most minimal of prison time. Time and time again we ask ourselves, “How did that happen?” or “How did our country get this way?” Obviously, it is not just one thing that got us entangled in this nefarious web, but part of the problem lies with judges who are atheists and the other part of the guilt lies with Christians who do not get involved—in a biblical fashion—in the public arena. It ought to part of our goal to insist on the death penalty for convicted murderers.We shall now turn our attention to certain other pertinent verses in Scripture that speak to the notion of the death penalty or how executing capital punishment in a correct, biblical fashion purges the evil from the land. I am particularly interested in the latter idea—purging the evil from our midst—because so many liberal Christian and non-Christian objections to capital punishment almost—if not totally—ignore this principle.

[1] For a more complete study of this commandment and the other nine commandments, you can email me ( and purchase my workbook (The Ten Commandments) for $10.00.
[2] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., & Bruce Waltke (eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 860.
[3] Ibid.
[4] See my papers on euthanasia and suicide at as well as the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day, 41, Q/A 105-107 and the Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 134-136.
[5] Cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 41, Q/A 105.
[6] See. Otto Michel, Der Brief an die Römer, Ernst Käsemann, An Die Römer, and Oscar Cullmann, Christus und die Zeit as typical examples of what I’m talking about here.
[7] William Hendriksen, Romans, in the series, New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), p. 430.
[8] For example, John Stott, Romans, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 338 writes, “In Romans 12 Paul has developed our four basic Christian relationships, namely to God (1-2), to ourselves (3-8), to one another (9-16) and to our enemies (17-21). In Romans 13 he develops three more—to the state (conscientious citizenship, 1-7), to the law (neighbour-love as its fulfilment, 8-10), and to the day of the Lord’s return (living in the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’, 11-14).”
[9] IHendriksen, Romans, 433.
[10] Stott, Romans, 340.
[11] Ibid., 343.
[12] Ibid., 344.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Hendriksen, Romans, 435.
[15] Stott, Romans, 344.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Purging the Evil from Our Midst—A Case for Capital Punishment from a Christian Perspective (II)

The Word of God vs. the word of man
In our last installment I promised to focus on three pivotal texts for the entire discussion and debate surrounding capital punishment: Genesis 9:6, Exodus 20:13 [Deuteronomy 5:17], which is the 6th commandment, and Romans 13:1-7. Before we enter into our discussion of these various biblical texts and how they apply to the subject of capital punishment, I want to take a few moments and set the record straight about my conception of Old Testament laws.
Often, to our modern mind and mind-set, the edicts and commands of the Old Testament appear more to fit the description of “cruel and unusual punishment” than they do just laws. This is merely an appearance, however, for nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible presents us with the description of God as he has chosen to reveal himself to us. Part of that revelation speaks to us about the Lord God Almighty as loving, compassionate, gracious, and merciful. The Bible also—and equally—describes God as just, righteous, and holy. These are not contradictory attributes of God, but comprise his divine Being. All too often we tend play off, for example, mercy and justice against each other. I use this comparison specifically to make the following point:
A few years ago, Dr. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral fame (a monument to Dale Carnegie and otherwise bad theology) appeared on FOX News with Bill O’Reilly (The O’Reilly Factor). O’Reilly, bad theologian that he is, listened quietly while Dr. Schuller said, “mercy and justice are contradictions.” I turned to my wife and said, matter-of-factly, “There are contradictions in God.” She smiled, nodded, and went back to knitting her “diversity quilt.” We just knew that what we had just heard had to be true because it was on TV. Right.
Dr. Schuller is supposedly a theologian; in actuality he is a theologian and an miserably bad one at that. He should know better than to make such a silly and ridiculous statement. O’Reilly, who is a decent journalist but a lousy theologian, didn’t object. Here’s the point: Mercy is one of God’s perfections just as is his justice. If mercy and justice contradict one another, then there are contradictions within the Godhead. On this issue Schuller and O’Reilly typify much of the muddleheaded thinking that permeates society today.
Nevertheless, old notions die hard and are notoriously difficult to eradicate. Some people today—both pagans as well as many who call themselves evangelicals—still think that the God of the Old Testament is mean, mean-spirited, vindictive, and wrathful. Some Christians—not many, but the numbers are rising—go so far as to posit a different God in the Old Testament from Jesus in the New. That is certainly not the case. There are still those who think that the Old Testament notion of “an eye for an eye”[1] is harsh, cruel, and primitive. Wrong. The “eye-for-an-eye” concept is divinely devised to prevent escalation. This truth is completely lost on far too many people today who cut their teeth on political correctness and pacifism. As a passing note, the words “political correctness” first appear in Marxist theory. I thought you might like to know that.
In this installment we’re going to examine primarily Genesis 9:6 and leave our discussion of the Romans 13 text until next time. I’ll begin, however, with a statement I used in the last issue about the distinctions between killing and murder.

Not All Killing is Murder
All murder is killing, but not all killing is murder. It seems that every time the issue of the death penalty is raised there are inevitably those who insist that capital punishment is therefore wrong because the Bible says, “You shall not murder.” We’ll examine the essence of the 6th commandment later, but it’s important to make the case now that when the civil magistrate executes a convicted murderer they are not committing murder themselves. They are simply carrying out the justice that is commanded of them by God. Romans 13:1-4 makes it very clear that they, like soldiers and policemen, are not guilty of murder in the normal functions of their duties. The murderer is to be put to death by those entities God has ordained for that purpose.
The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q/A 136) explains the sins forbidden in the 6th commandment this way: “The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life…” (Italics mine.) The Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day 40, Q/A 105) reminds us that “…the magistrate is armed with the sword to prevent murder,” and cites Genesis 9:6, Exodus 21:14, Matthew 26:52, and Romans 13:4 as proof texts.
In addition to this as should be clear from the above, it is not considered murder if a burglar is in your home and you respond by shooting him and killing him. I know that there are a number of pacifists that would disagree with that. Unfortunately, a great deal of “Pacifism” has its ideological head in the sand. They talk a lot of theory that has very little resemblance to reality. The theory and the practice need to dovetail. Modern Christians need to reflect on the truth that if I decide to call 911 my wife, children and I could very well be dead by the time the police arrive.
If someone breaks into your home, you don’t have time to try and decide why he did that. You also probably don’t have the time to sit down with him and find out why he’s such a victim of our rotten Western culture. You won’t be able to understand all the “ins and outs” of his character. Do that and your wife could get raped and you and your children murdered. It is not saying too much to say that there is something seriously wrong if you do not respond intensely to that kind of terrorism in your home. Not to respond is not a sign of intelligence but of both cowardice and stupidity. All the talk remains just that—talk.
Killing someone who is terrorizing your home by breaking and entering is not murder. It is self-defense pure and simple. Any able-bodied man that would stand by and allow his home to be terrorized without making any effort to retaliate is hardly a man. But let’s move on now to Genesis 9:6 and see what we can learn from it about the hanging of Saddam Hussein and about capital punishment generally.

Genesis 9:6
This is one of the “foundation” texts in the Old Testament that speaks about the matter of capital punishment.[2] There are those Christians today that would question the validity of the Old Testament for the New Testament Church. Eric and Walter Hobbs have posed the following questions: “How much, if anything, of ancient Israel’s law is operative here, and what is set aside? On what authority?”[3]
In this installment, I’m going to proceed on the premise that whatever is valid in the Old Testament remains in effect in the New, unless the New Testament specifically alters or abrogates that command. John Davis is correct when he says, “The abrogation of the specifics of the Mosaic covenant (e.g., circumcision, dietary laws, animal sacrifice) for the New Testament church does not necessarily affect the moral and legal principles given through Noah.”[4]
One person stated it this way: “The entire Bible is our ethical yardstick for every part of it is the word of the eternal, unchanging God; none of the Bible offers fallible or mistaken direction to us today.” This means that none of the Old Testament became ethically irrelevant to the Apostle Paul, which should lead us to conclude that we should speak not of “New Testament Ethics,” but rather “Biblical Ethics.” This is an important distinction for a number of reasons. First, advocates of the Social Gospel (the Emergent Church, by and large, and Jim Wallis) are returning to the phenomenon of the Social Gospel, which was dismal failure in the past and will continue to be. Second, a number of Christians today just don’t get it when it comes to the unity between the Old and New Testaments. Just in passing I would comment that the New Testament (2 Tim. 3:16-17) requires that we take the Old Testament as ethically normative for us today. Other texts such as Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:1, 3, James 2:10, Psalm 119:160, and Deuteronomy 12:32 speak to the same thing. Therefore, the entire Bible is our ethical standard today, from cover to cover. If we’re prepared to jettison the Old Testament or a large majority of it, we must admit that we’re dismissing seventy-five percent of God’s revelation to man, without any substantial reason for doing so. Having said all of this to lay the groundwork, let’s move on to a discussion of Genesis 9:6.
This text is part of what has come to be known as the “Noahic Covenant,” or simply God’s covenant with Noah and his family after the Flood. Much has been written on this subject, but John Murray provides us with a succinct summary of the main points of this covenant. First, “It is God’s covenant in that it is conceived, devised, determined, established, confirmed, and dispensed by God Himself.”[5]
Second, God’s covenant with Noah “is universal in its scope, a covenant not only with Noah but with his seed after him and with every living creature (verses 9, 10).”[6] This is somewhat different from other administration of God’s covenant of grace. What Murray wants to communicate effectively is that this covenant “operates on behalf of, and dispenses its blessings to, those who are wholly unaware of its existence. It is a covenant with all flesh.”[7]
Third, the Noahic covenant is unconditional.[8] One of the essential implications of this covenant with Noah is that “there is not the slightest suggestion to the effect that the covenant could be annulled by human unfaithfulness or its blessing forfeited by unbelief; the thought of breaking the covenant is inconceivable.”[9] Man may do his worst, but God will never undo this covenant with all creation.
Fourth, the “covenant is intensely and pervasively monergistic.”[10] Murray is very “seeker-hostile” at this point. Let me see if I can put it into English for you. God doesn’t come to Noah (and man) and ask if they’d like to have this covenant. God pronounces and administers this covenant by His good pleasure. The rainbow “is the constant reminder that God will not prove unfaithful to His promise.”[11]
Finally, the covenant with Noah “is an everlasting covenant.”[12] Murray reiterates the truth that this covenant “is not conditioned by or dependent upon faith or obedience on the part of men.”[13] He summarizes his thoughts on God’s covenant with Noah in this way. “It is a covenant characterized by divinity in a way unsurpassed by any other covenant and yet it draws men within the scope of its operation as surely as any other covenant does. Here we have covenant in the purity of its conception as a dispensation of grace to men, wholly divine in its origin, fulfillment, and confirmation.”[14]
We’ll begin by refreshing our memories concerning the content of Genesis 9:6. Since the verses 5 and 6 should be taken together, we’ll look at both of them “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”
John Calvin gives us an excellent introduction to the fifth verse when he says, “In these words the Lord more explicitly declares that he does not forbid the use of blood out of regard to animals themselves, but because he accounts the life of men precious; and because the sole end of his law is, to promote the exercise of common humanity between them.”[15]
But Calvin isn’t the only one who speaks in this vein. Even the German scholar, Claus Westermann points out that verses 5 and 6 speak to us about the prohibition of shedding man’s blood and the punishment attached to it.[16]
These two verses stipulate that the shed blood of man requires an accounting from beast and man. Beasts that kill men must be put to death.[17] This presents a very unique concept to us: beasts can incur guilt for taking man’s life. In addition, God will require an “accounting” from each man for the life of his fellow man. Moreover, what God does in these verses is to place “in the hand of man His own judicial power.”[18] Martin Luther, in his commentary on Genesis, believes that temporal government is established by these verses and the sword placed in its hand by God.”[19]
It’s important for us to pause and reflect on an important principle at this point in our investigation. The command given in Genesis 9:5-6 does not sanction revenge, but lays the foundation for the judicial rights of the divinely appointed civil magistrates. God also appends a key reason why this is to be the case. God’s reason is a concept where we will part company with our secular counterparts: man is made in the image of God.
Even though secularists try to attach some kind of “dignity” to man and his life, it’s next to impossible to do so without absolutes. Any time secularists begin to speak of “oughts” or “obligations” with regard to moral conduct, they don’t have a leg to stand on. That’s one of the primary reasons the laws on the books are so important to them. There is no God and no reason higher than the State and man. In order for the non-theist to have any cohesive moral code at all, he must “borrow capital” from the Christian. That is to say, he must come up with some semblance of morality that “sticks.” But you can’t make morals “stick” unless you’ve got some “stickum.” Non-theists have none even though they’d like to convince us that they’re working with industrial strength super-glue. How can you possibly require someone to act in a certain moral way if there is no absolute to back you up? The short answer is that you can’t. The long-winded, protracted answer is all the books on how to lead an ethical life even though there’s no foundation. The secularist is left with both feet firmly planted in mid-air.
Christians have a rock-solid foundation and they deal with absolutes. When it comes to discussing why people should be put to death for murder, they have a reply. That reply is provided by God Himself. And God’s answer is that man is made in the image of God. As such, this image of God in man gives him intrinsic value that can never be eradicated. Therefore, “If murder was to be punished with death because it destroyed the image of God in man, it is evident that the infliction of the punishment was not to be left to the caprice of individuals, but belonged to those alone who represent the authority and majesty of God, i.e. the divinely appointed rulers, who for that very reason are called Elohim in Ps. lxxxii.6.”[20]
Verses 5-6 of Genesis 9 speak the clear language of the sanctity of human life. The reason for the higher value upon man than any other of God’s creatures has to do with the fact that man is created in the image of God.[21] Victor Hamilton, in his commentary on Genesis also uses the “image of God in man” motif to make his points. Regarding verse 5 he writes, “This verse deals with the second post-Flood prohibition—the taking of another’s life. This includes people killing people and animals killing people.”[22] With reference to the sixth verse Hamilton has this to say. “The theme of the taking of human life continues in this verse, with some special emphases. Murder is placed in the orbit of sacral law. To kill another human being is to destroy one who is a bearer of the divine image. Thus man’s divine creation should be a deterrent to criminal behavior.”[23] Notice that Hamilton does not say that it will be a deterrent, but that it ought to be.
Whenever the value of life is downplayed and denigrated, we ought to expect there to be a blatant lack of respect for human life. Thus, in our country when babies are murdered—wholesale—in the womb, we ought not to be shocked when there are drive-by, random shootings. All of these things are merely some of the consequences of a depreciation of human life. We will always be saddened by such events, just not surprised. Hamilton is also convinced that Genesis 9:6 informs us that, “A life taken demands the taking of another life.”[24]
Striking at the image-bearer is tantamount to striking at the image-Giver. Calvin rightly says, “Men are indeed unworthy of God’s care, if respect be had only to themselves; but since they bear the image of God engraven on them, He deems himself violated in their person.”[25] His argument does not revolve around man’s intrinsic value, but his God-given and God-ordained value. God’s continued gracious dealings with means that “although they have nothing of their own by which they obtain the favour of God, he looks upon his own gifts in them, and is thereby excited to love and to care for them.”[26]
What is required here is precisely what society has lost or is in danger of rapidly losing: the careful observance of the value of man made in the image of God. Calvin continues, “This doctrine, however, is to be carefully observed, that no one can be injurious to his brother without wounding God himself. Were this doctrine deeply fixed in our minds, we should be much more reluctant than we are to inflict injuries.”[27]
There’s a sense in which God’s command in Genesis 9:6 lays the foundation for all civil government and forms an unalterable command to protect the life of man, who is created in God’s image. This command has been given to insure the continuance and protection of the human race without fear that wanton murderers will be excused from a punishment that is commensurate with the attack on the image of God in man.
Keil and Delitzsch give us an interesting summary in the following words:

If God on account of the innate sinfulness of man would no more bring an exterminating judgment upon the earthly creation, it was necessary that by commands and authorities He should erect a barrier against the supremacy of evil, and thus lay the foundation for a well-ordered civil development of humanity, in accordance with the words of the blessing, which are repeated in ver. 7, as showing the intention and goal of this new historical beginning.[28]

It’s really too bad that our society is not willing to listen to this truth. Our country is being torn apart by the “supremacy of evil” thereby rendering our society the opposite of a well-ordered and civil one. The indigenous philosophy of America is pragmatism, that says, “if it works, do it.” Ours is rapidly becoming a political system of corruption, disingenuous actions, and injustice, in the strict sense of the word.
Since, by and large, Americans have bought off the lie of relativism they no longer have a standard of right and wrong expect personal preference. We no longer have a clue what actually will “work.” So with every new proposal that claims to be the panacea to fix and cure all our ills, we become more and more mired in the “tar baby” of pragmatism. Each “quick fix” only makes matters worse and entangles us in a more complex web of degeneracy and lack of respect for human life.In our next issue, we’ll delve more deeply into what the 6th commandment teaches and how that applies to life. From there we’ll move on to a discussion and exegetical study of Romans 13:1-7 and its application for us today.

[1] Ex. 21:24ff.; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21.
[2] Carl Henry (ed.), Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 84.
[3] Eric E. Hobbs & Walter C. Hobbs, “Contemporary Capital Punishment: Biblical Difficulties with the Biblically Permissible,” Christian Scholar’s Review, 11 (1981-1982), p. 260.
[4] John Jefferson Davis, Evangelical Ethics, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1985), p. 199.
[5] John Murray, The Covenant of Grace. A Biblico-Theological Study, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1953), p. 12. Hereafter CG.
[6] Murray, CG, 13.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] John Calvin, Genesis, John King (trans.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 19792), p. 294.
[16] Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, in the series Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament, (Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener Verlag, 19762), p. 625, “Nachdem in V. 4 und 5 die beiden Einschränkungen zu der Freigabe V. 3 gemacht sind, tritt in V. 6 nichts Neues mehr hinzu. Der Satz ist nur eine Unterstreichung des in V. 5 Gesagten. Das in V. 5 vorausgesetzte Verbot des Tötens von Menschen wird jetzt ausgesproechen; aber nich im Prohibitiv, wie nach V. 4 zu erwarten wäre, sondern in einer zweigliedrigen Bestimmung, einer Strafbestimmung für den, der Menschenblut vergießt.”
[17] C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), pp. 152-153.
[18] Ibid., 153.
[19] Quoted in Keil & Delitzsch, COT, 153.
[20] Ibid., 153. The Hebrew word Elohim means, among other things, “gods.” In Psalm 82:6, which Jesus quotes in John 10:35, it is used of the judges of Israel.
[21] John Skinner, Genesis, in the series, The International Critical Commentary, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 19302), p. 171. On page 170, Skinner points out that the vv. 5-6 emphasize the sanctity of life, where “life” is expressed alternately in these verses by specific Hebrew words that convey the precise meaning intended by God.
[22] Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, in the series, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 314.
[23] Ibid., 315.
[24] Ibid. Emphasis mine—RG.
[25] Calvin, Genesis, 295. Compare W.H. Gispen, Genesis 1-11, in the series, Commentaar op het Oude Testament, (Kampen: Kok, 1974), p. 296, where he writes, “De hier door God aan Noach en zijn zonen geopenbaarde (cf. vs. 1) rechtsregel wordt gegrond op het feit, dat Hij (God) de mens gemaakt heeft naar het beeld van God.”
[26] Gispen, Genesis, 296.
[27] Calvin, Genesis, 295-296.
[28] Keil & Delitzsch, COT, 153.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Terminator 4—State of the State & Universal Health Care

Trouble in the Golden State
On January 5th, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California, delivered his state of the State address. Given his desire to provide universal health care for every child in California under the age of eighteen—legal or illegal—I was eager to read the transcript (I would have watched, but there was something really good on The Military Channel about tanks). In terms of the universal health care thing, which I’ll deal with more below, I seem to remember that California recalled Governor Gray “Beige” Davis in part for wanting to issue a California driver’s license to illegals as well as frittering away a huge monetary surplus. Now Schwarzenegger is headed in the same direction and the voters and taxpayers of California should possibly begin marshalling their forces to recall him too.
Clearly, he hasn’t learned a thing! I’ll begin with certain excerpts from his address and then move on to deal with a horrible concept: universal health care. As far as the latter is concerned, it seems to be our destiny to have to endure some pundit or pinhead proposing this on a regular basis. Remember Hillary Rodham Rodham Rodham Rodham Clinton’s abortive jaunt into the wonderful world of universal health care? It would have cost Americans billions of dollars but she was prepared to rush ahead, even if the attempts at providing universal health care in Europe and Canada have met with dismal failure and continue to provide sub-par results. The motto remains: Never mind! This time it will work for us! We're so much smarter than all those other countries! Yeah, right. So I’ll begin with some quotations from Schwarzenegger’s address and comment on them.

In his opening remarks, the Governor said, “People recently have said to me, “Arnold, I bet you wish you were back in the movie business.’” He said No, but I personally wish he were back making movies. That would cost me a lot less. Schwarzenegger is precisely what is wrong with Republicans in general and Republicans in California in particular. In point of fact, Schwarzenegger might be quasi-Republican in some fiscal policies, but as we shall see he is getting to rush over the precipice of “the minimum wage.” I, for one, wish he were back in the movies. That would be a very good start.
Then he proceeded, “I’ve thought a lot about the last year and the mistakes I made and the lessons I’ve learned.” Obviously, clearly, he has not thought long enough yet. Why? Catch the psycho-babble in this sentence: “What I feel good about is that I led from my heart” (Italics mine). He sure did and the results of some of his boneheaded proposals are still seated about a foot below his brain.
What I found so disingenuous about his address is his verbiage. For example, when he says, “We made unequalled investments in education—a record of 50 billion dollars this year,” what he really means is that we simply deferred a huge burden to our future generations and given the fact that we are allowing a disproportionately high number of illegals into California at an alarming rate our future generations will be saddled with not only paying for the education burden but also for the retirement benefits of the illegals.
Seeking the prosperity of the Golden State the Governor wants us to reflect on what California will be like in 20 or 30 years. Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to calculate that! Poignantly, he asks, “And what kind of hospitals will care for our sick?” Answer: Given the current rate of illegal immigrants and their usage of our medical facilities for free, NONE, because they’ll all be out of business due to the heavy burden of free medical care and anchor babies—not to mention the free universal health care the Governor proposes. Gosh, do you think that might be a magnet, and incentive for even more illegals to flood into California? How dumb can you be?
He laments the freeway gridlock in California—do we have a problem with that out here? I hadn’t noticed—the waiting times in emergency rooms, and overcrowded schools. Less than two minutes earlier he had said that California “built the schools and the universities that became the envy of the world.” Which is it, Governor? You cannot have it both ways. I would suggest, however, that the remedy is to seal our border to Mexico and deport those illegals who are adding to the already unbearable crowding on California’s highways, the interminable waits for medical care in the ER because they are sitting waiting for their freebies, and get them out of our public school system. That would be a good start.
He proposes that his billions promised to improve California can be done “without raising taxes.” Here’s the sleight of hand: the money to fund universal health care will be a “fee” and not a “tax.” Got it? I you believe that you have less common sense than our Governor. A rose by any other name and all that.
Another glaring incongruity is his gloating over the fact that 450,000 new jobs have been created, that we should let the free market work in terms of prescription drugs, but he’s in favor of increasing the minimum wage. As a former Economics major I cannot understand why anyone in favor of letting the free market take care of itself would be in favor of a government imposed minimum wage. If you are struggling with this, let me suggest that you pick up two books by the black economist, Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics. A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy and Applied Economics. Thinking Beyond Stage One. Just “thinking” might be helpful, starting with the Republican Party and Mr. Schwarzenegger.
Since our illustrious Governor is also proposing a ridiculous universal health care, nanny state approach, let’s turn our thoughts to what that entails beyond some touchy-feely heart matters. I have personally lived under two systems of socialized, universal health care in Holland for almost ten years and in Canada for about the same period of time.

So You Want Universal Health Care? Are You Sure?
The notion of ostensibly affordable, universal healthcare might seem attractive at first glance, but upon closer scrutiny it is fraught with a number of serious difficulties. I have good reason to write about this because I lived under the social healthcare system in Holland for nine plus years as well as another nine plus in the Canadian system. Some people are just gluttons for punishment I suppose.
We’re rapidly becoming a bunch of “rights” oriented people here in the U.S. For some strange reason, we believe it’s our “right” to earn a minimum wage and to have our employer pay all of our healthcare benefits—even if we’re in a low or non-skilled job. Therefore, as the reasoning goes, somebody, anybody ought to pay for my healthcare. It really doesn’t matter who pays it, just so someone picks up my end of the stick. Given the lunacy of many modern Democrats and their incessant carping about the Bush tax cut, the most obvious people to pay for universal healthcare are the rich. Ironically, we tend to pull up short on this “rights” kick. Where do you draw the line—and how do you draw that line—to say that everyone deserves universal health care but not, say, a car—a Yugo in every garage?
Since a lot of you don’t speak Dutch—I know that some of my readers do—I’ll give you some of the headlines that appeared in Canadian newspapers when I lived up there. “Metro wait for surgery forces 100 heart victims to hit U.S.,” “Second heart patient dies as surgery delayed nine times,” and “Patients wait in line for hospital bed.” Get the idea?
Dr. Bill Gairdner, whom I greatly admire, wrote a book that was published in 1991 with the title The Trouble with Canada.[1] As he chronicled the ills of our neighbor to the north, he put pen to paper and described what he called the “medical mediocrity” of Canada. Some of the most egregious problems with the national healthcare system in that country included “regular cost overruns, long line-ups for surgery, experts leaving the country, patients dying as they wait for service, lack of equipment, wage clashes between professional staff and hospitals, fee-schedule battles between physicians and the government.”[2] Other than that, it was a fine program.
No, that’s not entirely true either. As someone who experienced it, the care was simply sub-standard. That’s not to say that the doctors were not qualified. They were—by and large. The problem arose from the ubiquitous presence of the government with its hand involved in regulating everything! And you’re going to get that every time you head down the path for universal healthcare.
A bureaucracy will be called into being and, God help us all, life will become exponentially miserable. Oddly, there are still people who refuse to accept this truth. And you can count on the fact that those who will be most in favor of universal healthcare for the masses will not have it for themselves. They’ll be insured privately—and probably on the taxpayer’s dime. These are the same fine folks who rail against school vouchers, but refuse to send their children to public schools, once again proving that we’re all equal, but some are more equal than others.
Gairdner came up with two very predictable reasons for the veritable demise of Canada’s healthcare system. He writes, “First, because as human nature and economic theory tell us, the demand for an unlimited free commodity is infinite; and second, because others who have tried to make socialized medicine work, whether in Eastern Bloc or Western nations, have failed miserably.”[3]
Let’s reflect on those words for a moment.
In the first place, the system gets log-jammed by people who have little or nothing to do in life than to visit the family physician—and this actually happens. People with perceived illnesses inundate the doctor and those who really are sick get dumped on in the process because the waiting list is so long. You see, it’s free. There’s no co-pay so you just go and go and go. The demand for a “freebie” is infinite whether it’s healthcare or a three-martini lunch. The problem is that the demand is infinite while the commodity is decidedly finite. Many, however, never give this truth a second thought.
The second reason Gairdner gives for the failure of Canada’s healthcare system is the lesson of history. I remember when Hillary Clinton was hot to trot about her healthcare plan. I could not believe that anyone with any historical consciousness would be in favor of it. Fortunately for us all, it crumbled, crashed, and burned. Nevertheless, it had its supporters and if something similar is presented in the future no doubt some will step forward in support of what has repeatedly—repeatedly—failed miserably elsewhere.
Some genius will probably think that the US is different and what was a failure elsewhere will not be a failure here. Don’t count on it. What is required for such a system is a collectivist, utopian Socialism run by an elite group of ideologues and bureaucrats. Why we could have the majority of our tenure-track, liberal college and university professors and those permanent bureaucrats that have never had a real job implement the program for us. Wouldn’t that be fun, not to mention very costly?
How would the US healthcare program be funded? The answer is simple: the same way any (quasi)-socialistic program is funded: out of tax revenue. Any socialistic, cradle-to-grave (womb-to-tomb) “giveaway” is designed to curry favor with the non-thinking, buy vote support from those who have bought the lie that they’re “disenfranchised,” and to increase government’s power of the people.
Before I close this issue let me say a word to my pastor colleagues. There’s a driving instinct for us to be compassionate. That’s a good thing. What I have observed however is that those of us who are Presbyterian or Reformed have not given much thought to what a truly biblical worldview would look like on this subject. While I don’t propose to have all the answers, I do, however, believe that certain things are crystal clear.
First, we must, at all costs, avoid the Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Jim Wallis liberal, Social Gospel approach. Jackson and Sharpton appear to be pastors without churches. The “Reverend” seems more of a subterfuge than reality and for the life of me I cannot understand why the ACLU does not hammer them for mixing Church and State. Wallis is just a leftwing nut case. If you don’t believe me, try reading his God’s Politics without crying or laughing yourself to death.
Second, we must be genuinely concerned about the poor—recognizing that they will always be among us—without unduly or unjustly favoring them (Comp. Deut. 15:11 [Matt. 26:11]; esp. Ex. 23:3). We are to do that which is just according to the Word of God (Micah 6:8).
Finally, it is within the purview of the modern Church to teach its members to be responsible citizens in our society. Surely we must be concerned about the lost, but we must also—and at the same time—be about the business of ongoing, solid biblical teaching among those who profess the name of Christ. It is patently clear that the Word of God written calls Christians to work and not to expect handouts and “freebies.” We are also not to discriminate because of the different classes that exist. In this all, there is a spiritual “secret” to be learned.
The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs called that secret The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. The Apostle Paul says it this way. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:12, ESV).The subsequent verse reminds us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Our strength is not in adopting the ways of the secularists nor is it by succumbing to the temptations of the failed Social Gospel. Our help is in the name of the Lord who created the heavens and the earth and from his infallible word we will form our ethics and take our marching orders. Will you speak for him?

[1] William D. Gairdner, The Trouble with Canada, (Toronto: General Paperbacks, 1991).
[2] Ibid., 299.
[3] Ibid., 300. Emphasis his.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Purging the Evil from Our Midst—A Case for Capital Punishment from a Christian Perspective

The Hanging of Saddam Hussein
Mr. John Kolias opined in the January 1, 2007 edition of The Orange County Register in a letter to the Editor that Saddam Hussein was “found guilty at his unjust ‘circus trial.’” Moreover, Mr. Kolias believes that Hussein was executed in a barbaric display and CNN—of all networks!—repeatedly ran the video of this barbarism. To Mr. Kolias’ mind Hussein’s hanging begs the question: “What good is going to come of this ‘Western’ hanging?” He continues, “No one in his right mind can think that this event is going to make it better for our troops in Iraq. Then again there is revenge for all of our intervention over there that will probably lead to more violence over here.” Whew! Well, I guess he needed to vent his spleen. But he is not the only one who thinks that the hanging of Hussein was tantamount to an American “wild West” show. Tom Brokaw said pretty much the same thing on Don Imus’ talk show this week, calling the hanging a “Wild West Shoot-Out.”
No one is advocating that the hanging will make things “better” or “worse” for our troops, who, at last reckoning, were still engaged in a war. Mr. Kolias seems to have forgotten—if he ever knew in the first place—that wars are nasty and messy.
For example, at the Battle of Gettysburg, more than 20,000 Americans died in two days. In World War I the Germans lost 1,000,000—that’s right, one million—men in less than a year. Over 6,000 Americans and allied troops died on D-Day at the invasion of Normandy. In case Mr. Kolias missed it, soldiers, sailors, and Marines train for this very purpose. I’m not certain where Mr. Kolias is getting his information that our intervention over there will “probably lead to more violence over here.” That’s an interesting—and altogether fallacious—assumption. In point of actual fact, ever since 9.11.01 there has not been another attack on American soil in spite of Mr. Kolias’ ramblings and rantings.
His rantings do, however, raise some interesting points for us to ponder. For example, how does Mr. Kolias surmise that this was a “Western” hanging? John Wayne is dead. I’m not certain if Mr. Kolias intended a double entendre by the use of the word “Western,” but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. If he meant “Western” in the sense of George Bush is a Western cowboy that’s one thing. If he meant “Western” in the sense of Western countries that’s quite another. Both, however, are way off base. Many—most—Western countries no longer have the death penalty, so in that sense how could this be a Western hanging? Let me take a few moments and give a brief history of how the “Western” Church has viewed the concept of the death penalty.
Last night, my wife and I watched the DVD Flight 93—I know, Lincoln’s been shot, too. It just takes me a while to get ready psychologically to watch something like that. To make matters worse, I just finished Mark Steyn’s book America Alone. The End of the World as We Know It. Both the movie and Steyn’s book chronicle how thugs like the 9/11 hijackers, bin Laden, and Hussein operate. If America is in any quagmire, it’s not the war in Iraq, but in the morass of the lie of moral equivalence. Counter to Kolias, Brokaw, and others like them, I am thoroughly convinced that hanging Hussein for the extermination of more than 140 people was justified—irrespective of how many other accusations were leveled against him. What was Iraq supposed to do have a trial for every murder he committed before they put him to death? Some in America would answer Yes; those people are sorely misguided in my estimation. So how have Christians viewed capital punishment in the past?

The Death Penalty in the History of the Church
The early church fathers differed on capital punishment. Lactantius[1] opposed it while St. Augustine spoke in favor of the State’s right to impose it. The time known as the Middle Ages witnessed debates raging back and forth about the death penalty. On balance, it’s safe to say that the incidences of capital punishment increased during this time and the executions would certainly qualify as cruel and unusual punishment by today’s standards.
The “angelic doctor,” St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/1225-1274), who is considered by some to be the greatest theologian of the Middle Ages, argued for the right of the State to inflict capital punishment for certain crimes.[2] In the time known as the Reformation, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others wrote and spoke in favor of the death penalty.[3] A few well-chosen comments by Calvin will put the view of the Reformation into perspective for us.
Inst.4.20.10 bears the title: The magistrates’ exercise of force is compatible with piety. Being sensitive to the relationship and difference between killing and murder, Calvin begins his explanation of why he is in favor of the death penalty in certain instances in the following fashion: “But here a seemingly hard and difficult question arises: if the law of God forbids all Christians to kill [Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; Matt. 5:21], and the prophet prophesies concerning God’s holy mountain (the church) that in it men shall not afflict or hurt [Isa. 11:9; 65:25]—how can magistrates be pious men and shedders of blood at the same time?”[4] It’s amazing that you still hear that question today, even, or especially, from Christians. You’d think that enough time would have elapsed from 1559, the date of the last edition of the Institutes, until now, and that people would have grasped the import of Calvin’s argument, but I suppose someone is not listening or reading. Some read and disagree. How did Calvin resolve the dilemma in the question he raised? Let’s listen.
He goes on to say, “. . .if we understand that the magistrate in administering punishments does nothing by himself, but carries out the very judgments of God, we shall not be hampered by this scruple.”[5] This is a key thought and deserves careful consideration. Of course, the modern mindset has long since abandoned the notion of God or the serious mention of God in society. In fact, if you mention his Name in most political and academic circles you can expect widespread and rampant apoplexy. Our society has come to understand freedom of religion to mean freedom from religion; the separation of Church and State to mean the separation of God and State. But this statement from Calvin is essential for Christians as well; one might say for Christians particularly. Much of the debate that rages about capital punishment in Christian circles today fails to take this key principle into account. The continuation of Calvin’s argument makes the case for the punishment of murderers.
Calvin argues for “derived” authority for the civil magistrate when he says, “The law of the Lord forbids killing; but, that murders may not go unpunished, the Lawgiver himself puts into the hand of his ministers a sword to be drawn against all murderers.”[6] Let me make a couple of qualifying comments. In the first place, Calvin makes the necessary distinction between “killing” and “murder.” All murder is killing, but not every instance of killing is murder. In the second place, he is not affirming that ministers of the Word of God should be involved in executions. He simply uses the word “minister” here to describe the task of the civil magistrate.
Calvin warns us of this. “Would that this were ever before our minds—that nothing is done here from men’s rashness, but all things are done on the authority of God who commands it; and while his authority goes before us, we never wander from the straight path!”[7] He cites several biblical texts to shore up his stance, but the two from Proverbs (17:15[8] and 20:26[9]) makes his point well.
We must not conclude, however, that Calvin desires to be vengeful or vindictive in what he is writing. The exact opposite is the case. Listen to what he says. “Begone, now, with that abrupt and savage harshness, and that tribunal which is rightly called the reef of accused men! For I am not one either to favor undue cruelty or think that a fair judgment can be pronounced unless clemency, that best counselor of kings and surest keeper of the kingly throne (as Solomon declares) [Prov. 20:28] is always present—clemency, which by a certain writer of antiquity was truly called the chief gift of princes.”[10]
He concludes this section with these words. “Yet it is necessary for the magistrate to pay attention to both, lest by excessive severity he either harm more than heal; or, by superstitious affection of clemency, fall into the cruelest gentleness, if he should (with a soft and dissolute kindness) abandon many to their destruction. For during the reign of Nerva it was not without reason said: it is indeed bad to live under a prince with whom nothing is permitted; but much worse under one by whom everything is allowed.”[11]
So what does the history of the death penalty in the United States look like? Let’s take a couple of moments and take a look.

Capital Punishment in the United States
In the United States, the first documented account of capital punishment occurred in the colony of Virginia in 1622 when Daniell Frank was hanged for stealing a calf and other items from Sir George Yerdly. In 1630, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, John Billington was the first person hanged for murder. John Jefferson Davis writes, “During the revolutionary period, most of the colonies considered murder, treason, piracy, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, and sodomy to be capital crimes. Hanging was the usual form of execution.”[12]
Calvin’s penchant for no clemency in the case of capital crimes fell into disrepute, however, in the 18th century. In Italy in 1764, Cesare Beccaria wrote his seminal work entitled On Crimes and Punishments. This work was one of the earliest pleas for the abolition of capital punishment. In fact, it is still cited frequently by opponents of capital punishment and has become a kind of “classic” in its field. “Beccaria’s treatise was influential in the abolition of capital punishment in Tuscany (1786) and Austria (1787), and it had some influence in England, which eliminated some 190 crimes from the capital category in 1860.”[13]
But Beccaria’s work served a positive purpose, for England was in dire need of some reform in this area. In 1814, three English boys, ranging in age from eight to eleven, were executed for stealing a pair of shoes! In 1833, a nine-year-old boy was hanged for stealing a set of children’s paints—paints, not pants—from a London store. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why there was growing sympathy for the abolition of capital punishment given these and like excesses.
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also witnessed many influential people protesting against the death penalty. Among them are people of the stature of Voltaire, Rousseau, Marx (Karl, not Groucho), Hume, Bentham, Franklin, and Paine. The nineteenth century in particular saw the rise of a large movement opposing capital punishment. In one sense, this can be traced back to the attitude of society during that century. It was the nineteenth century that gave us the Age of Romanticism in which important segments of society leaned strongly to the Left. Given society’s bent in the nineteenth century, it should not surprise us that in 1845, the American Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment was founded. A year later, the state of Michigan abolished the death penalty for all crimes except treason. In 1852 and 1853, Rhode Island and Wisconsin followed suit, respectively. “At one time or another, at least 23 states have abolished the capital penalty, and at least 12 have restored the penalty after having rescinded it.”[14]
In the twentieth century the greatest number of executions occurred in our country between the years 1930 and 1949. In those two decades, approximately 148 convicted criminals were executed yearly. “By 1967, however, without any significant legislative action, the use of the death penalty came to a halt. Gary Gilmore’s death in 1977 before a Utah firing squad ended a ten-year unofficial moratorium on capital punishment in the United States.”[15] Such was the “liberated” attitude of our society in those volatile years.
It should not surprise us, therefore, that the 1960s saw the unofficial abolition of capital punishment in the United States. Those were the years of unprecedented unrest and outrage against the “Establishment.” America’s foundations were shaken to the very core at various levels during the era of the 1960s. Many who sought to tear down the establishment, however, didn’t have viable alternatives for replacement. Those who did offer alternatives as often as not wanted us to become socialists or communists.
A wave of liberalism swept across the country and although fortunately not everyone abandoned conservatism, the left-wing press made it seem like they did. Some things don’t change I suppose. In those turbulent years, America became a more “tolerant” and “soft” nation in many ways. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, and illegal substance abuse were rampant—and still are today. Many wore their bell-bottom jeans, granny glasses, tie-dye shirts, and protested that we should draft beer and not men. Hugh Hefner’s Playboy philosophy soared to new heights—or lows; protesters took to the streets and burned American flags announcing that the U.S. was an imperialist nation. Many of our cultured elite are perpetuating that same ideology on our high school, college, and university campuses today.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled twice on the issue of capital punishment in the 1970s (1972 and 1976). On June 29, 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, it was ruled—by a split decision—that the imposition of the death penalty in the states of Texas and Georgia constituted violations of both the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.[16]

A Brief History of the Death Penalty in the US Since 1977
Before I delve into some of the primary arguments against the death penalty, I’d like to give you some statistics. Usually, these are about as exciting as a mouth full of sawdust, but these will give you a field of reference with regard to capital punishment in the US.
As of June 1, 2000, the death penalty was authorized by 38 US states, the federal government, and the US military. Those jurisdictions without the death penalty include, in alphabetical order, Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin as well as the District of Columbia.
What about the methods of execution used in the United States? What are they? Here are some statistics.

Methods of Execution
In Indiana prior to 1913, all executions were by hanging. From 1913 through 1994, convicted murderers were executed by the electric chair. Since 1995, all executions have been by lethal injection. Current death penalty procedure requires that the execution take place inside the walls of the state prison before sunrise.
Thirty-eight states and the federal government have statutes authorizing the death penalty by one of five methods: lethal injection, electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, and firing squad. Many states still have laws allowing for multiple or alternative methods of execution, depending upon the choice of the inmate, the date of execution or sentence, or the possibility of the method being held unconstitutional. Eighteen states authorize lethal injection as the sole method of execution. Eighteen others provide for lethal injection as the primary or alternative method of execution. Only two states—Alabama and Nebraska—currently use electrocution as the sole method of execution. No states provide for lethal gas, hanging, or firing squad as the sole method of execution.
We’re going to turn our attention now to the most prominent arguments against the death penalty. I believe that it is fair to allow the opposition to speak first not because they are correct, but so that you will be armed with what kinds of arguments they put forward in defense of allowing convicted murderers either to spend the rest of their life in prison or eventually to face the possibility of parole.
From my perspective and for our purposes, we want to ask what the Bible has to say about capital punishment. In point of fact, Scripture has a great deal to say about the death penalty and with regard to particular, egregious sins we also find a phrase about purging the evil from the midst of the people—something that is virtually totally lost on our soft society. Since this is already getting too long for one installment, I’ll simply provide an introduction for now and move on the specific texts in subsequent issues.

What Does the Bible Say About Capital Punishment?
Old notions are hard, if not next to impossible, to eradicate. Some people today still believe that the God of the Old Testament is mean, mean-spirited, vindictive, and wrathful. I’m not only talking about the talking heads on the radio and TV, but this is also true of some misguided Christians. I have actually heard believers—and pastors—state that the God of the Old Testament is very different from Jesus in the New Testament. Nothing could be farther from the truth; that is certainly not the case. In John 14:7, 9, Jesus is emphatic about the identity of himself as the Son of God and the Father. Our Lord identifies himself with the “I am” of the Old Testament (John 8:58; [Ex. 3:13-15]). In that same gospel, Jesus unequivocally states that he and the Father are one (John 17:11).
In spite of all of this, there are still those who think that the Old Testament notion of “an eye for an eye” is harsh, cruel, and primitive. These types of people are the utopic, non-realistic optimists who believe we would do far better to attempt to reform murderers rather than execute them. They are impervious to recidivism rates. Unfortunately, they have not taken the time to explain to us a method of reform that is one hundred percent effective. Equally unfortunately, we know that far too many convicted murderers are allowed, “to walk” by a jury or judge only to murder again. I don’t know about you, but if I allowed a convicted murderer to get out of prison and they murdered again, my conscience would bother me terribly.
In this part of this work, we’re going to examine some biblical texts that draw our attention to what God says about capital punishment and the reasons given why it is good for a nation and the land to execute convicted murderers. This section will present information that many in our secular society have never thought about. By the same token, I suspect it will also present information with which the secularist will disagree. I hope, however, that not every secularist will disagree and I hope to open up a dialogue with those who are at least willing to listen to “the other side.”
This section will also sound strange to some Christians. As I mentioned earlier, there are Christians who are not in favor of the death penalty. There are even some conservative Christians that are not in favor of capital punishment. I hope to be able to demonstrate from the Bible that the execution of convicted murderers is a command with a specific divine reason attached to it. I also will demonstrate that there is a biblical distinction between premeditated murder and killing. One of my guiding theses will be: All murder is killing, but not all killing is murder.
In order to make our case, we’re going to take the necessary time to examine a wide variety of texts from both the Old and New Testaments. It might surprise us that there are numerous texts that address themselves to this subject. I will not be able to cite all of them, but where I do not cite a given text, I’ll put it in the footnotes. I’ve also aimed at keeping the “meat” of the discussion in the body of the article. For those who are interested in delving into the Greek and Hebrew, I’ll simply point you to the footnotes as well.
At the same time as we examine the pertinent texts, we’re going to put God’s reasons for capital punishment under the microscope and observe the unity that the Bible presents us regarding the nature and necessity of this type of punishment. Finally, we’ll also examine some contemporary issues relevant to our century such as the execution of murderers like Timothy McVeigh, the 2003 case of John Mohammed and Lee Malvo,[17] and we’ll also speak about the 2005 Stanley “Tookie” Williams case here in California. We’ll ask question contemporary questions like: Is the death penalty something that should be carried out in order to make a nationwide public spectacle of the convicted murderer or should his execution be limited to those who actually lost loved ones in his crime?
Before we do this, however, I want to set the stage and dispel the false notions that the Old Testament punishments were primitive, cruel, and unusual. I’m going to begin with a text that will function as a kind of “thesis” for our discussion. It’s found in Hebrews 2:1-3 and reads as follows: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard…” (Emphasis mine).
I use this text for the reason that often the punishments seem cruel to our postmodern ears. We’ve been bred on toleration, political correctness, egalitarianism, relativism, and LRL[18] junk food. From the outset we need to be reminded that all God’s laws are just and good (Ps. 119:39; 68). Eventually, we’re going to look at the “eye-for-an-eye” texts that seem to be vengeful and vindictive in the course of this section, but for the present I want to point out some of the texts that clearly manifest the deep care and concern the Lord has for his creation.
At creation, was not only endowed with God’s image, but was also given certain “creation mandates” that were to guide him in being God’s vice-regent on earth. The theological way of describing this truth is that man was called upon to think God’s thoughts after him. The only way man could do that was to do things God’s way. God’s revelation to us is, in part, designed to show us the way in exercising godly dominion over the created order.
I say this by way of introduction, because even though it’s true that the Lord is concerned to redeem lost sinners, his plan also includes provision for the inanimate creations as well as for the animals. In Matthew 6:26 Jesus makes the general statement that God cares for the birds of the air. Could he have been thinking about the specific command found in Deuteronomy 22:6-7? What do those verses require? Listen. “If you come across a bird's nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life.” That was not the musings of a radical environmentalist, but the very words of God.Next time we’ll look briefly at the concept of the “deterrent” of purging evil from the midst of society as well as a foundational text for capital punishment found in Genesis 9:6. If time permits, we’ll also look at the New Testament text of Romans 13.

[1] For information on this important Latin church father, see Hans von Campenhausen, Lateinische Kirchenväter, (Köln: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 19784), pp. 57-76; J. Martin, “Lactantius,” in Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, Bd. 6, (Freiburg: Herder, 19862), pp. 726-728; John McClintock & James Strong, “Lactantius,” in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. V, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), pp. 185-189; Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 19772), pp. 955-958.
[2] See his Summa Theologica, Part II-II, question 64, articles 2-3.
[3] See Martin Luther, “Wider die räuberischen und mörderischen Rotten der Bauern,” in Luthers Werke in Auswahl, Bd. I, (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1966), pp. 69-74 and John Calvin, Inst.4.20.10.
[4] Calvin, Inst.4.20.10, 1497.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid. Emphases mine.
[8] ESV Proverbs 17:15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”
[9] ESV Proverbs 20:26, “A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.”
[10] Calvin, Inst.4.20.10, 1498-1499. Emphasis mine.
[11] Ibid., 1499. All italics mine.
[12] John J. Davis, Evangelical Ethics, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1985), p. 195.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., 196.
[15] Ibid.
[16] The Eighth Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishments. The Fourteenth Amendment requires equal protection under the law.
[17] As I wrote this section initially (March 12, 2004), Mohammed has been sentenced to death and Malvo to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
[18] Liberal Religious Left.