Sunday, October 12, 2008

'Judge for Yourself'-- A Sermon on Mt. 7.1-6



The following is a sermon for Oct. 15, 2008 in Estes Chapel, Asbury Seminary

YOU BE THE JUDGE---- Mt. 7.1-6

Some texts in the NT ought to be able to sue for abuse and misuse. Mt. 7.1-6 is one of those texts. How many times have you heard someone say ‘judge not lest you be judged’ to neutralize this text and in effect promote doing nothing at all, since we are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s highest and best for us? The Greek verb krino here however does not mean ‘expose not, lest you be exposed’, it does not mean ‘do not be morally discerning lest someone discern your flaws’, it does not mean ‘never correct or hold someone morally accountable, lest you be held accountable for your behavior’. It means none of those things.


Much nearer to the mark would be a translation ‘condemn not, lest you be condemned’. In other words it is basically the synonym of the slightly stronger verb katakrino in John 8.11 where Jesus says ‘neither do I condemn you…’ This is legal language, and it may well be the ancient equivalent of saying ‘do not damn someone to Hell, lest you be so damned’. It has to do with passing full and final judgment on someone’s life or even their souls, and only God has the right, the knowledge, the authority to do that. Jesus is preventing his followers from assuming the posture of judge, jury, or executioner of someone else’s foibles, and deeming them irretrievably lost and undoubtedly heading for outer darkness.

Instead, Jesus is trying to refocus the disciples on getting their own houses in order. He does this is several ways. First of all he reminds them that they will be evaluated with the same severity that they evaluate others. A lot of folks can dish it out, but they can’t take it when it is their conduct that is being critiqued. Jesus suggests that we have an infinite capacity for maximizing the critique of other people’s sins, and minimizing and rationalizing our own.
But Jesus’ sapiential metaphor of the speck or the plank in the eye suggests that the moral critique meter might well actually be pointing in the opposite direction. We strain over the gnat in someone else’s life, and swallow the camel in our own, so to speak. We totally ignore or are oblivious to our own even greater flaws, sins, shortcomings. And even worse, we assume the condescending posture of one who is in a morally superior position by saying “here let me help you with that speck in your eye”. Notice in vs. 5 Jesus does not suggest that one shouldn’t morally critique others or hold them accountable. What he says is, don’t be a hypocrite—first take the plank out of your own eye, and then go deal with others. It’s a matter of the order of things. We must get our own house in order first.

The term hypokrites is certainly an interesting one. It is a term that comes from the ancient Greek theater and refers to a person who plays a role, rather than being in real life what they seem. We of course take the English derivative of this term to mean someone who does not practice what he preaches, someone who does not walk what he talks. But in fact the actor is not actually trying to be or become the person he depicts, he is simply playing a role.
Too often in the church, leaders play roles which do not in fact represent what they are living into. An actor who plays the role of Jesus, such as Henry Ian Cusick, the character we know as Desmond from ‘Lost’ who did play Jesus in the movie the Gospel of John, (he was found before he was ‘lost’), is not pretending he is actually Jesus, and certainly thereafter will not be held accountable for not being just like Jesus once he finished making the movie, anymore than he will be held accountable for not being Desmond when ‘Lost’ finishes its run in another two seasons.

The point is, Jesus doesn’t want actors or pretenders, nor does he want hypocrites either. In view of a whole series of texts in Matthew where Jesus insists that his followers be morally discerning, hold each other accountable, and to be critically evaluating conduct, (see Mt. 7.15-20; 10. 11-15; 16.6-12; 18.17-18), this text provides no excuse for pretending or abdicating one’s responsibilities to be thy brother’s or sister’s keeper. The issue here has to do with unfair critiques, uncharitable evaluations, and judging others by a different standard than the one uses to judge yourself.

The text calls for rigorous self-examination instead, not merely a ‘non-judgmental’ attitude. We are reminded however that God will judge us by the same strict standard by which we judge others. We can morally evaluate and critique words and deeds of others, but not hearts, heads, persons, lives. T.W Manson puts it this way:

“The whole business of judging persons is in God’s hands, for he alone knows the secrets of men’s hearts. This does not mean we are not to use all the moral insight we possess in order to discover what is right and wrong; but that we are to confine ourselves to that field and refrain from passing judgment on persons. For our judgment is a factor in shaping their lives, and a harsh judgment may help a fellow-creature on the road to perdition.”

There is an important and interesting play on Greek words in this little passage between merely ‘seeing’ and ‘seeing clearly’. In vs. 3 the verb means see where it speaks of seeing someone else’s faults. But in vs. 5 the verb of sight means ‘see clearly’ and what is being suggested is that when one has truly seen and dealt with the plank in one’s own eye, only then can one see clearly enough to help the brother with the speck in his eye. Self-examination and self-critique, and self-reformation leads to more accurate seeing of others flaws, and the ability to help them.

In his wonderful and convicting non-fiction book, An Innocent Man (which should be required ethical reading before one leaves seminary), the Christian writer John Grisham tells the tale of a man condemned to death row and to execution for a crime he never committed. It is, quite rightly, a powerful critique of the whole enterprise of capital punishment as implemented by fallible human beings whose knowledge is limited, whose moral insight is even more limited at times, and whose right to condemn another person to death is frankly debatable and morally dubious from a NT point of view. It is precisely this sort of human legal condemnation and consigning to execution and even damnation that Jesus is critiquing in this passage.

The Bible is ever so clear “Vengeance is mine says the Lord, I shall repay”, or as Paul puts it – “do not repay anyone evil for evil… do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for God says ‘Vengeance is mine…’ but to the contrary if your enemy is hungry feed him….etc. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Had we ever thought as Christians that when we condemn a lost person to capital punishment we might well be consigning them to Hell, by depriving them of the time and opportunity to repent and know the Lord? Its worth thinking about. And please do not tell me that they have forfeited the right to such a consideration, because none of us have such a right as the right to time for amendment of life. That is something that is a mercy to all of us sinners, not a right.

The last verse of this passage, like the first, is equally one that has been subject to abuse and misuse. Do not throw pearls before swine, or what is holy to the dogs. Swine and dogs are images of unclean animals, and they were indeed images used by Jews to refer to Gentiles, on whom Jewish pearls of wisdom would be lost entirely, or so it was often thought. Jesus’ point here however is that certain highly precious and valuable teachings are for insiders, not outsiders who will cast them aside, or make no good use of them. In other words, here we have a reminder again that this whole Sermon on the Mount ethic is not for just anyone or everyone, but rather for those who are committed to being Jesus’ disciple. To whom more is given, more is required.

God does indeed expect of us a higher standard of righteousness and also of mercy. He does indeed expect of us a higher standard of moral discernment and understanding of others. He expects that we entirely refrain from putting on the judge’s cap and condemning someone else to death, or into outer darkness, and for me at least that means I could never serve on a capital murder jury if we lived in a state where capital punishment was the possible outcome of the trial. Only God should have that power of condemnation and execution, not human beings. And honestly for me, a consistent life ethic means no abortion, no capital punishment, no war. But that is a story for another day. What Mt. 7.1-6 calls us all to, is more self-awareness, more self-examination, more repentance, more humility, more living into a higher righteousness, and with Emily Dickinson we should all say: “Judge tenderly of me” remembering whenever we are about to condemn another to final judgment “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

AMEN

47 comments:

Ilíon said...

"... God does indeed expect of us a higher standard of righteousness and also of mercy. He does indeed expect of us a higher standard of moral discernment and understanding of others. He expects that we entirely refrain from putting on the judge’s cap and condemning someone else to death, or into outer darkness, and for me at least that means I could never serve on a capital murder jury if we lived in a state where capital punishment was the possible outcome of the trial. Only God should have that power of condemnation and execution, not human beings. And honestly for me, a consistent life ethic means no abortion, no capital punishment, no war. ..."

Mr Witherington,
As with nearly everything I've ever read on your blog, I appreciate the article/sermon.

But, at the same time, I must point out that your thinking is muddled with respect to capital punishment (and likely, war, but I'll stick to one topic). I'm not even going to throw verses at you -- you surely know better than I the verses which show there is no basis in Scripture for across-the-board condemnation of capital punishment.

Instead, I'm going to try to show you that your position is incoherent; that it is incompatable with the goal/good of a functioning civil society; that the underlying principle, such as it is, is one which you yourself will never be willing to consistently apply (at any rate, I pray not!), and that, in fact, if it were ever actually applied, it must always result in great evil.


Capital punishment is terrible, certainly: and one should never be caviler about the taking of human life, in any circumstance; for that too, is a grave moral error.

BUT, to oppose capital punishment by asserting that it's inherently immoral, as some do, by asserting that it's essentially equivalent to murder (much less by asserting that it's *exactly* equivalent to murder) -- and for that matter, even to oppose it on the grounds that we cannot be sure that legal errors (whether intentional or not) are never made in capital cases (such that absent the legal error another verdict or punishment would have resulted) -- is illogical and even irrational. And that, in this circumstance, because we are talking about justice, is immoral.


The only sort of persons in this entire world who can *honestly* claim to be against the death penalty are anarchists -- and they're insane. By choice. Anarchists are against "state execution" and *for* private/personalized murder, followed by endless blood-feud.

Everyone else but the anarchists who claims to be against the death penalty has either not really thought about it (and can frequently be expected to *refuse* to think about the matter rationally; I trust that you are not in this sub-category) ... or is lying (I *really* trust you are not in this category).


Anyone and everyone who is *for* the existence of (human) (*) civil society and goverment is inherently *for* the death penalty. All (human) goverment is based upon compulsion and force, and ultimately is based upon imposing death upon those who are not "with the program." And, it cannot be otherwise.

The operating principle of (human) goverment is exactly the same as that of the Mafia -- "Do what I tell you to do or I will kill you!" And, it simply cannot be otherwise; this is a fact of life with which we have to deal.

And, anyone who does not understand this fact either is incredibly stupid (but there are so few to whom this might apply that we can effectively ignore the possibility), or is refusing to understand this fact about the reality in which we exist.

(*) "Human" government: I'm making a point of pointing out that I'm *not* talking about the divine government Christ will exercise. His government will be quite different from all "Adamic" governments which have ever existed, or even can in principle exist.


THEREFORE, since all (human) government is and necessarily is based upon compulsion of some sort, escalating to imposition of death, it follows that *all* laws which compel action -- all laws which command or prohibit this or that -- are always ultimately backed up by an implicit (and sometimes explicit) death penalty. And, this implicit death sentence, if it is executed (as it not infrequently is), is almost always imposed on-the-fly, generally on the decision of one or two persons acting as agents of the state, most frequently by a "low-level" agent of the state, and with no trial, no exculpatory evidence presented, and certainly no appeal.

*ALL* laws which command or prohibit this or that are always backed up by an implicit (or explicit) death penalty. No one, except the anarchists (and they're insane), imagines we can live together without such laws, much less advocates attempting it. Though, many people do refuse to acknowledge the fact that a death sentence is either implicit or explicit is nearly all laws.

NOW, since everyone but the insane ... including you ... is *for* having laws, which is to say, everyone (but the insane) is *for* the death penalty which is always at least implicit is nearly all laws, is follows that:
1) we are all at error, possibly even morally wrong, to be in favor of having government and laws at all, and therefore the death penalty implicit in nearly all those laws; or,
2) if we are not all at error in this regard, then most opposition to explicit provisions for capital punishment as a judicial judgement is misstated or even misguided. Or dishonest.


"... Only God should have that power of condemnation and execution, not human beings. ..."

In the case of capital punishment, God does not leave us that option. *WE* must decide and act and impose death when it is merited -- or, we must watch as our winking at evil inevitably results in the destruction of our societies. Make no mistake, refusing to impose capital punishment when it is morally appropriate *is* winking at evil.

I'm not arguing *for* capital punishent -- I like it no more than you -- I'm arguing against the immorality of the false assertion that capital punishment is inherently immoral, that it is never justified, that it must be abolished.

And, I'm pointing out that the only way (short of Christ's Kingdom) to abolish capital punishment is to abolish all government -- such can, of course, never abolish murder and resulting vendetta, much less decrease violence; such can but result in chaos and continuous all-against-all warfare.

Look, in the end, all so-called arguments against capital punishent in the abstract, all opposition to it, is emotion-based. It's but squeemishness, not a hightened morality, which leads people to oppose it.

And, frequently, such are intellectually dishonest in their opposition ... Consider a hypothetical: the US Supreme Court "outlaws" capital punishment in the US. The State of Texas says, "Pound sand!" Now what? Will not the erstwhile opponents of capital punishment *demand* that the remaining States compel Texas to abide by the (anti-constitutional) decision? How will this be compulsion be accomplished without killing some number of Texans, perhaps even several millions of Texans?

=============
"... He expects that we entirely refrain from putting on the judge’s cap and condemning someone else to death, or into outer darkness, and for me at least that means I could never serve on a capital murder jury if we lived in a state where capital punishment was the possible outcome of the trial. Only God should have that power of condemnation and execution, not human beings. And honestly for me, a consistent life ethic means no abortion, no capital punishment, no war. ..."

Squeamishness is not morality, and is certainly not a higher plane of moral consciousness.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for this ilion, but I will respectfully disagree with you and strongly so.

Point One, not only is my position coherent, it is consistent, if you are basing your reasoning not on the sort of general and secular principles you enunciate (like the nonsense that all government is based on coercion of some sort, and the only alternative is anarchy), but rather on Christian principles. Obviously you've never spent any time in Switzerland!

I am not saying at all that a secular government might not have prudent reasons for maintaining a right of 'bearing the sword', in some cases. Indeed one can argue this is what Rom. 13 seems to say. I understand that view.

What I am saying is that Christians who trust God have no business being involved in it. They have an obligation to manifest a higher standard of righteousness. They can and should be in any society emblems of a higher standard of ethics that eschews violence and practices forgiveness and works for reconciliation. This is perfectly clear from both the ethics of Jesus and of Paul. They act as Kingdom witnesses and the loyalty opposition in a society bent on violence.

This Christian view frankly does a far better job of demonstrating the sacred worth of every human being than capital punishment, which is frankly no deterrent at all to crime, so far as a I can see.

Which state executes the most criminals in the U.S. in an average year? Texas. Which state continues to have the most violent crime thereafter? Texas, and we could cite other such examples.

Capital punishment does absolutely nothing to deter those determined to kill, nor indeed to deter crimes of passion either, so far as I can see from the statistics on such things.

So then you are left with an argument that we do it because it is just? Really? How do we know? Is it just when a wealthy person can buy their way either out of verdict or out of a tougher one? No. Is it just when a jury decides a matter on the basis of trivialities? No. Is it just when it is decided simply by a judge who has a penchant for being a hanging judge? No. Is there ever a time when a judge or jury are omniscient and can be absolutely certain about a verdict? No. Is it just when race or religion or poverty or gender are factors which determine the verdict? No. And I could go on.

Is justice supposed to be mere state-enacted vengeance? Not by Biblical standards. It is always supposed to be mercy-tempered justice since humans can make mistakes in their evaluations of other's actions. I suggest you read Grisham's book and do a rethink on this subject.

And more to the point, as a Christian, I would rather sentence an actual murderer to life in prison than to wrongly execute even one innocent man or woman. This sort of approach does far more to uphold a standard not only of innocent until truly proven guilty, but to protect the innocent from gross injustice, especially in a system where the poor are regularly under-represented in such cases.

Blessings,

BW3

Dan Miller said...

Dr. Witherington,
In the past few years, I've taken on what I believe is the biblical ethic of pacifism. Especially influential was the book 'Choosing Against War' by John D. Roth. I know it's a topic that you can't easily address in a couple paragraphs, but I'd be very much interested in hearing your thoughts on the topic if you have the time!

Lemuel Vandenhoff said...

The anti-capital punishment argument ignores a couple of important points:

First of all, what we have in Romans 13 is not an image of a secular government which may have its pragmatic reasons to bear the sword, but which Christians should shy away from. We have instead an image of a profession put in place by God for the purpose of restraining/punishing evildoers.

Secondly, to say that Christians can't have anything to do with the government's use of the sword ignores the numerous centurions Jesus welcomed into his company.

Thirdly, unless we want to abandon all order and let criminals on the loose (and support softie leftist socialistic taxing policies, as some pacifist-minded Christians are also wont to do) then we have to acknowledge the God ordains government and gives it the right to at least use some level of force. Should we oppose all taxes - even those redistributionist ones that supposedly help the poor - because they're essentially coerced?

Fourthly - and this is where the ball might get thrown back into BW3's court anyway - "the sacred worth of every human being" means that we should be willing to defend the weak against violent oppressors. Now if capital punishment is, as BW3 claims, not a deterrent that prevents the weak from being butchered, then we have no reason to use it and should find more efficient crime prevention methods. But my point is that one can't make a biblical case against the concept of capital punishment, only against its application depending on the time/place/statistics, etc.

Eutychus said...

Thanks for sharing this great sermon! I plan on sharing it with my undergraduate Synoptics class - we went over this passage last week.

I was thinking about the word hypokrites. I recall looking at it occurrences in the LXX, and noting that it occasionally translated Hebrew words such as evildoer. (I think TDNT mentions this - I'll check later). Looking through the woes on the Pharisees, there are times when I wonder how effectively the English word "hypocrite" translates hypokrites. What are your thoughts on this?

cpapashley said...

Interesting thoughts on Capital Punishment, that is not a part of the Australian Judicial landscape.

My brief and only thoughts on the subject are quite simple. Jesus came to turn the thinking of man on its head, not only were the current day religious thinkers completely wrong about the messiah's identity, they were also simply wrong on a number of other counts.

My biblical view is based in God being the final judge of matters. I often get asked by my wife whether I would pick a gun up to protect, I guess it is simply in my view of who God is and where my life resides, and that is in His hands.

I rest in his hands alone, and reply to her that I would not, with my current understanding of God's word.

I do not profess to have the knowledge of theologians, but I do know that my faith rests in a God that stated clearly "vengeance is mine"

so if find agreement with the view

"... Only God should have that power of condemnation and execution, not human beings. ..."

p.s. I do not think the majority of people in Australia are insane, and our society seems to function without the need for capital punishment.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for these stimulating thoughts. Just a few responses. Yes, 'hypocrites' has a range of meanings and sometimes has a sense close to our word phony. Secondly Jesus' association with centurions no more implies he endorsed their profession than his association with prostitutes! Come on now. And we know for a fact that he called all those folks to repent of their former ways. As for the purpose of government as stated in Rom. 13, it does not read in the Greek the way you seem to take it. It says, they do not bear the sword in vain. It does not say this is the specific reason government was set up! See the parallel passage in 1 Peter.

Thirdly, an argument against capital punishment is not an argument against all use of force, regardless of circumstances and it is certainly not an argument FOR letting criminals run wild in society.

Capital punishment is a government execution of someone convicted of a crime. At the time the execution ensues, it does not involve the person in question endangering anyone. This is a different matter than interrupting a robbery at gunpoint etc.

My point is this--- stopping a crime in progress means you know absolutely the person who is committing the crime. Capital punishment by contrast is often exercised against people whose alledged crime is not proved beyond a reasonable doubt because there were no eyewitnesses. It is one thing to make a case against capital punishment, another to make a case against law enforcement having the right to use force, even deadly force in the line of duty in extreme situations. These are two distinguishable issues, and Rom. 13 speaks to the latter of the two, not the former. The term for 'sword' in Rom. 13 refers to a defensive weapon used by tax collectors and others to avoid harm. It does not refer to an offensive weapon.
BW3

Lemuel Vandenhoff said...

I think the parallel passage in 1 Peter merely echoes the sentiment of Romans 13. It's still tough to get around Paul's statement that the magistrate is "God's servant, an agent of WRATH to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Of course, this leaves open the question of what KIND of punishment.

Secondly, regarding centurions and prostitutes, I don't recall John the Baptist telling any prostitutes to conduct their professions honorably and "be content with their pay," as with the centurions (Luke 3:14). And thirdly, I can't find any prostitutes who were simultaneously "righteous and God-fearing" people (Acts 10:22).

Although I did make a mistake, Prof. Witherington, I interpreted your condemnation of the "use of the sword" to mean any use of force by police, etc., whatsoever, even to stop a crime as it's taking place, but I was incorrect.

phil said...

Great post Dr. Witherington,

As a follower of Christ, I have always had a hard time trying to reconcile the act of killing, when we are told by our teacher to love all, including our enemies. How are we loving by killing? And let's face it, when we read about the brutality in scripture from the soldiers interactions with Jesus, and we know Jesus understands death is inevitable; however, instead of crying out to God for justice, that is that his evil oppressors receive what they deserve, he instead cries out "Father forgive them." This text and others such as "put away the sword" seem to me to be point towards a kingdom that is fueled by love and humility, not violence and condemnation.

Dr. Witherington, in your knowledge of early writings, canonical and non-canonical, would you say the lifestyle and teachings of Christians were more of the non-violent ways? If so, I would assume a great shift happened once Constantine came into power and began to rule by both the name of Christ and the sword.

Ben Witherington said...

The record of non-violence pre-Constantine is pretty clear for the vast majority of Christians, and for the record they expected centurions to leave the military not least because of the worship of pagan gods in each legion. John the Baptizer reflects the OT ethic of things, not the Kingdom ethic of Jesus.

BW3

Marc Axelrod said...

This is a really good/powerful sermon, an exciting exposition, albeit kinda convicting :). BTW, here's a bit of humor about judging that you could use as an introduction:

A man was having some difficulty communicating with his wife, and he concluded that she was becoming hard of hearing. So he decided to conduct a test without her knowing about it.

One evening he sat in a chair on the far side of the room. Her back was to him and she could not see him. Very quietly he whispered, "Can you hear me?" There was no response.

Moving a little closer, he asked again, "Can you hear me now?" Still no reply. Quietly he edged closer and whispered the same words, but still no answer. Finally he moved right behind her and said, "Can you hear me now?" To his surprise and chagrin she responded with irritation in her voice, "For the fourth time, yes!"

What a warning to us about judging!

Most of us criticize others to cover up for the same faults in our own lives. We also tend to find fault with someone when in fact we are the ones in the wrong, not the other person.

Jesus knew human nature well. That's why He said, "Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged" (Luke 6:36-37).

I try to put three things in my sermons (besides occasionally failed attempts at humor). The "Here's What," (here's what the scripture is saying), the "So What" (so what does it mean to me - you do a nice job of bringing this out with the gnat metaphor!), and the Now What (Now what am I supposed to do with the information that has been presented? You do this when you challenge us to "rigorous self-examination - I would encourage you to tell them to write down 3 things they tend to be most judgmental about with others and then to spread this paper out before the Lord and ask for forgiveness, drive it home!)
God bless,
Marc

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for the help Marc. I especially enjoyed your suggestions about the last bit. It struck me last night thinking about John 7.53-8.11 that Jesus there is so very clearly associating condemnation with capital punishment when he asks, does any one condemn you (aka the ones with the stones).

BW3

Lemuel Vandenhoff said...

If we are to extend the "judge not" passages to all cases of law, we couldn't really "condemn" anyone to any sort of punishment beyond CP, such as jail, fines, community service, speeding tickets, whatever.

The passage about the woman caught in adultery is perhaps not even in the Bible at all (but this is a textual criticosm question, which you would know more about than I.) At any rate, this situation was a sort of "trap" for Jesus in which he would have committed sedition against the Roman Empire (by denying them their right to enforce laws) had he agreed with the mob.

Secondly, it's possible that one of the men (or multiple) were the woman's partner(s) in adultery, given the fact that no man had been brought forth, only a woman.

Thirdly, Jesus later lambasts the Pharisees for mutilating the original commands of God, such as those that parent-cursing children be put to death (Mark 7:9-13).

As for the pre-Constantinian church record on pacifism, we do of course find a very peaceful ethic in patristic writings, even where, in many cases, military service per se is not mentioned, as well as some Fathers who condemned military service. But Tertullian in his pre-heresy pre-pacifist days boasts of Christian infiltration of the Roman military. Eusebius records a story of a Roman legion with many Christians. Someone (perhaps Lactantius) mentions a group of legionaries who stopped a fellow soldier from renouncing Christ before a commander. Catholic Martyrologies include extensive references to Christian legionaries who did not remain in the army but were martyred for refusing to act unjustly.

I am not sure if the comment about John the Baptist reflecting an OT ethic rather than a "Kingdom ethic" is a judgment call that his statement on soldiering alone contradicts Jesus' later teachings, or a general statement based on broader study that J the B over all was more OT/traditional than Jesus would be. At any rate, the rest of his teachings seem in keeping with Jesus' message.

"I feel certain that one Christian airman shot for refusing to bomb enemy civilians would be a more effective martyr...than a hundred Christians in jail for refusing to join the army."
--C.S. Lewis

Ilíon said...

Well, it does seem obvious that you're not going to let anything correct your erroneous thought.

Ilíon said...

cpapashley: "p.s. I do not think the majority of people in Australia are insane, and our society seems to function without the need for capital punishment."

I get so tired of dealing with people who cannot read-with-comprehension ... and then insist upon having their emoting treated as rational argument.

Ilíon said...

Lemuel Vandenhoff: "Fourthly - and this is where the ball might get thrown back into BW3's court anyway - "the sacred worth of every human being" means that we should be willing to defend the weak against violent oppressors. Now if capital punishment is, as BW3 claims, not a deterrent that prevents the weak from being butchered, then we have no reason to use it and should find more efficient crime prevention methods. ..."

One should be careful about this line of argumentation ... by which I mean one must unconditionally reject the utilitarian ethic embedded here. That capital punishment can, and does (pace the nay-sayers), deter serious/horrific crimes cannot supply a moral basis for imposition of the death penalty.

If fact, I would say that the faulty/immoral utilitarian ethic which has been growing in our society for many generations is what gives rise to the equally faulty/immoral reasoning we constantly see on this topic, including in this thread.

Now, as a general proposition, imposition of the death penalty is just or it is not just. If it is *not* just, in general, then it is never just in specific. If it *is* just, in general, then the question of its justice in a specific situation must be examined in light of the specific situation -- and doing so is, after all, why we have rules (including giving the accused the benefit of the doubt) about its imposition.


"- and this is where the ball might get thrown back into BW3's court anyway -"

It never left his court ... he ignored the ball lobbed into his court and started playing some other game, badminton perhaps.

Ilíon said...

BW3: "Thanks for this ilion, but I will respectfully disagree with you and strongly so."

A sincere thank you should always be ungraciously accepted. But would it be too ungracious to mention that, while I do appreciate the thanks, I'd much have preferred rational and logical engagement instead of a brush-off?

I dare say that you *do* strongly disagree: many years ago, while I was still very young, I noticed that humans almost always react strongly when their non-rational committments are questioned.

But, rather that rationally/logically engage the case I'd presented, you answered it with non sequitur, with red-herrings and perhaps a straw or two (of a strawman), with a minor species of ad hominem, AND WITH BLATANT *FALSEHOOD* (i.e. "... (like the nonsense that all government is based on coercion of some sort, and the only alternative is anarchy) ...").


I've long since grown to expect such from 'atheists' and "liberals" (and there was never any question about it from leftists); but it still discombobulates me when Christians react/behave in this manner. Now, of course, intellectually I well understand that no Christian is ever immune to temptation ... but such behavior still hits me in the gut.

Ilíon said...

OOPS! -- I didn't mean to write "A sincere thank you should always be ungraciously accepted" ... obviously, I meant "A sincere thank you should always be graciously accepted"

That was the result of using a careless copy-and-paste to modify what I'd written at the first.

Ben Witherington said...

Ilion my view of government is shaped by the NT itself. I do not see it as an entity that operates on Christian principles, nor did the NT writers.

The issue is not one of simple logic, and I am fine if a government operates on prudential and logical grounds, though ours never seems to. Deregulating the financial industry and running a bankrupting war that is unnecessary is illogical frankly.

My concern is that there is an ethic which Christians themselves must follow, and this constrains the way in which they should endorse certain governmental policies, or at least constrains their own participation in them. It's a perfectly logical stance.

I don't begrudge a government having the power to enforce its law, though I see little evidence in the NT that they are much encouraged to use deadly force, except as a last resort.

My concern is that Christians, in whatever role they play in society act like Christ and like he taught us to do. For example, what this means for me is that Christians should not participate in the military, except perhaps in non-combatant roles, by which I mean as medics and chaplains.

Blessings,

BW3

Levid Roozen said...

Dr. Witherington, I was recently introduced to your blog and am enjoying this discussion!

I am wondering what you make of Luke's inclusion of Dismas' line: "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve" (23:41)? It is even in his just execution that he is afforded salvation. Also, Jesus does not ask for Gestas to be let down from the cross so that he would have more time to reflect on his crime or on his insults.

Is languishing in prison different from anguishing before execution? Is the man who does nothing different from the man who is nothing? I agree, we must temper our thinking with the possibility that we are "consigning them to Hell" (though this certainly raises questions). Is it not equally likely, though, that the slap of this Babylonian justice will open the way for the condemned to consider his eternal fate, rather than how much he'll be able to bench press by the time he's good for parole?

I haven't read Grisham's novel (though hope to!), but to suggest pertinent readings of my own if you're going to endeavor a long study, I might put forth Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita and also G.K. Chesterton's less hefty but brilliant survey of the Tolstoyans in the chapter "Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity" in Twelve Types (which can be found on Gutenberg).

Bulgakov was writing during a time when the death sentence was manipulated in the most grotesque way - at the height of Stalinist terrors. His Jesus concurs with Ilion, saying that all government is coercion. Most shockingly for our discussion, though, Bulgakov portrays the harrowing necessity of Christ's condemnation as an ultimately redemptive act for Pilate. The act of condemnation also paves the way to salvation for the executioner.

Like a funeral, the ritual of execution gives a community an opportunity to reflect on death, with the added magnitude of thoughts on action and law and justice. Death makes it formidable, important, and exciting. In the same way that the Church must purge itself of heretics that threaten its life, I see the race of man as necessarily expelling from its realm transgressors who threaten its life. I do not think Christians should have problems with this in the abstract.

But, then, when did Christ ever talk abstractly? This is the main thing. I do not see it a Christian stance to prevent a law condemning a murderer to death; the Sermon on the Mount would instead have me stand before the judge and plead mercy for the fellow who's killed my child.

We're arguing about the grand scheme when the real test comes at the personal level. No one can deny Christ's rule about judging and condemning when it comes to talking to the grocery store lady or Ilion. But when we try to make it a rule of governance, or a Christian approach to governance, it becomes misty and confusing.

Chesterton: "The command of Christ is impossible, but it is not insane; it is rather sanity preached to a planet of lunatics. If the whole world was suddenly stricken with a sense of humour it would find itself mechanically fulfilling the Serman on the Mount."

All the best

areopa said...

Here's my two cents...would love to hear further thoughts on my own comments if the good Doctor has the time... :)

http://www.prophezei.com/?p=192

But, in short, what about the judgment of Peter concerning Ananias and Sapphira?

Kevin D. Johnson
http://www.prophezei.com

Lemuel Vandenhoff said...

Not quite sure what you mean by government not being an entity based on Christian principles. If you mean that not all governments operate in a Christian-ly fashion, that is enormously true. Yet government is clearly a divinely-ordained institution, which means that a) it has the right to do certain things, such as, as we have seen, use force if necessary, b) that it must be obeyed except when obedience would violate the laws of a higher power, and c) it has an obligation to obey God.

If we concede that it is acceptable for government to use force when necessary, I do not see why we cannot accept that Christian service in the police force or military is also acceptable. Serving in the God-ordained occupation of civil magistrate (or one who works for him) is not equivalent to using violence against one's personal enemies, or leading/participating in a violent revolt.

As a side note, two examples are at least worth mentioning: first of all, Jesus drove people out of the temple with a whip. While this does not put a stamp of approval on us using violence, it does show that pacifism or even peaceful resistance is not an absolute rule.

Secondly, even the sword that Peter was rebuked for using against the Roman authorities was bought in obedience to a command from Jesus himself. The Greek indicates a small defensive weapon used against bandits and wild animals - defensive, but useless in revolt against a legion of Roman soldiers, hence the very wise statement that "those who lived by the sword would die by the sword" - just as the hotheaded Jewish zealots would perish by the tens of thousands about forty years later.

Doug said...

Lemuel,

What exactly do you mean that "government is clearly a divinely-ordained institution?" Does this go for the government as presented in Revelation? What verse leads you to this statement?

Shalom,
Doug

Ilíon said...

Levid Roozen: "Bulgakov was writing during a time when the death sentence was manipulated in the most grotesque way - at the height of Stalinist terrors. His Jesus concurs with Ilion, saying that all government is coercion."

Mr Roozen,
I'm sure you're not making the mistake of imagining that I'm one of those silly people who draws a false moral equivalency between the regime of the USSR and that of the USA. But, long experience has taught me that many people seem quite incapable (or quite unwilling) to comprehend what they read.

So, to be explicit: I am not trying to equate the government of the US with that of the USSR or any other such ghastly and immoral State.

I am, rather, pointing out the inescapable truth that all laws which command (*) are inherently backed up by a death penalty. Further, by the very nature of the beast, this death penalty, when it is meted out, is never meted out with the careful safegards that we have erected around the imposition of capital punishment.

(*) The exceptions would be things like the law which establishes "National Dental Floss Awareness Day"

Ilíon said...

Doug, government -- in general -- is ordained and established by God. A specific government, however, or a specific policy, may well be in violation of God's laws.

An analogy: sex is ordained and established and blessed and sanctified by God. However, not all acts of sex are holy, some are quite unholy.

Lemuel Vandenhoff said...

Doug,

Ilion's response is quite adequate. Even Jesus acknowledges the legitimacy of governments when brought before Pilate. To be sure, Revelation describes a perversion of government (like other passages, i.e. Romans 1, describe perversions of sex) and then goes on to describe, quite colorfully, God's method of dealing with that.

Levid Roozen said...

ilion--

I wasn't suggesting that at all and I thank you for your kind supposing that I was making no mistake in the my imagination.

Quite the opposite, I thought it might give you a little satisfaction to know that someone's idea of Jesus had spoken nearly the very same words as you. I, too, agree that government is coercion, among other things.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear brother Ben:

I enjoyed this sermon and plan to cite portions of it in my blog.

I do disagree on the capital punishment issue, however.

God bless

Stephen

cpapashley said...

Dear ilion,

"ilion: I get so tired of dealing with people who cannot read-with-comprehension ... and then insist upon having their emoting treated as rational argument."

I fail to understand why the upset with my comment.

My thought was simply based on this:

Coming from a specific thoughtworld where capital punishment is not a reality (Australia) makes it hard for me to comment on the discussion. Which is what I said.

However, in Australia. I do not see anarchists running riot in our country. I am not an anarchist who is insane, yet I am *honestly* against capital punishment. So your comment

ilion said: "The only sort of persons in this entire world who can *honestly* claim to be against the death penalty are anarchists -- and they're insane. By choice. Anarchists are against "state execution" and *for* private/personalized murder, followed by endless blood-feud."


From my hermenuetic lens, does not make any sense in the context of the world I live in.

No need to call me someone who cannot read with comprehension, I am unable to understand your hermenuetic, so I am merely commenting from mine.

If that is emotive argument, then so be it. I guess largely I saw yours in the same manner, but realised it was because of my different world view. So could not enter into the argument, other than making a statement from my worldview.

I guess I ask the question have you been raised in a society with or without capital punishment. If with, then you will not understand my comment, and will call it emotive. Yet to many from my worldview it would seem quite sensible and rational.

Doug said...

ilion and lemuel,



I must disagree with lemuel and say that ilion’s response was highly inadequate. I asked three things, none of which ilion answered. I asked what was meant by the term “divinely ordained institution” and ilion did not answer. Instead, ilion repeated that it is ordained, thereby using the same word on which I was asking for further explanation. The analogy provided no insight into the usage of the word. I asked about the government in Revelation and ilion did not address this at all, though lemuel did later. I asked for verses that led lemuel to this conclusion, and none were provided. Conclusions are easy to provide without premises to support them, but they are worthless in arguments.



lemuel states that Jesus “acknowledges the legitimacy of governments” in place of “divinely-ordained institution” in his reply that builds on yours. So I will assume, though it isn’t stated directly, that this is what was meant by the phrase divinely-ordained. However, “acknowledging legitimacy” and “divinely-ordaining” have enough difference between them to raise the question again. Yes, they could mean the same thing, but there is nothing about the context of this conversation to suggest that they do, or to suggest that it has been thought through all that well to begin with. So, what does one mean by the phrase “divinely-ordained institution?” What verses support this? And, to add one more, what does it mean for a government (such as that depicted in Revelation or Nazi Germany) to be “divinely-ordained” and “acknowledged as legitimate” by Jesus when its actions and laws certainly are not?

Doug said...

ilion,

from your posts is seems quite reasonable to say that you fancy yourself a person of logic, even to the point of employing “emotion-based” in a derogatory manner. If I read you incorrectly, my apologies, but it doesn’t change the fact that your initial argument is riddled with fallacies and your following posts do nothing to correct them.



You equivocate “capital punishment” with “death by any state agent” thereby using a definition for capital punishment that is certainly not lexical and is unrecognizable to anyone familiar with the term. Punishment by death cannot be exacted without due process, which excludes your definition. If someone gets shot by a police officer, calling that capital punishment is merely hyperbole. If the officer was exacting punishment, it wouldn’t be state sanctioned and would then be deemed murder.



You create a false dilemma that reeks of arrogance and is quite offensive when you suggest that anyone who opposes the death penalty either has “not thought about it” or is “lying.” Other options do exist. I’m sure you can come up with a few if you try really hard.



Assuming that social contracts are underwritten by state-sanctioned death is ultimately begging the question. There is an underlying assumption that coercion must finally be delivered in the form of capital punishment that denies the possibility of life imprisonment or other forms of coercion. If you respond, please try to separate capital punishment and being killed in the commission of a crime.



You employ abusive ad hominems to further your argument when stating that anyone who thinks opposite is “emotion-based” and squeamish. And I assure you; with a rudimentary knowledge of Christian pacifism you will not employ the term “squeamish” to describe a pacifist again. Don’t confuse liberal and modern pacifism with Christian pacifism.

Ilíon said...

Levid Roozen: "I wasn't suggesting that at all and I thank you for your kind supposing that I was making no mistake in the my imagination."

Of course; that was obvious.

But people do constantly misconstrue what others have written -- even though it's right there in black-and-white and even though there is nothing holding them back from rereading it until they get it right. Knowing that from long experience, I could just see someone misconstruing what you'd written as a "refutation" of (or an "agreement" with ... and some having it as both!) my "claim" that the USSR and the USA were/are morally equivalent.

Lemuel Vandenhoff said...

Doug,

If you want verses that government is both God-ordained AND legitimate, let's go with the oft-quoted Romans 13, John 19:11, 1 Peter 2:13-14. The fact that there are Caesars and Nazis and bloodthirsty Communists does not overturn the reality of these verses.

What we have in such cases is a perversion of government. They are still governments in the sense that a bad marriage is still a marriage - because God recognizes it as such.

When these governments' laws contradict God's laws, God is of course to be obeyed (Acts 5:29). The non-contradictory laws must still be obeyed, however.

To say that government is "legitimate" according to the Bible is saying that God approves of its existence and it is lawful according to him, contrasting it to other institutions, like abortion clinics, brothels, what have you. A Christian could not participate in such institutions without sinning, but he could participate in government in the same way he could work at a factory, a restaurant, whatever. A Christian magistrate would be expected to use his power in ways acceptable to God, in the same way a Christian stockbroker would be expected to be honest, a lawyer would be expected to adhere to strict standards of fairness, etc.

Ilíon said...

For example, Mr Roozen, I know from long experience of trying to deal with humans that many readers are going to take cpapashley's two posts of non sequitur and out-of-context disputation as being the definitive refutation of what I'd said. I know from experience that many readers are going to "know" that I asserted that a society or political state which does not impose the death penalty -- officially -- must necessarily be full of insane persons. And so on.

Ilíon said...

Doug: "ilion and lemuel, I must disagree with lemuel and say that ilion’s response was highly inadequate. I asked three things, none of which ilion answered. ..."

I must concur, in part: Ilíon did not, nor intended to, respond to what Doug literally wrote. Rather, Ilíon responded to he understands Doug to have meant -- but, at the same time, his response was at least "quite adequate" to the task set before it. And, Doug's second post confirms to Ilíon that his understanding of what Doug really meant in the first post was, likewise, at least "quite adequate."


This is what Doug literally wrote to Lemuel: "What exactly do you mean that "government is clearly a divinely-ordained institution?" Does this go for the government as presented in Revelation? What verse leads you to this statement?"

This is what Ilíon understands Doug to have meant: "Lemuel, I want you to justify [to my satisfaction, and I am the judge of that] the statement that "government is clearly a divinely-ordained institution." FOR IF it is true that "government is clearly a divinely-ordained institution," THEN it must also be true that all specific governments at all times are acting on God's authority [ ?? and perhaps according to God's law ?? ]. YET, in the Revelation is described a government which is in open rebellion against God's authority and seeks to usurp his place and authority. NOW, SINCE it is the case that there exists/will exist a specific government in open rebellion against God's authority, it must not be the case after all that government, in general, derives its authority from God."

Ilíon, as he intends always to do, seeks to see and grasp the real or deeper issue, rather than merely grapple with the often misleading surface manifestation. In this case, Ilíon sees the problem as a flawed premise hidden in what he understands Doug to have really been asking; to wit: that which is ordained by God cannot be put to corrupt or unGodly uses.

But, in fact, even the anti-Christ's wicked "government is clearly a divinely-ordained institution." For the anti-Christ's government is God's judgment upon sinful humanity -- just as the Assyrian conquest of Israel and the Chaldean conquest of Judea were judgment upon the ancient Israelites.

Ilíon said...

Doug: "ilion, from your posts is seems quite reasonable to say that you fancy yourself a person of logic, even to the point of employing “emotion-based” in a derogatory manner. ..."

Oh! I'm far more radical than that! I even imagine that *you* are a rational being. That you do not consistently behave as one is quite a different matter.


Doug: "... If I read you incorrectly, my apologies, but it doesn’t change the fact that your initial argument is riddled with fallacies and your following posts do nothing to correct them."

Your "exposition" of these asserted fallacies shows you to be quite the emotion-monger. And I don't allow emotion-mongers to waste my time.


Doug: "[whine, whine, whine] You employ abusive ad hominems [whine, whine, whine]"

Clearly, you don't know what the term means.

Ilíon said...

Mr Witherington, if you have previously received this content and chose to not allow it to appear publically, then please forgive me for sending it to you the second time. For, after all, I don't know that you did get it in the first place: perhaps I only (incorrectly) remember posting it, perhaps it went into the Internet's bit-bucket, perhaps any number of things kept it from reaching you.
===========

BW3: "Ilion my view of government is shaped by the NT itself. I do not see it as an entity that operates on Christian principles, nor did the NT writers."

I doubt not that the fact that governments do not operate on Christian principles is highly relevant, were we talking about the price of chocolates in Switzerland -- and, by the by, you were spot on: I have never spent any time at all in Switzerland. I also do not have any obviously meaningless letters after my name.

But the issue is not the price of chocolates in Switzerland; the issue is faulty reasoning about capital punishment.


BW3: "The issue is not one of simple logic ..."

And the deeper issue is (now) faulty reasoning, period, and a clear disinclination to reason properly.


BW3: "My concern is that there is an ethic which Christians themselves must follow, and this constrains the way in which they should endorse certain governmental policies, or at least constrains their own participation in them. It's a perfectly logical stance."

Ought you not make up your mind? Does logic matter here, or does it not?

How are we to discover and extend this Christian ethic absent an inviolate commitment to the use of rigorous logic in all our reasonings? Can any reasoning that is not conducted by rigorous standards of logic even be honestly called reasoning?

Can any reasoning, no matter how rigorous the logic, be honestly called reasoning if it ignores relevant known facts?


BW3: "My concern is that Christians, in whatever role they play in society act like Christ and like he taught us to do. For example, what this means for me is that Christians should not participate in the military, except perhaps in non-combatant roles, by which I mean as medics and chaplains."

Which is to say, that such a view and such an ethic is not *really* a logically necessary corollary of a commitment to Christ, but is rather the personalized millstone you have willingly imposed upon yourself. You have, in effect, declared that you are one of those "weaker brothers" Paul told us about -- you are very like those (among whom I grew up) who insist that in the Bible "wine" is *really* grape juice.

AND -- much like those who wrongly (and foolishly) insist that wine is *really* grape juice, and from which "weaker brother" position conclude that those who deny this are not faithfully following Christ, you appear to be attempting to turn you own "weaker brother" position into one of the litmus tests for noticing the goats amongst the sheep.

Now, about what I said at the first ... ?


(ps. BW3 and Gentle Reader may notice that I am intentionally ignoring the more blatant rabbit-trails.)

Doug said...

Ilion, you misconstrued what I wrote into what you thought I meant and offered a response that was totally inadequate for the questions I posed. And, what I meant to ask is exactly what I wrote. You are not so superior that you should presume to understand my questions better than me and also be able to better pose them than I can. Had someone else done similar to your post I would unfortunately have to read, yet again, how no one actually reads what you wrote.

I did not ask Lemuel to justify anything, but instead I asked for a simple justification. As someone who purports to use logic you should understand that words have different meanings and that it is necessary to clearly define them in an argument. From your first post it is obvious that this concept escapes you. Logic seems to be merely a word you are throwing around to make yourself look superior and to give your argument weight which it ultimately cannot support. It is an emotional ploy.

I only wanted clarification on which lexical definition was being employed when using the term ordained. Was some sort of holy function implied (I know many people who think this)? Did God order the government into existence? No justification is necessary, nor was it requested. The example of Revelation offers a practical application of this term, not a justification that must meet my satisfaction. And lastly, I asked for Bible verses (thank you Lemuel). Again, this was not a justification; it was for my own edification. Unlike you, I do not presume to be the smartest person in the room.

For the record, I do recognize that all authority is ultimately authority derived from God. But, our conclusions about how to apply this are probably different. Unfortunately, my already formed belief that all authority derives from God shows that your assumptions about what you thought I meant, were flat wrong.

Of course, as your most recent comment to me shows, you can blow off my points of contention to your “argument” with yet another abusive ad hominem if you wish. At least it is fairly consistent for you.

In the end, your “argument” for capital punishment is not convincing.

Stanford J. Young said...

In general a very good sermon BW3. But, I too believe you have failed to adequately recognize the tension between personally avoiding vengeance (the Rom. 12 statements you quoted) and capital punishment. It is not so clear cut as you think.

First, "bearing the sword" implies use of it. If there was not a real use by the government, it would not be a sword at all. This is part of the tension of living with a salvation that is "present, but not yet." And, Rom. 13 falls within the very context of God's vengeance (it is quite clear that Paul is arguing that governments are one of the avenues for God bringing vengeance on the evil doer). Using the sword will, at times, mean death. No amount of rhetoric can get around that.

Further, Genesis 9:6, which is not negated by the cross (it comes both before the Law of Moses and the promise to Abraham - and is given universally to mankind, not to Israel), supports the death penalty. I'm not just proof-texting there, it stands on solid exegetical ground - even from a narrative interpretive framework. "If any man shed man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." The taking of life is of such import to God that life is required. This forfeiting of life does not mean one is condemned eternally. There simply are material consequences - as there were for David with his family (2 Sam. 11 ff). Mercy and forgiveness are not to be confused with justice on a temporal level. One can invoke both as God consistently does with David.

What I think you fail to see, Ben, is that there is a clear tension between the new creation and still living within the present creation; so that while Paul recognizes that while we strive on the personal level to not condemn (spiritually) nor to take our own vengeance - he is not arguing against capital punishment. Even Jesus, as is often assumed, in his famous "eye for an eye" statement (Mt. 5:38-39) is not abrogating government punishment of the evil doer (including capital punishment) but is correcting the misconceptions of the scribes and Pharisees (cf. Mt. 5:17-20, 43ff). Neither Paul in Rom. 12-13 nor Jesus in Mt. 5 are seeking to abrogate actions by society that would invoke a God-ordained vengeance (Rom. 13:4). They do call those in the community of faith to live in peace with all men.

Ilíon said...

Stanford J. Young: "... [many good things] ... What I think you fail to see, Ben, is that there is a clear tension between the new creation and still living within the present creation; ... [many good things] ..."

Yes. That "the Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks" does not at all mean that the Gospel actually is foolishness -- for instance, the Gospel is not self-contradictory, which would indeed be a very serious foolishness, one of the worst. The reason "the Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks" is because it rejects and denies certain assumptions necessary to 'worldly' world-view(s), on the one hand, and asserts and affirms certain assumptions which 'the world' must always reject, on the other hand.

If we claim that according to the Gospel capital punishment is by its very nature always wrong -- that it is wicked, that it is sin -- and if we also claim that according to the Gospel governments among men are established by God to act, among other things, as his agents of judgment upon evildoers (and which claim is explicitly made in Scripture), then we are asserting a self-contradiction in the Gospel. For, since all human government is based upon compulsion and ultimately upon imposition of death upon those who will not comply with its dictates (nor can human government ever be otherwise), it is logically impossible to have both government and lack of death penalties. This is to demand that 'A' equal 'not-A.'

Further, as the Gospel is the way of life, rather than of death, one does not expect the Gospel to lead to death. Certainly, in faithfulness to the Gospel one might have to surrender one's (physical) life in certain types of circumstances. But one does not expect fidelity to the Gospel to destroy the life of a society or people; rather, one expects the Gospel to cultivate the life of a nation, even when only a minority of that nation are Christians.

The difference between imposition of capital punishment and imposition of the death penalty which is at least implicit in all human laws which compel is the difference of deliberation versus passion -- but in either case, someone ends up dead.

In fact, recognition of that key difference is the very reason most opponents of capital punishment take the position -- they are emotionally, non-rationally (frequently anti-rationally) rejecting the justice of capital punishment precisely because the judgment and execution of the judgment is properly done "in cold blood."

All arguments which have ever been advanced against capital punishment can even more easily be advanced against enforcement of any particular law, and against justice in general.


Thus, in Switzerland, we now find that even plants have "human rights" (so to speak), but actual humans, made in the Image of God, do not even have worth. Thus, in Switzerland, we now find the advocates for "assisted suicide" lobbying the society and governments to compel all state-subsidized old-folks homes (which is to say, ultimately, all of them) to allow them access to the residents. When this lobbying is decided -- and is there *really* much question how it will be decided -- what do you imagine will be the result if the staff of some facility refuses to comply? This is already decided -- armed agents of the state will, under threat of immediate death, force compliance and the staff will be compelled to stand-by or even assist. This is much as in the US when armed agents of the state forced everyone, including her own family, to stand by (or even assist) as Terri Schiavo was slowly and gruesomely murdered judiciously.

Ilíon said...

Doug: "Ilion, you misconstrued what I wrote into what you thought I meant and offered a response that was totally inadequate for the questions I posed.
...
I did not ask Lemuel to justify anything, but instead I asked for a simple justification.
"

Man! I'm laughing so hard I can barely breathe!

A man who misconstrues himself (see the above quoted statements) wants to accuse me of misconstruing him!


Doug: "Of course, as your most recent comment to me shows, you can blow off my points of contention to your “argument” with yet another abusive ad hominem if you wish. At least it is fairly consistent for you."

Once again, you appear to not know what the term means. Or you don't care. And, consistent with your sort, you seek to "refute" what you do not wish to have understood by making false accusatory whines -- "Ilíon is such a meanie! Therefore he's wrong!"


Doug: "In the end, your “argument” for capital punishment is not convincing."

That must explain why both you and Mr Witherington have needed to use various logical fallacies to "refute" it -- I mean, even aside from the fact that I clearly stated that I made no argument *for* capital punishment; rather, I presented an argument which shows us the fallacious nature of all arguments to date against capital punishment, and which strongly indicates that all future attempted arguments against capital punishment will be likewise flawed.

Nick said...

Brilliant sermon Dr Witherington, I have a great deal of respect for your writings (your commentary on Corinthians helped me a great deal in writing my best paper at seminary!).

I do find it interesting, as a Brit AND one working in prisons and with ex-offenders, to see the debate on the death penatly as it doesn't exisit over here (even a 'life' sentence doesn't necessarily mean that).

A contact of mine is a Prison governer here in London, and she did a series of interviews with prisoners and discovered that more severe punishments actually did little to deter people from crime, in fact the vast majority talked about a need for investment in things that reduce the likelihood of crime (like good education, employment, healthcare, positive leisure activities, etc) to help prevent people from getting caught in the cycle, not institutionalising or killing people!

Just as a closing thought, at least two of the guys I know who share their testimonies at our events wouldn't be around if we had the death penalty...

Doug said...

Ilion,

You’re wasting your time! ;)

I want to offer an apology to you for the tone (at the least) of some of my previous posts. Whatever my reasoning, it was an error on my part.

Ilion:A man who misconstrues himself (see the above quoted statements) wants to accuse me of misconstruing him!

That was pretty funny. Oops. It’s even funnier that I claimed I could state my question better! I’m fairly certain you knew from the context what I meant. I did not ask for a justification, I only wanted a simple explanation of what lexical definition, or otherwise, was intended. No trickery involved. And yes, I still think that you misconstrued my statements. But all is well as it is truly not important, nor is it even germane to the discussion at hand. :)

Ilion:Once again, you appear to not know what the term means. Or you don't care. And, consistent with your sort, you seek to "refute" what you do not wish to have understood by making false accusatory whines -- "Ilíon is such a meanie! Therefore he's wrong!"

Hmmm… You’ve complained so much about this passing remark that I had to go back and read your original post again. Let me offer this apology for asserting that you used ad hominems in your argument. It is clear those comments to which I referred, whatever they might be classified as, do not invalidate your argument.

However, I still don’t believe you have adequately, or at all, dealt with my other criticisms.

In my understanding of your argument, you continuously treated all death at the hands of a government official as equal, such that there is no difference between an “on-the-fly” death and the implementation of capital punishment. So, when you say that “to abolish capital punishment is to abolish all government” it is simply wrong by the lexical definition of capital punishment. It is a punishment for a crime. It is putting a condemned person to death. I still contend that you must distinguish between these different types of state-imposed death. If you have provided an explanation for this, I must apologize for having missed it and still criticizing.

It is true that government works on the principal of coercion, in a social contract this is a mutual coercion. And I agree that this must mean the use of force up to death, such that a state agent could shoot someone during the commission of a crime, or even in fleeing the scene of a crime (which is a crime). But I do not see that this holds for capital punishment proper.

You finally recognized this difference near the end of this thread, though you ignored it when I pointed it out earlier. According to you it is the “the difference of deliberation versus passion.” I do have to challenge this assessment, and the conclusions you draw from it. A sniper shooting hostage holder is a deliberate action that could be quite devoid of passion and is totally deliberate. Likewise, the history of capital punishment is rife with examples of passion. Many might say the sniper has ice in his veins (that he is a cold-blooded in killing), but I don’t think those who oppose the death penalty would consider is a moral outrage. At least, that’s how I see it, and I certainly can’t speak for everyone else.

I think the difference is one of necessity. In capital punishment a perfectly reasonable alternative exists: life imprisonment. Like just war, it should be a tactic of last resort. When someone is already incarcerated the death penalty is unneeded. Even “on-the-fly” deaths are limited in their application; state agents cannot simply shoot a criminal for any reason.

Let me ask you a question (no tricks, just a simple question as a part of a larger discussion). In Matthew 19:7-11 we see Jesus responding to the question of divorce. (It takes a little setup, so bear with me as I present my thinking.) Jesus greatly limits the viable reasons for divorce and explains that Moses’ allowance of other reasons was due to the hardness of hearts. The ultimate will of God is that those divorces would not occur. It is a broken world and God works with human imperfection. In doing so He has allowed things such as this. It is still practical for today. Jesus did not say anything about a woman who is being beaten by her husband as having sufficient reason for divorce. But, it is a broken world, and while divorce is wrong, it is less wrong than the alternative. Likewise, God works with governments, broken governments (I do not think any are moral), to stave off chaos within the world (prevent flooding, if you will). He can do magnificent things with the most insufficient of tools. Meanwhile, He also implemented a plan to reconcile the world to Himself: the people of God. His people would inhibit kingdom values, values that became clearer through progressive revelation that climaxed with the incarnation. Thus, Moses once allowed what Jesus is now correcting. We get a similar thing with eye for an eye and turn the other cheek.

In the Kingdom, there will be no capital punishment, hence the church (being the here) should be without it. Ultimately, capital punishment is wrong. For states I would even call it immoral right now (since it is unnecessary). Ultimately, all state killing is wrong, though the broken world may require it right now. God uses this imperfect tool to retain order in the world.

By the way, it is interesting to me that I thought the state made the right decision (on the basis of its laws) with regards to Schiavo. I have been in a very similar position to that of Mr. Schiavo, and I truly feel for all involved. These things are not so simple.

Shalom,
Doug

Ilíon said...

Nick: "I do find it interesting, as a Brit AND one working in prisons and with ex-offenders, to see the debate on the death penatly as it doesn't exisit over here (even a 'life' sentence doesn't necessarily mean that)."

You still have a death penalty in the UK, but you (collective) refuse to see it and recognize it as such. Just as the poor will always be with us, so too the death penalty will always be with us. That fact is explained in the very first posted response to Mr Witherington's essay/sermon.

And yes, a "life sentence" means nothing of the sort ... this is a perfectly logical (though, of course, quite irrational) consequence of accepting the underlying assumptions of all anti-Capital Punishment arguments and combined especially with the immoral regime of "rehabilitation."

The error lies in the abandonment of Justice, substituing for it the anti-judgmental (and utilitarian) Rehabilitation doctrine. Consider the argument of a certain notorious Brit: The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment I am given to understand that a Brit of the prior generation, a chap by the name of "G. K.," had argued much the same.


Nick: "A contact of mine is a Prison governer here in London, and she did a series of interviews with prisoners and discovered that more severe punishments actually did little to deter people from crime, in fact the vast majority talked about a need for investment in things that reduce the likelihood of crime (like good education, employment, healthcare, positive leisure activities, etc) to help prevent people from getting caught in the cycle, not institutionalising or killing people! "

Now *there* is a surprise! Some persons caught and convicted of crimes, and incarcerated for the same, echo the silly (illogical and irrational) posturings of the sorts of eggheads who taught them to be criminals in the first place. Whodda thunk!

NewsFlash: Criminals Agree: Institutionalisation Is Not The Answer!

"That's right, Gov'na, it wadn't *my fault* that I bopped that little old lady; I just got "caught in the cycle." It's *actually* your fault ... well, not *yours* Gov'na, you're a good egg, but "society's" ... 'cause they didn't "invest" in me enough!"


Nick: "(even a 'life' sentence doesn't necessarily mean that)."

When I first read that statement, I took it as at least an expression of bafflement, if not of outrage. But, based on your second paragraph, I suspect I misread you.


NOW, and contrary to the silly posturings of certain "intellectuals," the truth is that punishment for crime can and *does* deter crime.

But, a second truth is that to rely upon a "deterence argument" to justify any punishment for crime it to turn Justice on its head; it is to set yourself and your society up to accept injustice. For, after all, an unjust punishment is at least as effective a deterent -- depending upon how "crime" is defined by the State -- as a just one.


Nick: "Just as a closing thought, at least two of the guys I know who share their testimonies at our events wouldn't be around if we had the death penalty..."

And how many lives were impacted ... murdered, maimed, raped, terrorized, humiliated ... by the criminals-who-deserve-death but are released back into the general populace to continue their predations? No one asks that, certainly not the State nor the "intellectuals" who are steering the ship of state onto the rocks.

Levi said...

Dr. Witherington,

Two quick questions if you find time.

#1 - I like what you said about krino, btw. Do you believe that 7.1 could have been referring to an environment of judgment being created by judgments being made on others? In other words, Matthew uses (hina) + subjunctive to show that the command is to stop this cycle of judgments. When one judges the natural tendency is to judge back (as if it was a competition). I'm not proposing that Jesus is calling for the audience to "do nothing" as you stated in your post, but rather to realize that relationships funded by judgments will in fact bring people to a status of being under judgment?

Which leads me to question 2. If you accept that or not, could Jesus in this context be referring to his hypocrites as those living "under judgment"? If hupo and krino compounded could be understood in this way, the context would seem to make more sense.

It seems like we often interpret hupokrite as one who says one thing and does another, but then we see the same passage telling us not to judge.

I understand that a compound work broken in half doesn't always equal up to the meaning of the word as a whole (i.e. a football isn't a ball made of feet), but I wonder if an understanding of hupokrite as one living under judgment could perhaps make more sense of Jesus' use of the word in this passage.

I don't want to add much more because I know you have much to read and are very busy, but I would love to hear what you have to say if you find time. I don't know that you agree with me, but I'd love to hear your opinion.


thank you. :)

José Solano said...

From the materialistic, society preservation view capital punishment and war make perfect sense. All you need is to develop some objective understanding of justice and then try to carry it out to so that you may reduce the greater evils that tend to develop. In working to reduce the greater evil one might even imagine oneself to not only be the lesser evil but actually the totally good, at least in that coercive action of reducing evil. We see those tough cops or sheriffs in urban crime movies or Western cowboy movies. You smash up the crumb bum criminal and “teach 'em a lesson” and the audience cheers.

On a larger scale we have one government that “does not bear the sword in vain” attacking another government that also “does not bear the sword in vain” with millions of people trying to figure out who is less vain and God seemingly caught in this conundrum crying out, “What in heaven’s name is going on here? They don’t know what they are doing.” And internally we have one non-vainly sword bearing nation sending hordes to the Gulags and another to Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib, or displacing an entire nation through a trail of tears, while elsewhere we hear a voice exclaim, “all is vanity.”

Romans 13 is one of the most misunderstood and misused biblical passages. The government being referred to is Rome, certainly one of the more diabolical governments that has existed and which God nevertheless used to maintain some order. Yet it must not be naively assumed that Rome did not take up the sword “in vain” repeatedly, after all, it crucified Jesus.

God uses Rome as he used Babylon, as he uses Satan. This in no way means that Christians are to emulate the tactics of any of these malevolent forces. Christians serve God in a totally different way. You are correct Dr. Witherington, Christians need to set for the world a much higher standard, to be an example of how people who have turned to God must behave. We are sent out as sheep among wolves. We are a people of trust and faith in God’s ultimate sovereignty not Rome’s. There is no contradiction between Romans 13 and the universally applicable Sermon on the Mount. There is only a lack of understanding with weak brothers placing too much emphasis on protecting what is passing away.

The thinking trap lies in imagining that somehow a majority of the people will be following Jesus’ non-violent teaching and then the “bad” or “badder” guys will take over. We have no concept of what would happen if a majority of the people practiced what Jesus taught. It is not likely to happen and the world would be totally, unrecognizably different if they did.

(It's late and I didn;t check carefully for typos.)

Peace.

AG said...

well said Jose