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The Death Penalty Debate


Capital Punishment and "the State"
From Cain to Christ

In Appendix A we countered the notion that the Family was not permitted to carry out the commanded shedding of blood (i.e., to execute) its own family members. The question then remains, Why did God prohibit the execution of Cain for the murder of his brother?

The only answer which seems to make sense is in terms of God's plan for the Redemption of the world through Christ.

Cain's "great achievement" will be the formation of "the State," i.e., apostate, non-Patriarchal, political (polis-centered) society.


The Origin of "the State"

When did the idea of a Family governed by someone outside of that Family arise? Was it a good idea? This question is answered in the early chapters of Genesis.

Cain: The First Politician

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. (Genesis 4:17)

"Here we have the delightful story about a young man, still wet behind the ears, settling down in a quiet, suburban setting, to become a family man. A few years of hard work and insured savings pay off for Cain and his lovely wife, and they name their growing village 'Enochville,' after their adorable baby boy."

Is this what the Bible teaches? Admittedly, Genesis 4:17 is not written in the flamboyant, emotional language of a revolutionary protester. One could easily pass it by. But it is recorded for a purpose, surely a very important one (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). Let us stop for a moment and consider it more carefully.

Cain: The Man

What do we know about Cain? Is Cain a "family man" as described above? Well of course we know the answer. Cain was just about as anti-Family as they can come. He murdered his brother (Genesis 4:5-8). This certainly does not bode well for his understanding of the importance of the Family. But we need not speculate: The Bible holds Cain out as one of the bottom 10 worst men in all of history. John, in his first epistle, tells us that Cain "was of the evil one," and, specifically mentioning the murder of his brother, says "his deeds were evil" (I John 3:12). But this is quite moderate compared to Jude's epistle. In one of the deepest and most frightening passages in all of Scripture, Jude treats the subject of rebellion against authority:

{3} Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. {4} For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. {5} But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. {6} And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; {7} as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. {8} Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. {9} Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" {10} But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. {11} Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. {12} These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; {13} raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. {14} Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, {15} "to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." {16} These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.
Jude 1:3-16

Against whose authority was Cain rebelling? Obviously against God, but could there be an earthly referent? There was no "church." Nor was there a "State" against which Cain could rebel. The focus of God's authority for Cain was in the Family, and it was the Family that Cain attacked. This was no Family man. Cain is the antithesis of the man of faith (Hebrews 11:4). And we know a lot about such men of error (Romans 1:18ff.)

The Polis: The City of Man

What did Cain do after leaving the Family? He built a City. The French Protestant Jacques Ellul comments:

The city for Cain is . . . a material sign of his security. He is responsible for himself and for his life. He is far from the Lord's face, and so he will shift for himself. The City is the direct consequence of his refusal to accept God's protection.
Cain has built a City. For God's Eden he substitutes his own, for the goal given to his life by God, he substitutes a goal chosen by himself -- just as he substituted his own security for God's.

This is absolutely critical for an understanding of human history, and we cover it in more detail our PATRIARCHY Studyletter. Apostate man will not accept the Salvation (lit., protection, victory, wholeness, welfare, prosperity, security, peace) and Atonement (covering) of God. He wants to be his own god; he wants to build his own Salvation. His City, the Polis, or Fortress-State, is his way of providing his own Salvation, covering, or security. Cain's act marks the beginning of the war of the Polis against Providence. We will see this theme again and again in Scripture.

"Enoch": New Beginning

What does he name the City? Enoch. "Enoch" can have a very good, or a very bad meaning, depending on who uses the word and with what purpose (cf. Genesis 5:24). Given what we know about Cain, it is more likely that the name here has a bad meaning. Ellul concurs:

The City is called Enoch. "Enoch" means "initiation" or "dedication." Cain dedicates a new world: "Enoch" . . . Inauguration as opposed to Creation. Initiation, as opposed to the garden paradise. The city as opposed to Eden. It is certainly not unawares that Cain gave this name to his creation. Now he also is going to make the world over again. Cain is now going to reconstruct. In fact, the word should not be "reconstruct," but "construct." For in Cain's eyes it is not a beginning again, but a beginning. God's creation is seen as nothing. God did nothing and in no case did He finish anything. Now a start is made, and it is no longer God beginning, but man. And thus Cain, with everything he does, digs a little deeper the abyss between himself and God. There was a solution for his situation, but the solution was in God's hands and that is what he could absolutely not tolerate. He wants to find alone the remedy for a situation he created, but which he cannot himself repair because it is a situation dependent on God's Grace. And Cain accumulates remedies, each one a new disobedience, each one a new offense. Each remedy which seems to be a response to a need in Cain's situation, in fact sinks him ever deeper in woe, into a situation ever more inextricable.
Cain begins -- that is, he reduces God to a hypothesis, to the domain of the superfluous and the unreal. With Cain's beginning, with Enoch, we have a sure starting place for all of civilization. Paradise becomes a legend and creation a myth.
(Ellul, The Meaning of the City, pp 5-6)

What we have in Genesis 4 is the beginning of a war that will continue all the way to Revelation 22. Augustine described it as the conflict between The City of Man vs. the City of God.

The Demonic City

We can note with R. J. Rushdoony some interesting things about the City itself, an aspect of the City-State which we shall also find to be a recurring theme in Scripture: the demonic nature of "the State"; the role of demons in the politics of the City of Man:

Moreover, the Hebrew word for City means several things: it means city, but, as Ellul points out, it apparently also means "the watching Angel, the Vengeance and Terror," with angel here having a demonic sense.
(Rushdoony, Revolt Against Maturity, p 91. Cf. also Daniel 4:13, and Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Lexicon, p. 1105.)

Actually, it is not the same word which means "City" and "the watching angel," but rather two related words. The relationship serves us more as an "association of ideas" (Ellul, p. 9) than a direct etymology or "formal proof" (p. 10) of our thesis. Knowing Cain, we are confident that there was a contrast between Cain's City of Nomads (Genesis 4:16) and the developing Garden-City of God.

Notice also that the "watching angel" is "demonic" in character. In our study of PATRIARCHY we have seen the pervasive demonic character of "the State."

Rushdoony speaks in greater detail of the contrast between the Garden Paradise under the Government of God and the Cain's City of Man. In order to advance our Patriarchal perspective, we shall reserve the term "City" to non-Familial (and hence non-Christian) structures. We recognize the legitimate use of the word in such phrases as "The City of God," and will defer to Rushdoony's use of the phrase in the quote which follows:

The comparison to Eden is very obvious. First of all, Enoch was not the first city; Eden was, and Enoch was an obvious attempt to replace and supplant it. [Eden] was created to be the City of God, or the Kingdom of God. This fact is clearly set forth in Revelation 21 and 22, where the description of the New Jerusalem is merged with that of the Garden of Eden. New Jerusalem is old Eden fulfilled. Thus, Cain's city was an imitation Eden, not the first city but the second. The city was God's purpose and His community; Cain sought to establish a new purpose and a new community. The goal is still community, but now on the tempter's terms, not God's; now in terms of autonomous man rather than the Law-Word of the sovereign God.
Second, the word city has obvious reference to Genesis 3:24. God "drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." The demonic angel implied in the word city is thus an imitation of the Cherubim God stationed to guard Eden.
The city, thus, although an imitation of God's city, was built in defiance of God, as an aggressive act against God, and as a new beginning designed to supplant God's beginning in Eden. At this point, Ellul is right; the "secular" city has an anti-God character; it is built as man's work and as man's order as against God's work and order. Cain's city and the modern city have been built to keep out God, to replace God's Law and predestination with man's law, planning, and control. As against Eden and the New Jerusalem, the Cainite's dream is of Enoch, Babel, and Babylon the Great. All things must be in terms of man.
(Revolt Against Maturity, pp. 91-93)

God's Ordering of Evil

After Christ's shedding of blood, which rendered all subsequent blood-shedding rituals unnecessary, it seems that only "the State" is engaged in the premeditated and continual shedding of blood, in capital punishment, and in war;[23] even the Jews do not retain their ritual sheddings of blood.

It is thus important to grasp the fact that there is no "legal" way Christ could have shed His blood. He was sinless. There is absolutely no provision in God's Law which would call for the shedding of Christ's blood. How, then, would God bring about the perfect Sacrifice of His dear Son?

"The State" is the answer. The lawless State could be counted on to execute the sinless Son of God. Had they been knowledgeable in God's Word they certainly would not have executed Christ (I Corinthians 2:8). But "the State" began in apostasy; a rebellion against God and the Godly Family. It was the obvious vehicle through which Christ could be executed (Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:26-28). We discuss at length the lawless character of "the State" in our PATRIARCHY Studyletter.

Had God carried out the requirement to shed Cain's blood for the shedding of Abel's, the ungodly line (Genesis 4:18, compare Genesis 5) would not have culminated in "the State."[24] God wasn't surprised by the appearance of tares amongst the wheat; it was an integral part of His Plan.

(There is obviously much that is symbolic and difficult for us to understand in these early chapters of Genesis. We may rely somewhat on the work of Gary North who, in his commentary on Genesis, explores the theological significance of the eighth day and the one-and-six pattern of Scripture [beginning in the Creation Week]. The eighth generation of Cain seems to be "resurrected" [as was Christ on the eighth day] to become productive ["economic" man, as opposed to their father Lamech, who exemplifies "political" man {see Franz Oppenheimer's analysis in his work on "the State"}]).

After the apparent "conversion" of the line of Cain in the eighth generation, we are forced to look to Genesis 6 for a new political impetus (as described in another essay), and then again to Nimrod after the destruction of the world in Genesis 7-8 (also discussed in another essay, both published in our PATRIARCHY Studyletter).

Nevertheless, although this essay will surely be the most speculative of the series (no one really has a monopoly on an understanding of these all-too-brief chapters), the marking out of Cain in Genesis 4 surely tells us much about God's plan for the Redemption of the world, if we will only hear it.

Family Sovereignty and "the State"

Our ears are probably not clean enough to hear what this passage is saying. There are certainly many problems with our suggested reason for God's "reprieval of Cain's punishment."

But the most important point in this essay is the most certain: there was nothing in God's Law which forbad the Family from executing the required shedding of blood. We will return to this very significant point in future essays; nowhere is the Family power which was given to Noah (and, we assume, to Adam) rescinded and given monopolistically to "the State."

Whence "the State?"

If (as theologians are almost universally agreed) the defining characteristic of "the State" is the shedding of a criminal's blood (cf. Genesis 9:4-6), yet this was originally a Familial responsibility, and was never explicitly handed over to "the State," where do the theologians find a justification for "the State" in God's Law? When we think of the "mark of Cain" we might remember to wonder why God let him live, but we must never forget that it was the Family that was directed not to kill him. There was no State!

Cain soon saw to that.

The City vs. the Garden.
The Polis vs. Providence.
The State vs. the Family.


23. and in fractional reserve banking (Psalm 72:14, cf. LXX). [back to text]

24. as it found its complete development in Lamech (4:23-24), the seventh generation, who fulfills in typological form the Gospel promise in the Garden (Genesis 3:15). [back to text]

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