September 2016

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  


« Documentary on Evidence for the Exodus | Main | What Can We Learn from a Catholic Thinker? Aquinas and Natural Law »

January 19, 2015


He did. We all die because of our sins.

The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

The New Testament also fully supports the death penalty. The most obvious example is God requiring the death of Jesus as a punishment for our sins.

Paul says that there are crimes worthy of the death penalty. One of the criminals dying on the cross with Jesus says that the death penalty he was receiving was appropriate for his crimes. There's more.

I don't think Moses was, in fact, guilty of an overt act murder.

(Needless to say, we have all committed murder in our hearts. Were we all given capital punishment for that, there would be no people. But the sin God sees when He looks upon our hearts, is not the subject here.)

Why wasn't Moses guilty? Here is the passage (Exodus 2:11-25):

Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, "Why are you striking your companion?" But he said, "Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and said, "Surely the matter has become known."
Here is a principle that I think is true:


  1. You are engaged in some activity that is liable to take a third person's life, AND
  2. The only way that I can stop you is to strike you, AND
  3. You die as a result of the blow
I am not guilty of murdering you.
This describes Moses' killing of the Egyptian who was beating the Hebrew.

The passage does not directly say that the beating was life-threatening. But Scripture does describe this as a singular act. Moses wasn't described as a vigilante killing every Egyptian who raised a hand against the Hebrews. So, on that ground, I think it must have been a pretty bad beating...perhaps life-threatening. Were it an Egyptian giving a healthy Hebrew slave a few lashes, then I think Moses would have been murdering Egyptian's right and left. So this beating must have stood out.

I think the beating also must have been bad enough that the slave was beaten to near unconsciousness. Bad enough that Moses thought the slave actually was unconscious. So again, this was not a case of an Egyptian giving a Hebrew a love tap.

Why must Moses have thought the slave was unconscious? Well, Moses made sure there was no one else around before he intervened. But later on he became fearful after one of the two Hebrews who were quarreling mentioned his killing of the Egyptian. If he had known that the slave he saved was conscious enough to identify him, he would already have been afraid. So, Moses thought that the slave that was beaten was not conscious enough to identify him. So again, it was a bad, possibly life-threatening, beating.

Finally, it is clear enough from the text that Moses intended to stop the beating. But the killing may have been an accident. Some translations do say that Moses killed or slew the Egyptian. But the best and most literal translations of the text say that Moses smote or struck the Egyptian. The text implies that the Egyptian died as a result of the blow, because Moses buries the body. But what the text does not say is that Moses intended to kill the Egyptian.

It is true that what Moses did was a crime under Egyptian law. But that is the case even if Moses did not intend to kill the Egyptian, and even if the beating was obviously life-threatening. I'd guess that even if Moses had come upon and Egyptian peeling the skin off a Hebrew just for fun, it would have been illegal for Moses to lift a finger against the Egyptian.

It is also true that Moses knew he was committing a crime under Egyptian law and covered it up and hoped that it went undetected. He looked around before intervening, he buried the body in the sand after the Egyptian died. What that shows is that Moses didn't strike or kill the Egyptian as a complex act of state-assisted suicide or as a form of civil disobedience. He didn't do it because he wanted it known; he didn't want it known. He did it to save the Hebrew.

So it seems to me that Moses' overt action was not a violation of God's prescription against murder.

It is worth noting that God never so much as scolded Moses for the killing. I don't think there is any reason to think that He should have.


The case is different for David. It's virtually the flip-side of Moses' case.

Moses committed a crime, but was not guilty of murder.

David was guilty of murder, but committed no crime (well not quite, see below).

Yes, David abused his authority to get Uriah sent to the front lines, and, when the fighting grew fierce, ordered that he be abandoned there.

Murder by war.

But as a technical matter of law, I don't think David's command concerning Uriah could even be categorized as a crime. No society will ever allow stupid military tactics to become equated with murder. Even though, in this case, it was murder. But murder that David absolutely would get away with.

David also slept with another man's wife while that man was still alive. That was a capital crime he could, technically, be convicted of. But, in the real world, he probably never would have been convicted of it.

So, the only way David would ever get punished, capitally or otherwise, would be for God to smite him. No human law would ever touch him. If it did, it would be almost as big a miracle as a lightning bolt coming out of the clear blue sky to kill him.

Turns out, there are actually a lot of crimes like that. I was very surprised when I realized that. Where the criminal actually gets away with it. Did you know that actually happens??!!!

In each of these cases, the only way the criminal will ever be punished, capitally or otherwise, is for God to smite him.

I guess God shows temporary mercy to criminals and even other sinners, and He does not immediately smite everyone.

I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

Now the Bible tells us that God did punish David, though not capitally. That is, God did not kill David on the spot. But if there is any charge to be laid at God's feet, it is not that he let David off the hook. God was far from lenient. God orchestrated events so that David's family members preyed upon each other for the remainder of David's life. And God made sure that David got to see all of it.

Jesus forgave the woman taken in the capital sin of adultery and challenged her executioners about their own guilt and hypocrisy for wanting to stone her. He also stated that he does all that the Father commands him.

Jesus had to be framed and innocently executed by the State for the sake of our redemption, but many Old Testament practices came to an end in and around the time of his “fulfilling all that had been written concerning him”.

It is obvious that far more innocent people have been executed by the State than the guilty, if we consider State sanctioned abortion, the martyrdom throughout history. Even the Holocaust alone could prove this.

If we pick and choose which capital sins to punish from the Old Testament list, unless we do them all, should we do any?


The appropriateness of punishment obviously varies with circumstance.

Stealing water is always wrong. But it is not appropriate to punish it the same on a lifeboat as in an affluent American suburb.

It is not 'picking and choosing' to say that. It's recognizing that some of the things the Bible says are dependent on the circumstance in which it was said.


I don't see by what authority anyone can respect only one of a list of Old Testament Capitol offenses and not all of them.

If Jesus (God) called off the executioners in the one Capital case of the Adulterous woman, did he not nullify the others too?

Where are we told to pick and choose which of the Old Testament Capitol sins the State should punish?

Well, on the woman charged with adultery, the fact is that we don't know that she was guilty of the crime of which she was accused. The Bible doesn't say that. I think the woman was innocent. That's the test that the priests were posing. They trumped up charges of adultery against her as a test for Jesus.

I have two reasons for thinking she was not guilty.

Reason #1

If she was guilty and caught in the very act, where was her bed-fellow? How could she be caught in the very act and there not be a second person there guilty of adultery?

There wasn't a second person because she wasn't caught in the very act of adultery.

Reason #2

If she was actually guilty, it's hard to see what the priests were trying to prove.

If she was guilty, and Jesus stoned her, or allowed the priests to do so, what point do the priests gain?

I'm not seeing how they would gain a blessed thing.

If she was guilty, and Jesus refused to stone her, or convinced the priests not to stone here, what do the priests gain?

Again, I'm not seeing how they would gain a blessed thing.

But if she was not guilty, and Jesus went along with the stoning, they could say, right before actually stoning the woman, that Jesus was fallible. That He had gone along with the stoning of an innocent woman.

If she was not guilty, they, of course, also risked the terrible humiliation that they actually suffered when Jesus called them on their lies and refused to go along with stoning her. But they never dreamed that Jesus would actually see right through them.

Bottom-line, I don't see much point to the priests' actions if the woman was guilty. But there is plenty of point, if she was not guilty.


Even if, as I think is false, the woman was caught in adultery, Jesus didn't make adultery OK in that passage. Otherwise what are we to make of His teachings about divorce? The problem with divorce is that it makes the divorced people into adulterers when they remarry. If adultery is OK now, there wouldn't be much punch to that transformation.

So at the very most, what was changed was the punishment for adultery.

But, even granting that she was guilty, it really only shows that the punishment was changed for that particular act of adultery.

Either was, all that that shows is that the punishments for violations of OT law are changeable in principle based on conditions. A point that I don't think was in dispute even then.

It does not show that any punishment other than the one mentioned in the passage for that particular act of adultery should be changed.

Your argument is basically of the form: Some As are B; therefore, all As are B.

Either way, all that that shows is that the punishments for violations of OT law are changeable in principle based on conditions. A point that I don't think was in dispute even then.


Aren't sins carrying the death penalty of the same weight - ultimately?

All sins carry the death penalty, ultimately.

We're talking here about the Kingdom on the Left...the civil realm. Not the Kingdom on the Right, the divine kingdom. The Kingdom on the Left has a completely different purpose than the Kingdom on the Right. The main goal of the lefthand kingdom is to keep us from eating each other and stealing one another's flat screen TVs. How it does so varies with conditions, technology and so on.

There are rules in the OT about what to do with your excrement. Pipes with U-bend traps are not mentioned. That does not make it wrong to use pipes with U-bend traps to deal with your excrement instead of the methods prescribed in the OT. In fact, since the apparent point of those OT laws was to contain the spread of infectious disease, you could make a case that the U-bend traps are not only allowed by the OT, but required when available.

BTW, Dave, your argument is now of the form: Some A's are B, All A's are C; therefore, All A's are B.

  1. Some capital crimes from the OT are non-capital crimes in the NT.
  2. All capital crimes from the OT are of the same weight.
  3. THEREFORE, All capital crimes from the OT are non-capital crimes in the NT.
This argument form is still ridiculously invalid. If we accepted arguments of this form as valid we would have to say that this argument is also valid:
  1. Some human beings are men.
  2. All human beings are life forms.
  3. THEREFORE, All human beings are men.
It is a hallmark of bad reasoning patterns that they will allow you to start with true premises (as the last one has) and get you to a false conclusion (which the last one also has.)

Now, if you were to add this principle:

The weight of a crime is the sole determining factor of the punishment it should receive.
Then you could argue this way:
  1. The weight of a crime is the sole determining factor of the punishment it should receive.
  2. THEREFORE, If the punishment assigned to even one crime is changed from being capital in the OT to being non-capital in the NT, then all punishments for all crimes of the same weight were changed to be non-capital in the NT. (By 1)
  3. All capital crimes from the OT are of the same weight.
  4. THEREFORE, If there was even one capital crime that became non-capital in the NT, then all capital crimes from the OT become non-capital crimes in the NT. (By 2 and 3)
  5. There is one crime that was a capital crime in the OT that became non-capital in the NT.
  6. THEREFORE, All capital crimes from the OT are non-capital crimes in the NT. (By 4 and 5)
So this, at least is valid.

But the premises we had to add to the argument to make it valid are obviously false, so the reasoning is still unsound. It is false that all capital crimes in the OT are of the same weight. It is false that the weight of a crime is the sole determining factor of its punishment.

It is false that all capital crimes in the OT are of the same weight.

The fact that two crimes carry the same punishment is no indication of their weight. Especially in the case of capital crime. Even if we grant that the punishment is based only on the weight or severity of the crime, it does not follow that all capital crimes are of equal severity. Capital punishment is the ultimate price. Killing 300 people is obviously a weightier crime than killing 2, but we can only execute you once.

It is false that the weight of a crime is the sole determining factor of its punishment.

Weight, or severity, isn't the only determining factor involved in punishment. Especially in the case of capital punishment. We could find ourselves in a circumstance where we would like to levy a more lenient sentence, but the exigencies of the case require that we use capital punishment.

Think of martial law. Ordinarily, looting would not be a capital offense, it's not that weighty a crime. But under conditions of martial law, it may become a capital crime, not because of its weight, but because the circumstances don't permit a more lenient sentence.

On the flip side, we could also find ourselves in a circumstance where we would like to levy a more severe sentence, even a capital sentence, but the exigencies of the case require that we use a more lenient punishment. For example, we pardon and grant immunity even to murderers for all sorts of good reasons, not because their crime was not weighty.

So the severity of a crime is certainly a factor that determines punishment, but it is not the only determining factor.

I frankly think that the sexual and religious crimes that ancient Israel used capital punishment for were of that type. In different circumstances, the punishment would have been more lenient. But ancient Israel was in a pretty tight corner that required the more severe penalties.

Finally, let's assume that there were not all these easy reasons to see why your argument fails.

I think we can still see that it does fail.

If you are right, if the argument succeeds, then it isn't just that adultery and all the other capital crimes become non-capital in the NT. Because Jesus didn't say to the woman, "Go lock yourself up for twenty-five to life". He just said "Go and sin no more". If your argument is a success, Dave, then that's what we have to say to murderers and rapists also: "Go and sin no more."

And we have to leave it at. Since, according to your argument all capital crimes from the OT should get the same response that the NT gives them (otherwise we are guilty of 'picking and choosing'). And since rape, adultery and murder were all capital crimes in the OT, it follows that all they get, from now on, is that gentle remonstrance.

Well that's obviously an absurd result, so we know there is something wrong with your argument even if (contrary to fact) we couldn't quite place our finger on it.

The comments to this entry are closed.