Law

In wake of recent Arkansas executions, angry blogger calls Biblical justice “stupid”

Arkansas is in the process of carrying out executions of convicted murderers before its supply of lethal-injection drugs expires. One blogger is so angry that he has called the principles of biblical justice “stupid”…

He has personal history with murder. He writes:

“We must bring the families justice and closure,” is their constant refrain.
I say bulls**t.
My grandfather was murdered on the night of September 18, 1968.

They never caught the guys who did it.
They never even looked for them.
Chicago.
But even if they had tried them, found them guilty, and executed them, it wouldn’t mean a damn thing to me or the rest of my family.
Killing those guys wouldn’t bring my grandfather back.
I wouldn’t have slept better one night over the last 50 years.

He then educates us on biblical law:

You know that Biblical phrase “An eye for an eye”?
Wrong.
I’m not spinning this; I’m fluent in biblical Hebrew and I know what I’m talking about.
The literal translation of the phrase is actually “An eye under an eye.”
In other words, if someone takes out someone else’s eye, the Bible imposes a civil penalty.
The miscreant must pay the victim a maximum of the financial value of being able to see with both eyes.
Which brings us to the state of Arkansas, which is rushing to put to death eight men for capital murder.

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First of all, he makes it sound like “life for life” as written in the Bible shouldn’t actually be interpreted as calling for the death penalty for murder. He is wrong because he doesn’t consider other key verses in his hasty analysis.

ECONOMIC RESTITUTION FOR CRIMES

Generally, his analysis of “lex talionis” is correct: the eye-for-an-eye called out in the Bible, referred to as “lex talionis,” is not the same brutality practiced in Hammurabi’s code. It is generally referring to the economic penalty associated with performing certain crimes. If you knock out a man’s tooth, “tooth for tooth” means the criminal should compensate the man for his lost tooth. How much is a lost-tooth worth, financially, economically?

In other words, the Bible isn’t nearly as harsh as its liberal critics lead us to believe. Some, like in this CNN article, assert that the biblical text evolved out of earlier middle eastern laws. Those earlier civilizations were “more civilized,” but the biblical tradition, arising later, twisted it into something more barbaric.

The claim that the Hebrews adopted the law codes of their neighbors is purely speculation that rests upon a crucial foundational assumption.

You see, the Bible tells us that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, and then Moses delivered the laws to Israel, including “lex talionis.” If this didn’t happen — if the Israelites adapted the law from other civilizations — then the Bible is a fraud. It is not true.

Liberal critics begin all their analysis of history and theology with this foundational presupposition: the Bible is a hoax. Christians ought to begin their analysis of history, theology, law, and everything else with this foundational presupposition: the Bible is true.

A LAMP TO OUR FEET

That guiding presupposition will help us navigate otherwise murky cases like this one that this blogger is upset about. Is the death penalty adequate justice for a murder conviction? Or is it stupid, like he asserts, given the correct interpretation of lex talionis?

In all crimes, who is the primary victim? The Bible is clear: God is. God gave the law. He created the world, including people. A violation of God’s law is a crime against God. God is the victim. And every crime is a sin. Indeed, as John tells us, “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). If you steal from your neighbor, you have victimized God, number one, and your neighbor secondly.

In the case of murder, who are the victims?

God, primarily. And the victim, second. The family and friends and coworkers are, at best, tertiary victims.

Who will seek justice on behalf of the victim? The victim is no longer able to speak for themselves. They cannot claim they have been wronged. So, for justice to be served, someone must speak on their behalf. God always works on behalf of the victim, and he has appointed the civil government to act as his earthly prosecutor and agent of vengeance on his behalf (Rom. 13:4).

So then, does economic repayment count as an acceptable form of punishment in the case of murder? The Bible is clear: absolutely not.

Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death,but he shall be put to death. (Num. 35:31)

VICTIM’S RIGHTS

God demands execution for murder. Anything less is unjust. The murderer cannot escape execution by paying a fine, however large it may be — whether it be millions of dollars, or spending the rest of his life isolated from the rest of society in prison. His primary victim is God, and God is representing the murderer’s earthly victim. As the victim, God sets the penalty, and “life for life” is what he requires.

That’s because the murderer’s earthly victim is no longer around to accept a lesser penalty.

But execution does not automatically send an unbeliever to hell. What it does do is remand them from a court of lower (earthly) jurisdiction to one of higher (heavenly) jurisdiction. There, they will stand before God in his perfect court and be sentenced.

If they repent before their execution, then they will not suffer God’s ultimate punishment. But they are not allowed to regain their earthly life. It is forfeit. But then, they should be thankful they were given the opportunity to forfeit their life in order to gain their soul.

So, primarily, executing earthly justice is meant to satisfy the primary victim: God. If earthly justice has no meaning to the tertiary victims — “wouldn’t mean a damn thing to me or the rest of the family”, as the blogger puts it — it’s largely inconsequential. Although the victims should be satisfied that the courts have executed orderly justice: trials, witnesses, appeals courts, evidence, and verdicts. It may not be perfect, but then again, what on earth is?

Execution is the just penalty for murder, prescribed by the Bible. That rests upon the biblical principle of victim’s rights.

The Bible makes clear that if we don’t enforce law and justice in our earthly courts, then God will step in and bring judgment in our place. One way or another, there will be judgment.

That’s a pretty good reason for Christians to demand enforcement of execution for the capital crime of murder: for the preservation of society.

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