Before I get into today’s article, I wanted to refer briefly to last year’s article on biblical law (‘harsh on criminals, soft on victims’). That was an experiment of sorts. It was on a critical subject (biblical law and civil justice) but it was also written, admittedly, in the voice of one Ben Settle. Ben Settle? Yes. The undisputed heavyweight champion of e-mail marketing and 7-figure, intrepid, take-no-prisoners-give-no-quarter, “goo-roo” copywriting. That Ben Settle.
So much so, in fact, that I feel I should add his name to the byline of that article. Co-authored by… You know, give credit where credit is doo. (There he goes again. STOP IT, Ben!) Anyway, thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Settle. It was a fun joy ride. It ran its course, and it ran it, well, to the finish line.
Now that that’s settled…
Onward, Christian Readers.
Buckle up and get your helmet on because today’s article is fixin’ to hit you right between the ayes.
It, too, is co-authored. By this lowly blogger and by the eminent Reconstructionist historian and biblical commentator, Dr. Gary North. Only this time, you’ll know where my incoherent dribblings end and our guest author’s inestimable intellect and erudition begins.
Today’s topic comes from Dr. North’s The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments.
It comes from Chapter 6 in the book (“God’s Monopoly of Execution”), which focuses on the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill (Exod. 20:13).
The first part of the chapter lays out the biblical arguments for and against “killing” — when it is prohibited, why it is prohibited, when it is justified and allowed, and even when it is required: capital punishment.
Since man is made in the image of God, murder is a direct assault on that image.
Murder is rebellion against God. It is man taking vengeance against man when, we are told repeatedly in Scripture, that vengeance belongs to God (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30). Vengeance, as North puts it, “is His monopoly.” (p. 117)
God avenges the blood of His servants. Individual men do not have this right. Except… where God delegates it to them. As He does in the case of civil government prosecuting capital crimes. North gets into this (“Delegated Monopoly”). He also gets into the argument for (and against) capital punishment as a deterrent against crime (“The Question of Deterrence”).
And once he is done with presenting these arguments in the biblical case for capital punishment, North then moves on to a discussion of the mode of execution.
Capital Punishment: Death By–?
You may ask, “Does it really matter HOW we execute a criminal convicted of a capital crime, just as long as it gets done… and it gets done humanely?”
YES, North says, it does matter.
And as far as a “humane” form of execution? Well, that’s where the humanists have got even the Christians thinking humanistically and apologizing for what the Bible plainly says.
Remember, it was humanist, anti-biblical thinking that redefined “humane” punishment for crime and gave us a “criminal justice” system that abolishes restitution, spares the perpetrator’s life and locks him up for years and decades and even a lifetime, with myriad fringe benefits — all paid for at taxpayer expense — while leaving the victim uncompensated, re-victimized and wholly unavenged.
If we ever get back to capital punishment and public executions being carried out the way God has prescribed them and not the way depraved, unregenerate, self-preserving, “compassionate” men think they ought to, we will begin to truly see the redemptive, transformative power of biblical law even in this seemingly obscure and narrow regard.
That may seem hard to believe.
That’s because you haven’t read what you are about to read.
So, I’ll let Dr. North take over from here and make his case. I rest mine.
In Defense of Stoning
Consider the mode of execution. The Old Testament specifies stoning as the proper mode in most cases (Lev. 20:2; Deut. 17:5). In the case of the sabbath-breaking gatherer of sticks, the whole congregation stoned him to death (Num. 15:36). Presumably, the phrase “whole congregation” refers to representatives of the twelve tribes, and not millions of people. Even the killer ox is to be stoned to death (Ex. 21:29). Witnesses of the capital crime are to cast the first stones (Deut. 17:7; Acts 7:58). But the whole community is to be involved. Adult males of the city are all to participate (Deut. 21:21). If the city is too populous, then it would appear to be legitimate to select repre- sentatives, but only because of the logistical problem.
Why stoning? There are many reasons. First, the implements of execution are available to everyone at virtually no cost. Second, no one blow can be traced to any person. In other words, no one citizen can regard himself as “the executioner,” the sole cause of another man’s death. Psychologically, this is important; it relieves potential guilt problems in the mind of a sensitive person. The fact that public executioners in Western history wore masks indicates another problem: the threat of social ostracism (and socially imposed guilt) against a lone individual who does the community’s “dirty business.” Those who abstain from the “dirty business” of enforcing God’s law have a tendency to elevate their behavior as being more moral than the ex- ecutioner’s, where in point of fact such abstention is itself immoral.
Third, public stoning makes it clear to everyone that the whole community is responsible for the prevention of criminal behavior. God holds the city responsible, which is why representatives of the city in Old Testament times had to offer a slain heifer as a covering if the criminal could not be found. “And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley: And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel’s charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them” (Deut. 21:6-8). There is a collective responsibility in biblical law in several instances. Execution of criminals is therefore to be collective.
Fourth, executions are to be personal, not impersonal. The condemned man has the right to confront his executioners face to face. He does not die in seclusion, a faceless entity who dies at the hand of a faceless entity. He receives justice in a public, personal fashion.
The fifth and by far the most important reason is that stoning is literally a means of crushing the murderer’s head by means of a rock, which is symbolic of God. This is analogous to the crushing of the head of the serpent in Genesis 3:15. This symbolism testifies to the final victory of God over all the hosts of Satan.
Stoning is therefore integral to the commandment against murder. It allows men to execute God’s justice, but not in a way that might lead an individual to believe that he, and he alone, has the right to take justice into his own hands. Executions are community projects– not with spectators who watch a professional executioner do “his” duty, but rather with actual participants. Execution is not to become a profession. It is not to be performed by a callous professional in a mask, who sees his job as just an occupation. The hangman, the masked expert at beheading men, or the official who throws the switch on the electric chair, or the man who releases the cyanide capsules: all are to be avoided by a consistently biblical social order. No man is to view himself as the community’s hired “angel of death.” Every citizen, beginning with the witnesses, is to set; himself as a lawful agent of execution, if and when a criminal is convicted of a capital crime.
Western civilization has been marked by an increasing depersonalization in the area of capital punishment. Criminals were executed for centuries in public squares by masked axemen. They were hanged, sometimes after anti-biblical torture, in public squares. These events were almost sporting events, and pickpockets always did a lively business, even at the hangings of other pickpockets. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the executions began to go indoors. By the early twentieth century, modern technology combined with modern jurisprudence to produce the indoor execution, where only a handful of observers attended. Often, they would become sick at the sight. By the latter decades, this impersonalism finally collapsed. The death penalty was seen as “inhumane ,” and the advent of “lifetime” sentences with paroles displaced the death penalty in most instances of capital crimes. A steady progression toward greater impersonalism finally led to repulsion on the part of political leaders and moral spokesman for humanism, leaving defenders of capital punishment to defend a long-corrupted imitation of biblical execution.
The grim reality is that personalism has been retained in such lawless acts as gangland murders and hangings by vigilante groups. In these cases, private citizens “take the law into their own hands,” which is to say that they deny the legitimacy of the existing civil government. They execute vengeance apart from the sanction of the civil government. They arrogate to themselves God’s monopoly of execution – a monopoly that he has placed into the hands of civil magistrates.
That modern Christians never consider the possibility of the re-introduction of stoning for capital crimes indicates how thoroughly humanistic concepts of punishment have influenced the thinking of Christians. If humanistic concepts of punishment have persuaded Christians that there was something sinister about the Old Testament’s specified mode of execution, then we should not be surprised to discover that humanistic concepts of Justice, including economic justice, have also become influential in the thinking of Christians. Christians have voluntarily transferred their allegiance from the infallible Old Testament to contemporary God-hating and God-denying criminologists and economists. They have traded their birthright for a mess of pottage — or, given the nature of modern criminology’s propaganda, for a pot of message.
That God has delegated this right to execute to the civil government indicates that this institution has legitimate power. It can protect men from kidnapping, a capital crime (Ex. 21:16). It can also protect men from the spread of disease, especially killer diseases, by means of imposing a quarantine (Num. 5:1-4; Lev. 13-15). The police power of the State is to serve as one of the foundations of social stability. It thereby permits men to apply time and capital to their callings. It offers legal predictability, which is vital to the flourishing of personal freedom and economic development. Most important, the right of the civil government to take a man’s life under specified conditions is apt to remind men of the ultimate Judge who gives the gift of life, but who also retains the right to remove life from those who rebel against Him. The civil government’s monopoly of execution testifies to God’s absolute hostility against sin, especially the sin of striking out against God’s own image.
This is an extremely important point. Man’s life is to be protected, not because each man possesses a hypothetical absolute and original right of ownership over his own person (the fundamental assertion of most libertarian and anarcho-capitalist theoreticians), but because God is absolutely sovereign and the absolute owner of all things, including men. He will not permit His image, man, to be mortally wounded without imposing a form of judgment which, in time and on earth, is analogous to that final judgment beyond the grave. Peter speaks of “the grace of life” (I Pet. 3:7); to destroy human life is to reject grace. Murderers have no place in God’s in- heritance (Gal. 5:21; Rev. 21:8).
Here endeth Chapter 6 of Dr. North’s book, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments.
You can read the entire book for free by downloading it HERE.