The Death Penalty Debate

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Capital Punishment: "Ceremonial" or "Moral"?

Sorting out Theonomic Distinctions

Texts Discussed

  1. Genesis 9:4-6
  2. Exodus 21:12-14
  3. Exodus 22:18-20
  4. Exodus 21:28-29
  5. Exodus 31:14-15
  6. Exodus 32:25-29
  7. Leviticus 17
  8. Leviticus 18:1-5
  9. Leviticus 18:6-18
  10. Leviticus 18:19
  11. Leviticus 18:24-30
  12. Leviticus 19:1-2
  13. Leviticus 19:3-4
  14. Leviticus 19:5-8
  15. Leviticus 19:9-10
  16. Leviticus 19:11-12
  17. Leviticus 19:13
  18. Leviticus 19:14-15,16
  19. Leviticus 19:17-18
  20. Leviticus 19:19
  21. Leviticus 19:20-22
  22. Leviticus 19:23-25
  23. Leviticus 19:26
  24. Leviticus 19:27-28
  25. Leviticus 19:29-37
  26. Leviticus 20:1-6
  27. Leviticus 20:7-17, 19-24
  28. Leviticus 20:18
  29. Leviticus 20:25-27
  30. Leviticus 24:11-16,23
  31. Leviticus 24:17-22
  32. Numbers 15:30-36
  33. Numbers 35
  34. Deuteronomy 13:1-11
  35. Deuteronomy 13:12-18
  36. Deuteronomy 17:2-7
  37. Deuteronomy 17:8-13
  38. Deuteronomy 17:13
  39. Deuteronomy 19:11-13; 16-21
  40. Deuteronomy 21:1-9
  41. Deuteronomy 21:18-23
  42. Deuteronomy 22:13-27
  43. Deuteronomy 24:7
  44. Deuteronomy 25:1-3

In the Previous Paper we spent a lot of time analyzing some rather arcane arguments of rather unpopular theologians concerning obscure details of the Mosaic Law. But this is important. Our civilization -- "western civilization" -- is Christian civilization. A dominant influence in the formation of Western Legal Traditions has been the Church, that is, theologians, bishops, and professors at the (Christian) Universities. It is thus important to know what the theologians have said, because the legislators and kings of Western Civilization have looked to them for guidance in the formulation of civil penal codes for centuries.

However, alongside the influence of the Church has been the influence of Rome, of Athens - of "classical" culture (i.e., paganism). And this is why it is even more important to understand the theologians. Although it is not our purpose in this paper to prove the point, the theologians have often looked to the Roman Empire and Greco-Roman culture for their standard of "greatness." Since they have wanted the Bible to be "great," they have "found" Greco-Roman concepts of law therein. Let's ask the theologians to show us in the Bible where the pagan concept of "capital punishment"[18] can be found.

From here on out, we are going to focus on the justice of capital punishment, that is, whether or not it is just in God's eyes for a Christian (or the "State") to shed the blood of another man. We are not here considering the pragmatic reasons for and against capital punishment.[19] What we want to know is, Are the Old Testament laws concerning the shedding of human blood in response to "capital crimes" applicable in this age? We'll start with

Q. 11: Where does the Bible make a distinction between "moral" and "civil" (political) or "ecclesiastical" (religious) laws?

Traditional Protestant ethics has divided the Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, into at least two divisions: The "Moral Law" and The "Ceremonial Law." Even if the theologians do not agree on a precise definition of the "Moral Law," many still agree on which laws are to be described as "Moral:" laws against theft, adultery, and murder are fairly clear.

"Ceremonial Laws" are those that accomplished a pedagogical, or educational function. These laws taught the Israelites something about God's program for the salvation of the world. They taught men about the work of the coming Messiah. They were a foreshadow of things to come, and when the things foreshadowed actually came, the foreshadows had served their purpose. The most obvious laws no longer literally observed in the New Covenant are laws concerning the possession and division of the land of Palestine, laws of cleansing, and the ritual shedding of blood. We may assume that all other standing laws are binding in the New Covenant unless the New Covenant specifically teaches otherwise. This is the "theonomic" ("God's Law" [in its entirety]) position.

Q.12: Are we to assume that the laws concerning the shedding of the blood of certain criminals are binding ("moral") or typological ("ceremonial")?

The best way to determine the answer to this question is to examine the purpose and function of these laws. If we find them to be laws concerning the land of Palestine, laws of cleansing, or the ceremonial shedding of blood, we might well infer that they were pedagogical laws, not to be literally obeyed in our day.

An example of the problem can be found in Deuteronomy 21:1-9:

{1} If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him: {2} Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain: {3} And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke; {4} And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer's neck there in the valley: {5} And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their mouth shall every controversy and every stroke be tried: {6} And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley: {7} And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. {8} Be merciful, O LORD, unto Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto Thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them. {9} So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD.

Aside from the problems we have already discussed regarding the joint-efforts of elders ("civil"?) and priests ("ecclesiastical"?), many questions concerning the New Testament obedience of this passage arise.

Are the civil magistrates responsible to obey this law? Not in its Old Testament form, most would agree. When an unsolved murder takes place, no one argues that we should shed the blood of an heifer to cleanse the land of the shed blood of the victim.

But, if the crime is murder and the murderer is found,[20] is it still necessary and proper in the New Testament to shed blood, in the same way the heifer's blood was shed? Why is the shedding of blood in the case of the unsolved murder no longer appropriate in the New Testament, but the shedding of the blood of the convicted murderer is appropriate?

One theonomist, having been challenged by these arguments, has now decided to advocate the shedding of animal blood in our day! Read more here.

The theonomists are pretty well agreed that it is no longer necessary to have cities of refuge to protect manslaughterers from Family vengeance-takers until the death of the high priest. Likewise, there is near-universal agreement that in the case of an unsolved murder the laws of Deuteronomy 21 no longer have a pedagogical function demanding literal obedience by civil (ecclesiastical?) officials. The problem is one of consistency: if unsolved murders no longer require the ceremonial shedding of blood, why do solved murders require a shedding of blood? Reconstructionist Gary North makes these important points in his "I.C.E. Position Paper" on the annulment of the dietary laws under the heading:

The Cleansing of the Land Since Christ's death and resurrection, the whole earth has been permanently cleansed of the death-curse it labored under as a result of Adam's fall. That release was established definitively at Calvary, and is being progressively revealed over time. The whole creation looks forward to the final release at the end of time (Rom. 8:19-23). This is one aspect of the release granted to the Church and to mankind in general by Christ.
indent.gif (90 bytes)In Old Testament Israel, for instance, the land was polluted - religiously polluted - by any unsolved murder. The elders of the city in which the murder occurred had to slay a heifer in order to remove the pollution from the land (Deut. 21:1-9). Calvary annulled this law; the death of Christ covered the pollution and permanently cleansed the land. There is no ritual cleansing required by the civil magistrates in order to free the land of pollution.

The question then must be answered by a search of all other commands to shed the blood of murderers and other capital criminals: was it the purpose of these laws to cleanse the land of blood guiltiness? Are they still required after Calvary?

Let us begin in Genesis and isolate forty-four passages commanding death for certain criminals and determine the function and purpose of these commands.

One: Genesis 9:4-6

Here is the bedrock of Capital Punishment in the West. Throughout the history of the church, theologians who have supported capital punishment have turned to this passage for support. Even those theologians who are not "Theonomists" or "Christian Reconstructionists," and usually shy away from the Old Testament as a model for civil/criminal legislation, turn to Genesis 9 for Scriptural support of Capital Punishment. If this passage does not warrant the execution of a murderer in our society today, then surely there is no warrant at all. What does the passage say?

But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. {5} And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. {6} Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

This is the moral justification for the State deliberately killing another human being. As we examine more passages, this one will become clearer.

The word "blood" appears in red, as does "the life," because

Leviticus 17:11-14 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. {12} Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. {13} And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. {14} For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.

There are some other questions we can ask.[21]

Q.13: Man's creation in the Image of God is the basis for something.
For what?

Q.14: Is verse 4 to be observed today?

Biblical Horizons Newsletter No. 19 - Is the Noahic Covenant for all Men or only the Church?

Two: Exodus 21:12-14

12. He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. 13. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. 14. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

(Compare 1 Kings 2:26-33)

On verse 13, see Numbers 35.

Exodus 21:15-17

And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. {16} And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. {17} And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

Matthew 15:3-6

But Jesus answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? {4} For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. {5} But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; {6} And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

Three: Exodus 22:18-20

{18} Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
{19} Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.
{20} He that sacrificeth unto any god, save the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.

Q.16: Where else does the Bible use the phrase "utterly destroyed"?
Q.17: What does this phrase mean? (Use your Strong's Concordance.)

A: Strong's #2763. The word is often translated "devoted" or "accursed" (Joshua 7). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that this word

means a ban for utter destruction, the compulsory dedication of something which impedes or resists God's work, which is considered to be accursed before God. The idea...appears in Num 21:2-3, where the Israelites vowed that, if God would enable them to defeat a southern Canaanite king, they would "utterly destroy" (i.e., consider as devoted and accordingly utterly destroy) his cities. This word is used regarding almost all the cities which Joshua's troops destroyed (e.g., Jericho, Josh 6:21; Ai, Josh 8:26; Makkedah, Josh 10:28; Hazor, Josh 11:11), thus indicating the rationale for their destruction. In Deut 7:2-6, the command for this manner of destruction is given, with the explanation following that, otherwise, these cities would lure the Israelites away from the LORD (cf. Deut 20:17-18). Any Israelite city that harbored idolaters was to be "utterly destroyed" (Deut 13:12-15; cf. Ex 22:19). (I:741)

We shall consider this concept again when we come to Deuteronomy 13:12-18.

Four: Exodus 21:28-29

28. If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but owner of the ox shall be quit. 29. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.

Q.15: Was the ox stoned because it was created in the image of God? (Compare Genesis 9:6)

Five: Exodus 31:14-15

14. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. (Compare Exodus 35:2; 12:15,19)

Q.18: Where else does the phrase "he shall be cut off from among his people" occur? Some have suggested that this phrase means ex-communication, and not always death. What do you think? (Recall our discussion in the section on the "separation of church and state.")

Six: Exodus 32:25-29

Exodus 32:25-29 Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), {26} then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, "Whoever is on the Lord's side; come to me." And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. {27} And he said to them, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.'" {28} So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. {29} Then Moses said, "Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother."

Q.19: Were family members exempted from this command? (Capital Punishment as a Patriarchal power)

Seven: Leviticus 17

Q. 20: Verse 4: What does it mean to have blood imputed to a man?
Q. 21: How is this related to the faithful setting forth of God's Law (Ezekiel 3:18-21)?
Q. 22: Is it still important for us to declare God's Word (Acts 18:6; 20:25-27)?

Q. 23: Verses 12-13: What kind of crimes put blood on a man or city (Ezekiel 18, esp. v. 13)?
Q. 24: What happens if this blood remains uncovered (Ezekiel 24:6-10)?
Q. 25: Does dust have a role in the New Testament with regard to those who have rejected faithful preaching and have blood upon them (Mark 6:11; Matthew 10:14; Luke 9:5; 10:11; Acts 13:51)?
Q. 26: Would anyone besides the Jews understand such a testimony in our day? Should they?

Q. 27: Given the regularity of animal sacrifices, why would the presence of blood on a man have been such a disturbing prospect? Wouldn't the Levitical rituals cover the blood incurred by the commission of these crimes?

Consider how the Pharisees abused these concepts. See Leviticus 19:17-18.

Leviticus 18-20

In these chapters we have many ceremonial laws as well as laws that surely obligate the Christian today. Our task is to decide which are which. Or put another way, which of these laws should the Church have been telling the State to enact as "civil law" over the centuries?

Let us consider one passage at a time and ask whether the law is a "ceremonial" or a "moral" law. If we make no other point in this section, it is that the line between "ceremonial" and "moral" laws is often assumed to be an easy one, yet the line is not quite so hard and fast. We may have been mistaken in telling the State to execute criminals based on these verses.

Eight: Leviticus 18:1-5

Consider the terms "judgments," "ordinances," and "statutes."

Q. 28: "Moral" or "Ceremonial?"

Nine: Leviticus 18:6-18

Most people categorize these laws as "moral," as well as verses 20-23. But what about

Ten: Leviticus 18:19

Q. 29: "Moral" or "Ceremonial?"

Eleven: Leviticus 18:24-30

Assuming the majority of these laws are "moral," we must recognize that the violation of many "moral" laws required "ceremonial" responses or remedies such as a ritual cleansing or shedding of blood. In the New Testament the crime may remain even if the ceremonial remedy was designed to teach the Israelites about the work of Christ in the New Covenant. Thus, the Canaanites were made the object of national sacrifice in order to cleanse the defilement of Palestine. Even Israelites are not exempt from this requirement, since they too can defile the land (v. 29).

Q. 30: Is this response to a violation of the "moral" law applicable in the New Covenant?

Twelve: Leviticus 19:1-2

Quoted in I Peter 1:15-16.

Thirteen: Leviticus 19:3-4

The Fifth, Fourth, First, and Second Commandments.

Fourteen: Leviticus 19:5-8

Q. 31: The commandment to offer sacrifices is now fulfilled only through faith in the Lamb of God. We therefore call it a "ceremonial law." What about the penalty for neglecting this commandment (verse 8)? "Moral" or "Ceremonial?"

Fifteen: Leviticus 19:9-10

A Law requiring mercy to the poor. "Moral," most would agree.

Sixteen: Leviticus 19:11-12

The Eighth, Ninth, and Third Commandments.

Seventeen: Leviticus 19:13

Although certainly an application of the Eighth Commandment, few believe that this law is to be applied today. Why not? Do we determine the kind of culture we should have by the Law of God, or do we determine the kind of laws we should have by our culture?

Eighteen: Leviticus 19:14-15,16

More laws concerning the poor, and an application of the Ninth Commandment.

Nineteen: Leviticus 19:17-18

An application of the Sixth Commandment that was utterly ignored by the Pharisees (Matthew 5:43-48). Christians are commanded to rebuke sin by the Word of God (Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3; Galatians 6:1). This is the way, as we have seen, we avoid the imputation of their blood upon us (see comments on Leviticus 17, above). The command not to avenge takes on new meaning in the New Covenant (Romans 12:17). What implications does this command have on the issue of capital punishment? If it was a serious matter to disobey the ceremonial pictures of Christ, what kind of penalty would attach to the rejection of Christ Himself (Hebrews 10, whole chapter)?

Twenty: Leviticus 19:19

Q. 32: "Moral" or "Ceremonial?"

Twenty-One: Leviticus 19:20-22

Q. 33: The penalty for lying with a slave girl is not death, it is a sacrificial cleansing. Why is it not death, as in other cases of adultery?

Q. 34: Did the people of Israel need to be taught anything about the privileges (and therefore the responsibilities) of a free son and heir as opposed to a slave? (cf. Galatians 3:24-4:8)

Twenty-Two: Leviticus 19:23-25

Q. 35: "Moral" or "Ceremonial?"

Twenty-Three: Leviticus 19:26

Q. 36: We would all agree that the New Covenant forbids the use of witchcraft (Acts 19:19), but what of the eating of food with blood (Acts 15: 20)?

Twenty-Four: Leviticus 19:27-28

Q. 37: "Moral" or "Ceremonial?"

Twenty-Five: Leviticus 19:29-37

I think most would agree that the remainder of Leviticus 19 is abiding Law, even if it is ignored (e.g., verses 32, 35-36) in modern practice.

Twenty-Six: Leviticus 20:1-6

It may be difficult to understand what a modern application of giving one's seed to the State might be. It warranted the shedding of blood. Likewise did an involvement in the occult. If the people refuse to take action against such a person, God Himself will (vv. 4-5).

Twenty-Seven: Leviticus 20:7-17, 19-24

We see here a parallel to the first half of Leviticus 18. The difference is the penalties attached. In Leviticus 18:24ff., we saw that the sins of the Canaanites demanded national sacrifice, that is, a sacrificing of the Canaanites themselves. But the same action must be taken in the case of the Israelites: "their blood shall be upon them" (vv. 9,11,12,13,16,27), and "they shall bear their iniquity" (v. 17,19-20). In contrast to sexual sin with a slave girl (Leviticus 19:20) which (for some reason) is only unclean enough (cp. 20:21) to warrant the sacrifice of a ram, the sins outlined in Leviticus 18 and 20 can only be dealt with by the sacrifice of the sinners themselves (20:14).

Twenty-Eight: Leviticus 20:18

Q. 38: "Moral" crime? "Ceremonial" cleansing? Or vice versa?

Twenty-Nine: Leviticus 20:25-27

As in Genesis 9, the commands for "capital punishment" stand next to commands to observe the clean/unclean distinction in foods.

Thirty: Leviticus 24:11-16,23

Blasphemy is so serious that whoever curses God must bear his own sin. This sacrifice took place outside the camp (verse 14, Hebrews 13:11). Of course, Christians are to put the defiled outside their camp as well (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14; I Timothy 6:5; I Corinthians 5:4-7) but

Q. 39: Are they also to stone or burn them? If they are not, Who will judge them? (I Corinthians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:12-16; 10:26-31).

Q. 40: May we only execute outside the city limits?

Q. 41: What is the Biblical principle that would allow us to shed blood within the city limits in the New Testament but not the Old?

Thirty-One: Leviticus 24:17-22

Q. 42: One well-known Theonomist believes that if a man injures another, that very same injury should be done to him. Not all Theonomists agree with him. On what Scriptural basis do you agree or disagree with him?

Q. 43: Nearly all theonomists claim that Jesus did not put the "eye-for-an-eye" rule aside (Matthew 5:38-42); they claim He was not talking about the State, but about interpersonal conflict. Do you know which verse of Scripture proves or disproves this assertion, or do you simply take the word of famous men as your authority (cp. Acts 17:11)?

Q. 44: When the "eye-for-eye" laws of physical disfigurement were carried out, was there a shedding of blood?

Q. 45: What is the general New Testament attitude toward Old Testament practices involving the shedding of blood?

Q. 46: Would the eye-for-eye rules fit into this general category?

Q. 47: How does the New Testament concept of restitution (restoration) bear on personal injuries?

Thirty-Two: Numbers 15:30-36

Verse 34 seems to indicate that living under the Mosaic "theocracy" did not provide clear and sure understanding of what to do in a given situation.

Q. 48: Is the revelation we have in the New Testament more direct and sure or less clear than in the Old Administration? (cf. 2 Peter 1:19) Would it therefore be easier or more difficult now to implement God's Law in society than in the Old Testament?

Thirty-Three: Numbers 35

We consider briefly the role of the kinsman-redeemer in Appendix A. The Patriarchal character of the Old Testament is made clear in this "office." It is the next of kin who revenges God's wrath against wrongdoers who have wronged a member of the ga'al's family. Wrongs against the LORD seem to be expiated by the congregation as a whole stoning the offender. Is there any room for the "State"?

Most theonomists are agreed that since the manslayer was free after the death of the high priest (verse 32) that this law no longer functions in the New Covenant, following the death of the Great High Priest (i.e., Jesus Christ - Hebrews 3:1). But we have again two elements that create much confusion concerning the death of either the murderer or the high priest: those elements are blood, and the promised land (verses 31-34).

Q. 49: In the New Covenant, does murder defile the land in the same way as it did in the Old?

Q. 50: Is atonement (or expiation, a better translation for "cleansed") made for the land in the same way today as under the Old Covenant?

The word "satisfaction" in v. 31 means "substitutionary atonement" If it is true that "there can be no expiation for the land but by the blood of the murderer," then we need capital punishment today.

Q. 51: Could it be the case, however, that today our land is cleansed in another way?

Q. 52: Does the New Testament teach that while Christ's sacrifice did not pay the penalty for all men, yet for all men Christ is the only sacrifice?

Thirty-Four: Deuteronomy 13:1-11

We looked at this passage briefly to establish that family members are not excluded from either the judging (Numbers 35:12,24) nor the execution process (Deuteronomy 13:6).

Thirty-Five: Deuteronomy 13:12-18

We ran across a similar verse in Exodus 22:18-20, and we looked up the word "utterly destroyed" or "devoted to destruction." This concept of "devoted to destruction" sheds much light on the "holy wars" of the Old Testament. These wars would seem to be acts of national capital punishment, in which an entire nation or city was devoted to the LORD as a sacrifice. This is clearly taught in Scripture (Zephaniah 1:4-13, esp. 7-8; Jeremiah 46:10; Isaiah 34:2- 6; Ezekiel 39:18-20). Thus, we no longer have "holy wars" because they were the ritual shedding of blood on a national scale, which cleansed the land of Palestine (Deuteronomy 32: 43, NIV and LXX). Warfare was an act of ceremonial service (Numbers 4:23,30).

Q.53: Are laws concerning holy wars fulfilled or qualified in the New Testament?

First, the action of the sword in the hands of Christians is the Power of the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), which is the Word of Christ (II Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:15). But this was known in the Old Testament, where the word for "the edge of the sword" is also the word for "commandment" as well as for "mouth" (I Samuel 12:14; cp. Isaiah 11:4; Hosea 6:5).

Q. 54: Should we infer that Christians no longer devote the nations to the shedding of blood, but do pierce their hearts and lives with the Mouth of the Sword of the Lord (Hebrews 4:12; Isaiah 49:2)?

Second, we are to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Christians have often ignored or misunderstood the words of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount when He tells us that the ceremonial laws of national sacrifice are to be fulfilled in His saints. By applying the Sword of the Lord, we obey the Levitical commands concerning ritual sacrifice, which were designed in part to teach the effect God's Word would have when faithfully declared. Leviticus 2:13 commanded that all offerings should be salted with salt (Ezekiel 43:24). The offerings were nevertheless consumed by the fire. If the offerings were without sin they would not have been consumed (Malachi 3:1-6). In the New Covenant, the holy ones are baptized with fire (Matthew 3:11) and are not consumed. It is the Word of God that preserves them against fire (II Peter 3:7). In the same way, we are to keep the mouth of our sword salty (Colossians 4:6). Those in whom the salt abides shall be preserved against the fire; those who remain unsalted shall be consumed by the fire (Mark 9:43-48).

Q. 55: How important is it, therefore, for Christians always to be bringing the Word of God to bear on those we touch, that they might be preserved against the great sacrificial fire (Mark 9:49-50)?

The response to a false prophet is parallel to the response to a seducing city or nation: the entire city is put to death; even the cattle are sacrificed (vv. 15-16). Nothing that is "cursed" or "devoted" to be "utterly destroyed" (same word in each case) is to have a part in the Israelite camp (v. 17).

I know of no theologian who believes that the United States, or any nation - regardless of how Christian it should happen to become - is allowed or commanded to execute an entire nation, even if it were proven that every single member of the nation of "New San Francisco," as an example, were a confessed homosexual, adulterer, or murderer, or if the entire banana republic of "El Panador" were wholly given over to witchcraft and the occultic religion of envy (although a covenantal representation would arguably be sufficient).

"Theonomists" make a point of distinguishing between the abiding moral principles of the Law and the cultural details of the setting in which the Law is given in the various "case law" applications. We don't have guests on our roofs so the command to put a rail around our roof (Dt. 22:8) is binding in principle ("You must provide for the safety of your guests"), but not literally, i.e., as to cultural detail ("You must install rails - even on an A-frame!"). Using this analysis, one could conclude that the commands to devote to destruction the city which apostatizes and leads men away from God had cultural details (e.g., "the Canaanites are doing this") which we no longer obey, but the principle of executing an entire nation is still binding, if we follow the rest of God's Law as it applies to the present situation (e.g., "the New San Franciscans are doing this").

Q. 56: Why do some argue that the commands to execute entire nations are not abiding case law principles clothed in the details of the cultural cases at hand?

Those who have followed the Protestant Reformers have always left untouched the sovereignty of the secular princes. We don't declare holy war on occultic, socialistic, or demonic nations because the reigning doctrine of Sovereignty is political (polis-centered) and statist, not Family-centered and Biblical; Secular Humanists (and Christians educated in Roman Law traditions) want to recognize and give due political deference to the "legitimacy" of all nations,[22] from Khadafy and Saddam Hussein to emerging third-world dictatorships rooted in terrorism -- simply because they are secular, non-church, polis-centered institutions. "Birds of a feather etc."

Q. 57: Why is it this command of national sacrificial execution is disregarded, but the same type of command pertaining to individuals is upheld and advocated?
Q. 58: Was Israel any more sinless than a "Christian nation" in the New Covenant age?
Q. 59: Is God's Word in our day any less clear and sure than in the Old Covenant (cf. 2 Peter 1:19)?

A New Testament Theocracy, or Christocracy, would in fact mean complete de-polis-ization; Christ, not man, is King; God, not the State, is Divine. Every believer has access to God's revelation which is complete, clear, and unmediated as in the Old Testament.

Thirty-Six: Deuteronomy 17:2-7

Verse 7 is most interesting. It tells us that the death of the idolaters puts the evil out of Israel (cf. v. 12). It also tells us that the witnesses are to initiate the execution, yet no restriction is placed upon members of the idolater's family.

Let us also pay some attention to the details in this verse and others.

Q. 60: By what theological principle do we who support capital punishment on a theonomic basis arbitrarily suggest that the details of execution, such as method (stoning, burning, etc.) or time and place can be altered, when specified by God's Law?

The participation of witnesses in the stoning, as well as the Congregation, cannot be discontinued. Replacement of the witnesses and the Congregation by professional executioners is non-theonomic. Bureaucratized shedding of blood is simply fascism as an answer to crime, knowing that since witnesses would be required to stone a convicted criminal, fewer would testify and help bring about a conviction. Congregational participation clearly requires and cultivates personal responsibility and community morality. Stoning a man, shedding his blood until he dies, then removing his mangled corpse outside the city limits, certainly teaches the witnesses and the congregation more than the cleaner death by electricity, gas, or lethal injection, performed behind the closed doors of the penitentiary labyrinth by anonymous professional bureaucrats. (Yet if we were to follow God's Law in exhaustive detail we might find the ceremonial character of the shedding of blood would be more evident.)

Thirty-Seven: Deuteronomy 17:8-13

The Lord would appoint a certain place where the laws of the Israelite church-state would be administered (Deuteronomy 12:5,13-14). Difficult legal problems could be brought to this place and the priests and judges could render a decision. If a man hardened his heart against the decision of the priest he would be executed.

Q. 61: Is there a "separation of church and state" here?
Q. 62: How does this compare with the commanded scenario in I Corinthians 6:1-8?

Thirty-Eight: Deuteronomy 17:13

The issue of deterrence is not relevant to our study, because if deterrence were the only consideration, mass executions would certainly deter people (it would terrorize them!), but it certainly would not be Biblical. We might suggest, however, that what really deterred crime was not the execution of the criminal alone, but the community and personal responsibility which was a manifestation of a solid commitment to Biblical morality and God's Law. When witnesses and the congregation are willing to throw stones at a man until he dies before their eyes, all in response to the command of God, it is evident that the level of morality in the community is strong, and probably extends to other areas, such as Biblical Law concerning hospitality to the poor, economic justice, and fair employment, which, when obeyed, tend to reduce crime (Deuteronomy 19:9-10). Personal, community responsibility in every-day areas of life is what prevents criminals and criminal groups from emerging, not fascistic executions bureaucrat/gestapo-style. (Not to suggest that all executions are such, only those taking place in a moral and community vacuum at the urging of those who simply want delinquents (and delinquency) out of sight and out of mind.)

Thirty-Nine: Deuteronomy 19:11-13; 16-21

Forty: Deuteronomy 21:1-9

We have already looked at this passage when we began the survey of Scripture passages, but note verse 9, which is similar to Deuteronomy 19:13, above. In 19:13, we might think that killing the criminal by shedding his blood (and thereby ridding the community of his presence) is the means to the end of "putting away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel." We take this to mean we get rid of the criminal. But in fact, we are getting rid of the religious ("ceremonial"?) guilt of innocent blood, cleansing the land of that stain. Deuteronomy 21:9 shows this, in that the criminal is still present in the land, since his identity was not known, but by shedding blood the guilt of the wrongful shedding of innocent blood is put away from Israel.

Q. 63: Is there a "death penalty" passage which unmistakably mandates the elimination of the criminal, as opposed to the elimination of uncleanness or bloodguiltiness?

This is not a law which is designed to "keep criminals off the streets." It is a law which makes atonement for sin by the shedding of blood, whether that of the criminal or an animal substitute.

Q. 64: Is this kind of law still to be observed?
Q. 65: Can it be observed in the New Testament? Would the sacrificing of a lamb or heifer for sin be efficacious in the New Testament?

Forty-One: Deuteronomy 21:18-23

Q. 66: Will the corpses of the executed defile the land if we leave them in the electric chair, gas chamber, or gallows?
Q. 67: After the judge, jury, district attorney, clerk, bailiff, and congregation stone the criminal, must they, as believer-priests, move the carcass outside the city limits, so as to avoid uncleanness?

Forty-Two: Deuteronomy 22:13-27

Forty-Three: Deuteronomy 24:7

Forty-Four: Deuteronomy 25:1-3

Have I left out any passages that should have been examined?

The question that needs to be asked at this point is whether the commands to stone or burn those guilty of heinous crimes is in the same category as the admittedly ceremonial laws. We have suggested that this question receives a partial answer, at least, by examining the function and purpose of these executions. Although this paper has not remained utterly unbiased, for who can be, it now remains for the reader to judge the answer for himself.

When the question of the justness or the abiding validity of capital punishment is answered, along with the question of who is best qualified to administer it, we may then turn to a more pragmatic discussion of the subject. In other papers, we discuss how obedience to the economic laws of the Bible, as well as laws concerning the poor, hospitality to strangers, and adoption, when obeyed by strong, Godly families - patriarchies like that of Abraham - is the best means to reduce or prevent crime.

As you read defenses of modern-day Capital Punishment, beware of arguments that claim that external enforcement of the law through coercion, force, or threats of force will reduce criminal activity or "clean up America" (ceremonial language?). Is not such a slogan a profession of salvation through law, rather than through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit?

The first town does not change. The second town, initially more corrupt than the first, recognizes its sin and, to a man, atones for that sin by shedding guilty blood. The killers are killed.


18. i.e., a non-liturgical "punishment" meted out solely (monopolistically) by the "State."  [Back to text]

19. In another paper we suggest that the pragmatic rationale for capital punishment (e.g., reduction of crime) is a test better answered by strengthening Christian families than by strengthening the State. [Back to text]

20. If the killing was accidental and the killer is found, he was to flee to the City of Refuge until the death of the High Priest. Should this be the pattern today?  [Back to text]

21. Obviously the most basic question to be asked is the question that undergirds this whole paper: Does God still require us to shed the blood of criminals? Questions 13 and 14 are somewhat trivial in comparison, though they may shed some light on the matter.  [Back to text]

22. When Saddam Hussein attacks George Bush's friends, George Bush compels powerless American youths to take guns and bombs over to Iraq. Hearing Bush's threats, Saddam Hussein compels powerless Iraqis to meet the Americans with guns and bombs purchased from Western arms dealers with money received from Bush a year earlier when Saddam and Bush were on speaking terms. What right do these two men have to force others to kill and be killed for them? Bush claims that in war it is "tragic but unavoidable" that innocent men, women, and children will be killed, but it must be so, because Saddam Hussein "represents" them as "their" leader. The Myth of Political "Legitimacy" cost the lives of 200,000 in Iraq and over 100,000,000 in the 20th century.  [Back to text]

Genesis 9 is probably popular with non-Theonomic scholars because Noah is more popular than Moses, whose laws called for the execution of homosexuals, adulterers, and others (all-too-frequently found in antinomian circles), and was just more demanding and specific than Noah, whose law was vague and only applied to bad guys like murderers.  [Back to Text]

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