Letter (#2 from Andrew) responding to article "Christians and Capital Punishment"
I've been meaning to send you my comments on your comments, and have finally gotten around to it. I'll stick to the same headings that you did.
During my original argument, I don't think I showed my argument very well. Jesus obviously made it so that he was the only one who could throw the first stone at the adulterous woman. As you said in your article, "all it shows is that Jesus was compassionate and gracious." Romans 8:29 shows that God's plan for every Christian is to "be conformed to the likeness of his Son." Since our goal in this life should be to become like Jesus, we should try to show the same compassion and graciousness to every sinner. Even if the OT demands death for the sin, we should follow Christ and give the person mercy. I agree with you that Jesus wasn't specifically talking about the death penalty in this passage, but he was giving us an example.
Also, reading back over your article, I don't understand why you included the last sentence about Jesus throwing over tables and casting his enemies into hell. I don't understand how that at all fits into your argument. In those instances, Jesus is displaying righteous anger. In the first instance, the people were defiling the house of God. In the second, Jesus has already given his enemies enough time to believe in Him and turn to His side, but they don't, so he puts them where they deserve to go. It just seemed to me that putting in that sentence you were trying to show a contradiction in Jesus' message and actions. Sorry if I took that wrong.
I agree with you on most of your comments about James 2. I believe that what "James has in mind [is] that all people are equally sinners not that all people sin equally." But, since we are all equally as guilty of all sin as the next person, how can we justify punishing anyone? In my previous arguments, I had offered prison as an alternative to the death penalty. To tell you the truth, I only offered prison as a compromise between those who believe in capital punishment, like you, and people like me, who don't. I really don't think that prison is justified. You said, "Based on your reasoning of James 2, how could you justify prison? If James 2 bans capital punishment, it also bans prison." You hit on exactly what I believe. Prison was just a cover that I tried to find biblical backing for, simply as a median point between our views. But given this, I don't think criminals/sinners should run rampant. I believe that police and other law enforcement have the obligation to care for the greater good, which involves getting criminals off the street. I would propose, no punishment, but a counseling requirement. This isn't punishment. It is just us trying to help the other sinners of the world get past their sins and become better people. This is where I would look back to John 8. Since no one condemns the woman, Jesus tells her, "Go now and leave your life of sin." I would try to follow this example in our goal, as Christians, to become like Christ.
The OT and the NT:
I again didn't explain myself well in my previous argument. What I meant is that we must look at the OT laws through post-crucifixion/resurrection eyes. We need to evaluate what in the OT still applies to us keeping in mind that Jesus died for our sins. I agree that it is still wrong to covet. It is still wrong to commit murder, idolatry, adultery, etc. But given that Jesus died for these sins, we do not have to die for them. In that way, everything changed. Our view about the laws has to change from views of the laws before Christ.
My use of the word "absolved" was a little strong. All I meant was that the punishment for our sins has already been paid. You say in your article, "Christ had not sinned, but was dying for the sins of sinners. God is just and requires that sins be paid for." This is exactly my point. God requires that our sins are paid for, but he already provided the person to pay for those sins. God gave his only Son to die on the csins [sic]. We don't have to pay the punishment because it is already paid.
I think I shared my true views on prison above. I would also like to explain why an extra-biblical solution is needed. As shown in my arguments, the Bible does not permit capital punishment. Also, I agree that it doesn't permit a life sentence in prison. So, if we have no explicit biblical backing left for any earthly punishment for sins, what are we to do? Our only option is to think of something ourselves that doesn't go against the Bible. This is my reason behind promoting a counseling approach, which is not a punishment, just a way to help those who sin.
You mentioned twice in your comments that I should look at Romans 13:1-5. In your article you say that God "has chosen to use governments to bring about his justice. That's exactly what Rom 13:1-5 teaches-God uses governments to carry out his good plan of justice." First of all, I'd like to think of this passage in terms of known history. I don't understand how you can profess this interpretation of Romans while knowing about the atrocities performed in history. Are you saying that God established Hitler as the ruler in Germany to carry out his good plan of justice? Did God think that it was good for Hitler to put all those Jews to death? Is this form of capital punishment good because as you say "God uses [the death penalty] for the good of the people? Sorry for putting this strongly, but the answer to all those questions is HELL NO. You are taking this passage way out of context. So, let me try to explain the original context.
I'm going to include a message from one of my professors at college who has studied Romans exclusively, including writing a book about it's [sic] historical context and getting a Ph. D. in New Testament. Here is what she says:
"We should start by saying that Paul only ever wrote letters to particular churches--usually churches he had planted. Paul could not have imagined life in the 21st, or even the 2nd century. We who come along later have to figure out what he wrote that still can apply, and what was just for his own time and situation. I believe that 13:1-7 was meant specifically for the Roman house churches and cannot be used universally. The Jewish Christians in Rome at that time were in a vulnerable position. About 7 or 8 years earlier, in AD 49, the emperor Claudius had kicked out the Jews because of some public disturbance. That would have included Jewish Christians as well. Now Claudius is dead and Nero is emperor, so the previous laws are no longer in effect. So the Jews are returning to Rome. But it cannot help but be scary for them, since they don't know how Nero will react. Plus, many of them would be quite resentful of giving up their homes and being refugees for many years. Paul does not want them to make a public fuss and jeopardize the Christian house churches of which they are a part. So, Paul is counseling being peaceful and staying under the radar. This section already begins in the previous paragraph where he tells them to bless those who persecute them and do not pay back evil for evil. Instead, feed your enemies and overcome evil with good. Then he also asks them to obey the authorities and pay their taxes. Otherwise they will run into trouble. In fact, he is probably speaking more directly to the Gentile Christians who have not been expelled and who now are being asked to be hospitable to the returning Jews (12:13). I also think that these instructions apply most specifically to police action. Ideally, police 'are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad' (v 3)."
So, we cannot apply this passage to our governments now. Also, we should not just blindly follow national rules. Paul would not have agreed. He was imprisoned and flogged countless times, he says in 2 Corinthians 11:23-25, because he challenged political powers of either the Jews or the Romans.
So, Romans 13:1-5 has no impact on our discussion of capital pu [sic] time [sic], so, he didn't give us any advice on how to deal with a democratic government.
I hope that crystallizes my views on the subject of capital punishment. Please give me any comments that you most likely will have.
My reply to Andrew's 2nd letter
(responding to my article "Christians and Capital Punishment")
As in our previous exchange, my replies follow each of your comments.
You write, "Since our goal in this life should be to become like Jesus, we should try to show the same compassion and graciousness to every sinner. Even if the OT demands death for the sin, we should follow Christ and give the person mercy."
According to your reasoning of Jesus' example, I should try to show the same compassion and graciousness to a pickpocket as to a murderer. I'm not sure how you could come to this view with the John 8 passage (or with Rom 8:29). Should we love others? Yes, but does that mean allowing murderers to live, either in prison or in a counseling institution? You can hardly support your opposition to capital punishment with John 8 (or Rom 8). What about showing compassion on the rest of innocent civilization who might otherwise be harmed by those allowed to live in prison or in a counseling institution? Isn't it compassionate to the masses to execute a murderer and thus ensure he harms no one else, including other inmates?
[This is a bit of an aside, thus I'm bracketing it, but here are two articles by Dennis Prager that show how allowing murderers to live the remainder of their days in institutions can lead to more innocent people being murdered:
1) "Capital punishment -- another argument for it" (http://www.townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2006/12/12/capital_punishment_--_another_argument_for_it)
2). "George Will and Capital Punishment" (http://www.townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2003/11/04/george_will_and_capital_punishment).
Also see this quote about a murderer: "While in prison, LeBaron continued to order his remaining followers to murder his opponents, including some of his wives and children. It has been estimated that upwards of 25 people were killed as a result of LeBaron's prison-cell orders." (Taken from Internet on 06/21/08 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ervil_LeBaron)]
Then you say, "Also, reading back over your article ['Christians and Capital Punishment'], I don't understand why you included the last sentence about Jesus throwing over tables and casting his enemies into hell.... It just seemed to me that putting in that sentence you were trying to show a contradiction in Jesus' message and actions."
Too often love is associated with a distortion of compassion, like letting a murderer live. In John 8, Jesus allowed an adulterer to live, not a murderer. Secondly, Jesus wasn't the soft guy who overlooked sin, as people often make him out to be. John 8 doesn't teach about forgiveness as a blanket civil response to all sins. Many people today would perceive Jesus' teaching in Matt 18:15-17 as harsh, yet it shows that Jesus' compassion and rough treatment of sin go together, not contradict. Your view fails to reckon with this tougher side of Jesus.
What about when Ananias and Sapphira died for lying to God in Acts 5:1-10? Was Peter acting in the spirit of John 8 as he brought the death sentence to them? Why didn't God just let them live? After all, wouldn't the compassion lesson that Jesus had taught in John 8 dictate this?
God utterly hates sin and will deal with it in the harshest terms one day. Again, I included those sentences--about Jesus throwing over tables and casting his enemies into hell--in my essay, "Christians and Capital Punishment," to show that judgment also, and not just love, has its place in Christian doctrine.
Your statement, ". . . since we are all equally as guilty of all sin . . ." misses the point of what I said in my last reply. We aren't all equally as guilty of all sin.
In light of your belief that prisons are also biblically unjustified, you say, "I would propose, no punishment, but a counseling requirement. This isn't punishment. It is just us trying to help the other sinners of the world get past their sins and become better people."
Of course, this counseling phase would have to be held, essentially, in the context of a prison, since most hardened criminals wouldn't comply with it. (Remember, we're talking about murderers and the vilest of society.) You'd have to lock them in the counseling institution at least for a while, which would posse the same problems for your view as a prison per se. But even for the few who might comply with such counseling, your assumption seems to be that these people just need pointing in the right direction, even though it may take several years. If they get the right counseling, then they'll be safe and stable. Your assumption seems to be that people in general aren't totally depraved, and that these criminals aren't living in the most extreme sinful state of depravity. If so, you will have a difficult time reconciling such a view of humanity with Scripture.
And, just for the record, I don't think James 2 bans prison or capital punishment. My argument was that if it bans one, it would likewise ban the other.
The OT and the NT:
No comments needed.
Most relevant to our discussion is your comment, "We don't have to pay the punishment because it is already paid."
Let's say I murder someone in cold blood. Even though I am a believer (or at least up to that point have claimed Christ and shown the fruit of the Spirit), should I not also pay for my crime while on this earth? Even if I am truly born again, Christ's work on the cross doesn't set me free of the earthy institutes he's set up to punish such sins (Gal 6:7). Thus, if I believe even someone who has shown evidence of being born again murders but should have to die for his crimes, it should be clear what I think should happen to the unbelieving who do the same. (See later discussion of Rom 13:1-5.)
Here, you reply, "So, if we have no explicit biblical backing left for any earthly punishment for sins, what are we to do? Our only option is to think of something ourselves that doesn't go against the Bible."
You jump to the conclusion that there is "no explicit biblical backing left for any earthly punishment for sins." If there are no punishments left, then Christians might have to reason their way to an extra-biblical solution, but this is the very element of your argument that you need to flesh out.
Again, your whole unsupported assumption is that execution is wrong. If you can promote extra-biblical solutions, which may or may not be acceptable, why can't I promote a view that has more biblical support than yours?
Now, more of your comments: "Are you saying that God established Hitler as the ruler in Germany to carry out his good plan of justice? Did God think that it was good for Hitler to put all those Jews to death? Is this form of capital punishment good because as you say 'God uses [the death penalty] for the good of the people?'"
We both agree that Hitler was an evil man and did very little to carry out justice. His extermination of 12 million people was heinous and God thought it was evil. That's part of the reason Hitler burns in hell, even as we write. You've used a straw man to try to counter my argument from Rom 13:1-5. Hitler wasn't carrying out a just form of capital punishment, nor have I argued such. He was simply murdering people he didn't like. Your view states that such a heinous person as Hitler does not deserves to die swiftly for his crimes, but should rot in prison. Your view, while on the surface looks compassionate, essentially devalues life by asserting that the deaths of 12 million people aren't worth even one life--Hitler's. The biblical view values life and says, some things cross a line that require a person to die for his crimes.
Then you say, "So, we cannot apply this passage [Rom 13] to our governments now. Also, we should not just blindly follow national rules. So, Romans 13:1-5 has no impact on our discussion of capital pu [sic] time [sic], so, he didn't give us any advice on how to deal with a democratic government."
Unfortunately, you dismiss Rom 13:1-5. Should we reason the same way with Rom 13:9, just a few verses down? What if we took the same approach to Rom 8:29 and said that it has no universal impact or import? What about other places in the book of Romans? That's exactly what homosexuals do with the latter part of Rom 1. If Rom 13:1-5 sheds no light on this issue, then you have a responsibility to flesh out this view in detail. Your professor's comments don't prove your position but only state her views on the matter. I'd encourage you to look at some more commentaries, like Douglas Moo's and others, on that same passage.
Many OT passages and Romans 13:1-5 hinder your arguments against the death penalty, and perhaps that is why you must dismiss them. Saying that "we cannot apply this passage to our governments now" should come as the result of a weighty and solidly biblical discussion, not as a passing comment piggybacking someone else's work. Your dismissal of this passage is the easy way out, not the biblical, honest, or intelligent way. What if we dismissed the John 8 passage the same way?
Letter #3 from Andrew
Letter #1 from Andrew
Christians and Capital Punishment