“Thou Shalt Not Kill” – And the Death Penalty.

There are a couple of verses of Scripture that unbelievers and skeptics accept, and are quite insistent should be followed.  One, Exodus 20:13 (KJV), is in the title of this post:  Thou shalt not kill (KJV).  The other one is found in Matthew 7:1:  Judge not…. 

They don’t seem to mind adultery or dishonesty or using the name of God as a swear word, but the sixth commandment must be followed.

Never mind what they say about the rest of Scripture – these verses must be followed.  There may be other verses they “like,” but I think these are the two main ones.

So, when some killer is to be put to death for crimes he has committed, or when the execution is botched, as has happened recently, these folks get all worked up and say, “Oh, the poor man!  How can such things be done?”

It would be nice if they could show such concern for the victims of this “poor man.”

I certainly don’t advocate “suffering” in execution, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind about the sixth commandment.

First, the Hebrew word translated “kill” comes from a root meaning “to dash in pieces,” and refers primarily to murder or manslaughter. That’s how newer translations put it.  “Thou shalt not murder.”

Second, there are over forty “death-penalty” sins in the Old Testament.

These sins include such things as idolatry, spiritism, hitting or continual rebellion against a parent, kidnapping, false witness in a death-penalty case.

The criminals and their lawyers didn’t run things, like they do today.  Careful examination was indeed to be made as to the truthfulness of the charges against a person.  And two or three witnesses were required for an execution.  One only wasn’t enough.  And there was a recognition of what we call “technicalities,” only back then it was called “degrees of bloodguiltiness.”  These were used to determine the level of punishment, not as reasons for the offender to go free.

Some people can’t understand how the two ideas of “not killing” and the death penalty could coexist like that.  It’s simple.  Life was valued.  Individuals were valued, as being created “in the image of God.”  Those who took life forfeited their own.  Those who caused harm to others suffered harm themselves.

Some folks argue that we’re not under the Old Testament law.  I myself have made that point.  The Ten Commandments were given to a people in a certain historical and geographical setting.  They were never given to mankind in general; there’s never been a “dispensation of law.”

The Mosaic Covenant, which includes the Ten Commandments were given specifically to the nation of Israel at Sinai.  It forms, if you will, her constitution and bylaws.  In the situation in which it was given, there are a lot of things which seem very strange to our “modern” thinking. The idea that crime should be punished apparently has become one of them.  Our idea that violent criminals should be housed at taxpayer expense and “rehabilitated” would seem very strange to them.

Others argue that Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, so “love” has become the current buzzword.  Never mind that what passes for love in our society bears little resemblance to what the Lord Jesus actually taught.

Another favorite incident of opponents of the death-penalty is Jesus “forgiving” the woman taken in adultery in John 8:2-11.  We’ve done a post on this, so will just try to summarize here.

This woman had indeed been caught in the very act, v.5.  Now Jesus had often set Himself against the Pharisee’s interpretation of the Mosaic Law, so the Pharisees who dragged her into the presence of Jesus wanted to know what He said, it’s emphatic,  about this situation, because Moses said that such should be put to death, cf. Leviticus 20:10.

Uttering no word, the Lord simply began to write on the ground.  Since Leviticus 20:10 required that both parties be executed, I think He wrote, “Where is the man?” though that’s only supposition on my part because we’re not told what He wrote either time.

After what must have been an embarrassed silence, the men all left and the woman and Jesus were left alone, standing in the midst, v.10.  Note very carefully what the Lord asked her and the conversation that followed:  “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.”  And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.” vs. 10, 11 (emphases added).  Not a word about “forgiveness.”  Indeed, the Lord told the men to go ahead and kill her – if they were innocent themselves in this particular matter.  I think they had set her up, and were trying to set the Lord up.  They failed.

Now, the woman was indeed guilty.  However, the Law was very specific about such matters.  Though the Pharisees had all testified against her and could have in fact killed her, their own consciences in the face of the holiness of the Lord Jesus prevented them from carrying out the sentence.  They, therefore, did not “condemn her.”  Because the provisions of the Law were not carried out, neither did the Lord.

The incident has nothing to do with “forgiveness” or “not judging,” as it’s often used.

Regardless of what He might have taught about these things, the Lord Jesus also taught that we were to render…to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, Matthew 22:21.  See also Mark 12:17 and Luke 20:25.  The fact that three Gospels record this incident show the importance the Lord placed on it.

Paul echoed the Lord when he wrote in Romans 13:1, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.  Among other things, that authority does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil, v.4.

“Execute.”

“Wrath.”

“Vengeance.”

Ideas certainly foreign to modern jurisprudence.

So we have felons walking around free who have murdered or raped or done other violent crimes, but they’ve “served their time,” and so they’re free, while ordinary citizens hide behind locked doors and windows and women are afraid to go out alone at night.  How often do we hear of some man whose been arrested for a crime, only to also hear that he’s committed violent crimes before, perhaps several of them.

I’m sorry, but it’s time to rethink this idea of “rehabilitation” for felons who obviously have no interest in being rehabilitated.

It’s often commented by opponents of capital punishment that it doesn’t “deter” crime.  That’s only because it takes decades and multiple “appeals” before the sentence is carried out.  If criminals were actually executed who deserve it, without all the modern coddling that goes along with it, people might begin to understand that felony is serious.

Besides, if a felon is executed, that certainly “deters” him from committing other crimes.

I know there’s a lot of heat generated by this topic, and this is only part of the discussion about the death penalty, but it’s high time to take our justice system out of the hands of criminals and their lawyers.

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John 8: The Woman Taken in Adultery

I’ve seen several recent posts mentioning this Scripture.  Admittedly, this is a controversial portion.  Earlier, it was thought possibly to encourage immorality because the woman seems to have “gotten away with it,” and Jesus didn’t enforce the Mosaic Law.  (Actually He did; we’ll see this shortly).  More recently, it’s disputed because of textual criticism: the “best” manuscripts don’t include it.

For what it’s worth, and I’m no “scholar,” it seems to me that textual criticism, which tries to determine the actual text of the Old and New Testament from the variants that are found in the manuscripts and the early translations – and they are there – borders on sanctified unbelief.  For example, one of the most highly regarded authorities on this subject has clearly said that 2 Peter is not canonical, that is, it shouldn’t be in the NT.  A friend of mine had a book on the Elephantine papyri, ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC, published by Brigham Young University.  I’m sorry, but what does Mormonism, with its additional “holy books,” a large portion of one of which is a verbatim repeat of the King James Version, down to verse and chapter divisions and punctuation, what does Mormonism have to do with determining the text of Scripture?  But, I digress….

Back to John 8….

The usual understanding of this portion is that it’s all about forgiveness.  Jesus forgave this woman of her sin.  Others have said that it teaches that we’re not to judge others.  Jesus didn’t judge this sinful woman.  Are these what it teaches?

The Setting, v. 2. 

The Feast of Tabernacles had just concluded the day before, John 7:2, 37, so there would still have been larger than normal crowds in Jerusalem.  Jesus was sitting in the Temple, teaching those who had gathered to hear Him.  Perhaps the Jewish leaders thought this would be an ideal time to expose and get rid of this threat to their power, cf. John 11:48.

The Set-up, vs 3-6.

In the midst of the quiet with only the sound of the Master’s voice, suddenly there was a commotion.  A group of men, scribes and Pharisees, leaders of the people, were dragging a struggling, disheveled woman toward the front of the gathering.  A strident voice rang out over the shocked silence:

“Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses commanded us that such should be stoned.  But what do you say?”

A challenge to the Savior.  Perhaps these men, or at least some of them, had heard Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount saying several times, “You have heard that it was said…, but I say to you….”   The “you” is emphatic:  “Moses commanded…, but YOU, what do YOU say?”

The only reason these men were interested in what the Lord would reply was that they might have something of which to accuse Him, v. 6.  These men were never there actually to hear what the Lord had to say; they were just looking for something they could use against Him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t engineer the whole thing.  Granted, the men probably knew the woman could be tricked into this – a godly Israelite lady would never have done what she did, but that still gives them no excuse for their mistreatment of her.

The Silence, v. 6. 

But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear them.

I love this verse.

There have been numerous suggestions as to what the Lord wrote.  Of course, no one can really know, because John doesn’t tell us what He wrote.  Any conjecture is just that, conjecture.  My own “conjecture” is that He wrote, “Where is the man?”

You see, Leviticus 20:10, which is probably what the men were referring to, says, among other things, the adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death.  So it seems reasonable to me that Jesus wrote, “Where is the man?”  If the woman had been caught in the very act, there had to be a man involved.  Where was he?

The sentence, v. 7, 8. 

Many who read this portion of John don’t seem to realize that the Lord told them to go ahead and stone her.  Granted, and this is important, He put a condition on it. Nevertheless, he told them to do what Moses had commanded them to do.

The “condition” was that the one throwing the first stone at her had to be without sin among them.  Now, was the Lord requiring that they be “sinless” in order to execute this guilty woman?  Not at all, otherwise such sentencing could never have been carried out, even in Moses’ time.  My own view, and I won’t be dogmatic about it, is that Jesus was really saying to them that the one who was without sin in this particular matter should be the first to throw a stone at her.

After all, they had set her up, and they were trying to set Jesus up.  Though not participants in the actual act of adultery, they were as guilty as she was.  And the Lord know it, cf. John 2:24.

Again, He stooped and wrote on the ground.  And, again, we don’t know what He wrote. This time, I won’t “guess”.

The Struggle, v. 9.

Again, silence.  The strident voices of the woman’s accusers were quiet.  The Master was again writing on the ground.  Silence.  Perhaps the men looked at the ground and/or at each other.  Perhaps they shuffled their feet or cleared their throats.  The Scripture says that, though there may have been silence on the outside, their consciences were quite loud on the inside.  Suddenly, there was movement.  After a few uncomfortable moments, the eldest of them began to move toward an exit.  Then another, then another, then all of them, with as much “dignity” as they could still muster from the oldest even to the last.  Again, silence.   Just Jesus, the woman and the crowd, waiting to see what would happen next.

The Sequel, vs. 10-11.

This is the climax of the whole story.  Jesus finally raised Himself us, to see only the woman standing in front of Him.  Her accusers were all gone.  He said to her, “Woman, where are your accusers?  Has no one condemned you?”  You see, in cases where the death sentence was to be imposed, and there are more than 40 such cases in the Law, at least two witnesses had to testify to the guilt of the accused party.  But in this case, the case of the adulterous woman, there were no accusers.  Legally, there was no ground for her to be condemned or to be executed.  It is on this basis, and not because He “forgave” her, that Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”  It’s not because we’re not “to judge.”   There were no witnesses to her guilt.  She could not be condemned.  It was the Law.

The woman was not standing before Jesus in His capacity as the Judge of all mankind.  He will be that one day, and she will stand before Him again.  So will we all.  She was standing before Him as a Jewish Rabbi, who was required to uphold the Law.  He did so. The “scribes and Pharisees” did not, but were simply using it in their efforts to “get” the Lord Jesus.

The Single Word, v. 11.

The woman only said three words so far as the record goes.  And we have no further record of her at all.  But one of those three words gives us hope that this experience had also worked conviction in her, conviction which brought her to the Lord, not conviction like that of the scribes and Pharisees, which drove them away.

She called Him, “Lord.”