Friday, April 24, 2009

Capital Punishment within a Christian Worldview

God entrusted to fallible, fallen, unsaved humans the responsibility of exercising justice (Deut. 1:16-17). He established the principles by which humans were to judge justly:

1. No favoritism or partiality (Lev. 19:15).
2. No allegation may be accepted without a minimum of two witnesses (Deut. 17:6).
3. When the appropriate number of witnesses are present, and the allegations are found to be true, the judges must pass an equitable sentence upon the criminal, i.e., the punishment is to be equal to the crime (Exod. 21:24-25; Lev. 24:19-21; Deut. 19:21).
4. The judges are to be present when the punishment is meted out so that they are fully aware of the effects of the punishment (Deut. 25:1-3).
5. The witnesses, in the case of capital punishment by stoning, are to be involved in carrying out the punishment (Deut. 17:3-6). This means that if witnesses have colluded and falsely accused someone, they become guilty of murder and, when discovered, will receive the same death penalty that they wrongly had inflicted upon another (Deut. 19:15-19).
6. Execution by stoning was to be done publically with the participation of the public (Deut. 17:7). This reinforced the seriousness of the crime and served as a deterrent to future criminal activity.
7. Prior to the establishment of the Mosaic Covenant and the creation of the nation of Israel, God established capital punishment as the appropriate sentence for intentional manslaughter in time of peace (Gen. 9:6)
8. Within the context of the Israelite nation, God established that the following crimes were to be punished with the death penalty
+ Intentional manslaughter in time of peace (Lev. 24:21; Num. 35:30-33). The Numbers passage is important because God says no amount of money may be accepted as reparation for murder. Only by the blood of the murderer being shed can a land be purged from the guilt of murder.
+ The owner of an animal that kills another man, if the owner knew the animal was likely to kill and did not take precaution to keep the animal away from people (Exod. 21:29). In this case, the owner may ransom his life with money if it is demanded of him (Exod. 21:30).
+ Kidnappers (Exod. 21:16)
+ Those involved in witchcraft (Exod. 22:18)
+ Those who are involved in homosexual behavior (Lev. 20:13) or beastiality (Exod. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16)
+ If a man marries a woman and her mother, they are all to be burned with fire (Lev. 20:14)
+ Whoever blasphemes God’s name (Lev. 24:16).
+ Whoever curses his father or mother (Lev. 20:9) or strikes his father of mother (Exod. 21:15).
+ Those who commit adultery (Lev. 20:10), including the rape of or consensual sex with an engaged woman.
+ Those who commit incest (non-rape) are both killed (Lev. 20:11-12)
+ A non-Levite who gets near the tabernacle during its setup (Num. 1:51).
+ A prophet or dreamer of dreams who entices God’s people to serve other Gods (Deut. 13:3), as well as any person or group of persons who depart from God and serve other gods (Deut. 13:5ff)
+ A stubborn, rebellious son who is a glutton and a drunkard (Deut 21:18-21). It appears that after a person was stoned to death, they were hung on a tree as a warning against committing such crime. They were allowed to hang only until sundown (Deut. 21:22).
Since God is always just, God’s establishment of capital punishment for the above crimes means that it is an appropriate (equitable) punishment for the seriousness of these crimes. If the death penalty seems too severe for these crimes, that tells us that we do not view these crimes the way God does. Since God specifies that certain crimes are to be punished by stoning, others by burning, and others by hanging, none of these forms of capital punishment should be regarded as inhumane or failing to reflect a godly compassion.

The fact that God imparted responsibility to exercise capital punishment to fallible, fallen, unsaved humans tells us that the possibility, even likelihood, of injustice being done, was not a sufficient cause from God’s perspective to forbid capital punishment. It should not, therefore, be a sufficient grounds for us to oppose it.

When we value human life more than God values it, we are idolaters because we are essentially saying we know the real value of things better than God does.

Since we are not part of the nation of Israel, we as individuals do not have the freedom to enact capital punishment. However, to the extent that we can influence the laws of our land, we should seek to influence our laws to punish as capital crimes those sins that God deems worthy of capital punishment.

NT Issues:
Woman taken in adultery. Assuming that this story is actually part of the text (and there are serious questions about its authenticity), Jesus told the witnesses to stone her. He passed judgment that she was worthy of death. However, he also added a condition that exposed the hypocrisy of her accusers: “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus is not establishing a requirement that only those without sin can be involved in the judgment of others. If so, that would invalidate all forms of civil courts by non-Christians, but God said that those in authority in civil government are appointed by God (regardless of their personal spiritual status) and they do not “bear the sword in vain,” implying that they legitimately wield the sword (a tool of death) in the punishment of evil doers (Rom. 13:1-6).

1 Cor. 6:9-11 some of the Corinthians were formerly adulterers and homosexuals, but God washed, justified, and sanctified them. Does this show that God no longer considers these capital crimes? No. Rather it shows that these sins are not unforgiveable. Capital punishment in the OT did not preclude the possibility of repentance and forgiveness prior to being killed. Repentance, however, is not a reason to commute a death penalty for those who, according to God, deserve it. The reason the Corinthians weren’t killed for their adultery and homosexuality is because they were not living in Israel under God’s government. They were living under Roman law which did not reflect God’s perspective on these issues. We too live under laws which do not reflect God’s perspective on these issues, but as followers of Jesus, the one who gave the Mosaic Law to Israel, we must view all of life from His perspective.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Glorying in the Cross (Gal. 6:14)

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Galatians 6:14 KJV)

Ἐμοὶ δὲ μὴ γένοιτο καυχᾶσθαι εἰ μὴ ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, δι᾽ οὗ ἐμοὶ κόσμος ἐσταύρωται κἀγὼ κόσμῳ

What does it mean to "glory in the cross?"

The first rule of interpretation is context, and the previous two verses provide the setting.
Galatians 6:12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. (NASB)
As Paul makes clear throughout this letter, Judaizers were pressuring the Galatian Gentile Christians to be circumcised. Their purpose in this campaign was to avoid persecution themselves and to be able to boast about making "converts," which appears to be what Paul means by "so that they may boast in your flesh."

The word translated "boast" in v. 13 (NASB) is the same word translated "glory" in v. 14 (KJV).
To "glory" in something is to view it as a basis for bragging, boasting, or being proud. BDAG offers the sense "to take pride in someth.," and the glosses "boast, glory, pride oneself, brag" for Gal. 6:13, 14.

In contrast to the Judaizers who wanted to brag or boast about a "righteousness" achieved through external conformity to the Law, specifically through circumcision, Paul asserts that he will only glory, boast, brag about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I remember singing songs about "glorying in the cross," and being uncertain what precisely it mean to glory in the cross. It is difficult to glory in the cross if I do not see the cross as more than the place Jesus died for my sins.


As I have matured in my understanding of the significance of the cross in God's plan of redemption, my appreciation for the cross (metonymy for all that was accomplished by Jesus in his atonement on the cross) has grown.

The cross should be the grounds for our boasting for at least the following reasons:
• The cross reveals the monstrous nature of my sin – the Son of God had to suffer and die to ransom me. Yet, He did!
• The cross trumpets the necessity of justice, the inevitability of punishment for sin, and an irrevocably moral universe.
• The cross testifies to the value God places upon humanity, made in His image (Col. 3:10).
• The cross unveils the vastness of God’s desire for our restoration to relationship with Himself, the unsearchable limits of His love (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8).
• The cross is a token of God's purpose to give me all that it takes to live in relationship with Him, for if God spared not His son, how shall He not also with him give me all things freely (Rom. 8:32).
• The cross was the place where Christ provided a propitiation for righteous wrath of God for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
• The cross frees me from the law's claim upon me – for the law views me as dead through my union with Christ – and frees me to be married to Christ and bring forth fruit to God (Rom. 7:4-6).
• On the cross Jesus bore in his body the punishment my sins rightly deserved so that I need never experience that punishment (1 Peter 2:24)
• The cross is the basis of my justification (Gal. 2:16-20).
• The cross provides me with a righteousness I could never acquire on my own (Phil. 3:9; 1 Peter 2:24)
• The cross frees me from sin’s control (Romans 6:1-7:6)
• The cross is the means by which the world has been crucified to me and I have been crucified to the world (Gal. 6:14).
• The cross leads to resurrection and new life.
• The cross is the basis for the believer's entire sanctification (actualizing my union with Christ’s death to sin) and all ongoing growth in Christlikeness (Rom. 6).
• The cross points to the sacrificial blood which now cleanses those who walk in the light from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7).
• The cross removed the barrier to the holy of holies – the temple veil was torn from top to bottom when Jesus cried it is finished.
Hallelujah for the cross!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Valuable Resource for Child Rearing

Several years ago, some of my friends highly recommended Ted Tripp's book Shepherding a Child's Heart. I purchased it and read it. I didn't find it significantly helpful. Probably that's a commentary on me, though Tripp's style tends to be repetitious, and I don't do repetitious well.

Recently, Lizzy Stetler posted a link to a series of five lectures by Tripp on Child Rearing. Marianne viewed the lectures and encouraged me to. The lectures are fabulous. I particularly resonated with his second lecture "Giving Kids a Vision for God's Glory." Powerful stuff!

I heartily recommend any dad (and mom) who is serious about inculcating a Christian worldview (modern term for Scripture's "wisdom") into their children to absorb all you can from these lectures.

Here are the links to the five lectures:
Session 1: The Call to Formative Instruction
Session 2: Giving Kids a Vision for God's Glory
Session 3: Helping Kids Understand Authority
Session 4: Helping Kids Understand the Heart
Session 5: Overview of Corrective Discipline

As usual, my recommendation does not constitute an endorsement of everything Tripp says. We are always responsible to search the Scriptures to verify the accuracy of any teaching.