Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just Criminal Laws

How can we determine whether a penalty is just, excessively lax, or excessively severe? Considered Biblically, such a question falls into the theological category of "theonomy" - a term that sets off all sorts of red flags in folks' minds these days. As one who adheres to Sola Scriptura as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, I can think of two options to answer the question:

1) Special Revelation (which at the present time is limited to the Bible, though that was not always the case); and

2) General Revelation.

The light provided by special revelation on this issue is often quite clear: the just punishment for murder is death, for example (Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.).FN! Other times, the light is less clear - is the punishment for theft in the Mosaic economy the only just punishment or simply one just punishment out of several or perhaps the just punishment in that particular culture?

The light provided by general revelation is even less clear. Men's consciences are generally bothered by the idea of putting a simple thief (one who steals to feed his family) to death for his crime, and men are generally pricked in their conscience that it would not be proper to permit a rapist to escape with a fine amounting to less than the price of a postage stamp.

Nevertheless, we interpret the less clear by the more clear.

This is all old news, at least to me. Recently, however, I came across a most peculiar argument, and one that I thought I should address (argument by Ron Henzel found here):
[You] seem to be implying that any punishment for rape other than that prescribed by Moses would be arbitrary, and that for a Christian to support it would be inconsistent. I assume you would apply this reasoning to other criminal penalties as well.

But when Paul wrote, “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God” (Rom. 13:2), he was referring primarily to the Roman government, which had a different set of punishments than those prescribed by Moses. Even so, he referred to their authority as “the ordinance of God.”
I found this line of argument most surprising.

Certainly, the laws of the Romans were to be honored by the people of the Roman empire. That is what Paul meant. But to convert such honor into an endorsement of the justice of the laws of the Roman empire would seem bizarre to me. The only rational justification would seem to be either that there is no objective standard of justice or that God providentially provides that every human government always is just. But Scripture - at least in the case of murder - seems to insist that there is an objective standard of justice. Furthermore, Paul himself notes that at least the Corinthian government was unjust (1 Corinthians 6:1) and Jesus in Luke 18 makes reference to an unjust judge.

So it would seem that the position that Mr. Henzel has presented lacks foundation.

In fact, if I had to guess at what was going on, I'd say that Mr. Henzel was overreacting to the label "theonomy," without considering (and accounting for) the undeniable facts that:

a) Justice is objective;
b) the Mosiac law was just both in identifying crimes as such and specifically in punishing them (Heb 2:2);
c) there is no other clear standard of justice; and
d) although Christians are to honor the king, that does not mean calling the unjust just, for we should be like the Proverbs 8:7 person: "For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips."

Zechariah the prophet declared the following, which I think applies not only to Jerusalem of his day, but also to Christian democracies (and democratic republics):

Zechariah 8:15-17
15So again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not. 16These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: 17And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD.

-TurretinFan

FN1 It is important to note that capital punishment for murder preceded the Mosaic economy, and consequently cannot reasonably be thought to be a law that was intended to be limited to the Jewish nation.

6 comments:

John said...

You said: "FN1 It is important to note that capital punishment for murder preceded the Mosaic economy, and consequently cannot reasonably be thought to be a law that was intended to be limited to the Jewish nation."

Yes, capital punishment for MURDER but not rape! That's the problem with covenant theology. You guys want to apply the Old Testament into the New. That's why you sprinkle babies and that's why you want to apply Moses. Wer're under grace now so we shouldn't treat babies as part of God's heritage and we don't need to obey the laws of His ancient people. If we apply the law for government then we need to apply the WHOLE law including the ceremonial law!

Turretinfan said...

John:

a) Capital punishment for rape was in fact practiced by the patriarchs before Moses, though they were condemned for taking justice into their own hands.

b) While covenant theology is an important issue, it's not at all the issue here.

c) Yes, covenant theology explains why we baptize babies (the mode of sprinkling being simply a preferred mode).

d) However, covenant theology is not the explanation for the issues connected with the judicial law. Even a radical dispensational is forced to acknowledge that the New Testament testifies to the fact that the Old Testament sanctions for crime were just punishments.

e) There is a difference between saying that we have to obey the laws of Israel, and saying that the laws of Israel provide an example of justice from which deviation must be explained by more than reference to personal taste.

f) The Old Testament believers were, contrary to some radical dispensational claims, also under grace. So, the fact that we are under grace doesn't either affect the justice of certain criminal sanctions or the issue of whether children should be viewed as members of the congregation or given the outward sign of the covenant of grace.

g) The ceremonial law was fulfilled in Christ. The moral law continues to be fully binding. The civil law is binding as to its general equity - that is to say, to the extent it embodies the principles of justice, it should be followed by the Christian magistrate.

-TurretinFan

natamllc said...

John,

Aren't you mistaken about our relationship with our "Creator" and criminal laws?

Of course, in this civil world, there are degrees of punishment applied in one government or another when one is found guilty and even then, because of the "corrupt" nature we inherited at birth from Adam's transgression, any given standard of justice is not necessarily enforced equitably. One's standing has a lot to do with the degree of punishment that is applied.

If we stop and think about "Who" God is and "who" Satan is, the god of this world, [who comes to steal, kill and destroy our souls] you come away with a more stringent application of Godly Justice and then a corrupt application of ungodly justice based on one's standing in one's local community.

Even in Jesus' day, what was being applied to the "adulterer" all the while they were scheming against God/Jesus Christ when they brought the woman caught in adultery to Him for a "God application" of the offense of adultery? Certainly a different standard?

Never mind the sin that comes to the innocent in this case because of the adultery, to the parents of those caught in the act of adultery, the scourge that comes upon their reputations and their children's and their successes in their familiar society thereafter.

I have been to countries where you can be put to death for a simple "armed" robbery. Consequently you never read in the paper of armed robbery occurring very often in those countries.

It really is hard in this culture to apply Godly moral disciplines, crime and punishments, when the ungodly society is going from bad to worse when it comes to morality, bribery and favoritism to wealthy members of a given society.

We do ourselves a service to look at Biblical historical precedence and do our best under the circumstances in this Country of the United States to apply temperance, not tolerance.

Being a Native American, a "First Nation" California Indian, I can cite for you from personal history as to how justice was applied to my people, even up to just in the last twenty five years or so in California and across the country. In fact, the Government of the United States was attempting to assimilate our Tribal culture into the Culture of the United States by acts of Congress. We Indians refer to this most recent attempt to take our culture away from us as a period called the "termination" era. It's not a happy dinner conversation around our tables on any one of the 583 Indian reservations in the lower 48!

I thank God for Justice "un"applied when it comes to my wretched soul! Don't you? :)

I am beginning to understand and appreciate what Paul means when we read this:::>

Rom 7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
Rom 7:19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Rom 7:20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Rom 7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
Rom 7:23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Rom 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Rom 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

GeneMBridges said...

Yes, capital punishment for MURDER but not rape! That's the problem with covenant theology. You guys want to apply the Old Testament into the New. That's why you sprinkle babies and that's why you want to apply Moses.

I'm Baptist and Reformed and I hold to covenant theology. Argue with me.

Wer're under grace now so we shouldn't treat babies as part of God's heritage and we don't need to obey the laws of His ancient people.

Do you really want to go there?

If what John says is true, then we should approve of incest. Why? John is arguing from the standpoint that if something isn't mandated in the NT, it should NOT be carried forward.

The NT doesn't ban incest as such. That's the OT - specifically Leviticus.

If we apply the law for government then we need to apply the WHOLE law including the ceremonial law!

A better argument, John, would be to point out that the OT government was a theocracy, even under the monarchy. We don't live in a theocracy.

From there, one could say that, as a consequence, the Law qua Law with respect to civil penalties applies to the covenant community.
We practice that same law by excommunicating rapists from churches (to take the example in question).

That said, the counterargument would run something like this:

a. A Government based on Judeo-Christian principles should reflect the abiding principles of the Law.

b. And, with respect to some sexual sins, particularly violent sexual offenses, perpetrators have proven themselves to be incorrectible - take violent crimes against children. Should we continue to maintain them in prisons after serving their sentences? Should we, even if we won't admit it to ourselves, consider them "guilty" of crimes they have yet to commit by isolating them from society and forcing them into hiding. Won't "Jessica's Law" just add more people into prisons at the tax payers expense, and don't draconian laws in states like GA and FL drive them into hiding by regulating where they can live, work, and be at certain times of day? As much as we'd hate to admit it, there is some truth to the arguments that some "liberals" make when they point this out. The difference here is that they would let them roam free - but the Bible would put them away - permanently.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

"I have been to countries where you can be put to death for a simple "armed" robbery. Consequently you never read in the paper of armed robbery occurring very often in those countries."

Natamllc,

Such transgressions deserve eternal punishment from God. But thankfully God would have us temper the penalty in a fallen society. Now how can we justify that we know that God would have us temper the penalty? We must go to the Scriptures, which is where we must go to find an appropriate sanction for sins that are to be considered criminal. What's the alternative? At the very least, wouldn't you prefer to tap into the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of man?

Ron

natamllc said...

Ron,

first of all, I am not sure you and I are holding the right cards from the deck, so to speak.

Maybe our presuppositions are different? I hope we can explore this under the Wise handling of our moderator, TF?

Having said that, let's play ball?

You wrote:

[[Such transgressions deserve eternal punishment from God.]]

I don't know?

Here is the Holy and Righteous Law given to us upon whom the ends of the ages has come, or at least while we are alive and have received His Faith by Grace and Mercy in the Truth:::>
Lev 6:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Lev 6:2 "If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor
Lev 6:3 or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely--in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby--
Lev 6:4 if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found
Lev 6:5 or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt.
Lev 6:6 And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering.
Lev 6:7 And the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty."

What we do within the Church does play itself out within the world controlled by the Devil. Our source of Wisdom is from above while the only wisdom available to the world is devilish. What premise are you standing on when you make that assertion there?

So, first, as a matter of fact, I would remove the word "eternal" within that first sentence. I might be able to address that portion better if you did?


[[But thankfully God would have us temper the penalty in a fallen society.]]

Yes! And for the most part naturally we do whether or not we are of the Kingdom within or the world within.

[[Now how can we justify that we know that God would have us temper the penalty?]]

We can and I cited Leviticus above stating clearly what God knows about robbery.

[[We must go to the Scriptures, which is where we must go to find an appropriate sanction for sins that are to be considered criminal.]]

Yep again!

[[What's the alternative?]]

Backsliding or turning away from the Wisdom that God so richly provides us each day to deal with difficult issues like these, robbery and the application of degrees of punishment for the crime.

Does a wicked man think he is doing a crime when he does one?

Psa 73:10 Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.
Psa 73:11 And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?"
Psa 73:12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.


[[At the very least, wouldn't you prefer to tap into the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of man?]]

No and yes. Not all the time. I, as we all, have this problem and I am the last person to offer sole advice advisedly so or seek God's wisdom in it. Don't you think?:::>

Rom 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
Rom 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--
Rom 3:22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Rom 3:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Rom 3:25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

After this Paul says this about "himself" and it certainly is true for those of us with the same Faith as Paul:::>

Rom 7:20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Rom 7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
Rom 7:23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Rom 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Probably the thing I abhore the most in all this is submission to "Godly" authorities put "over" me by God! Why?

Because of those verses above. Why would God take a person, known by all that know, who is "equally" as sinful as me and place him over me or you?

That is the "Wisdom" of God. It is not my wisdom. In all cases, 100% of the time for my "flesh", I want to be the one over everyone else! At least you would receive a fair hearing by me! :)

I cannot speak for anyone else. I don't trust myself so why should I trust you?

It really is up to God who He puts in authority over me. I don't know if I even have the ability to attain to that perfect submission I am under when God puts one wicked dude over me? I would ideally hope so. Thankfully, all the ones who have been put over me in my Christian community have been sinners and friends! :) I like sinners. I don't like friends! :)

I know that might have gone way off the page Ron, but, I am more interested in why you wrote those things? Why did you? Did something in my comments trigger some unsettled issue for you or the article by TF or other commentors?