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Romans 13:1-14

IV.          God's Purpose with Israel - 9:1-11:36

V.            God's Principles for Living - 12:1-15:13

A.            The Christian and Life - 12:1-21

B.            The Christian and Law - 13:1-14


1.             Obeying the law of the land - 13:1-7


Five principles:


a.              All governmental authority comes from God (vv. 1,4,6)


Examples: a) Pharaoh in Egypt (Rom. 9:17); b) Daniel 2:19-21,36-38; 4:24-37 (cf. Jer. 27:5-7); 5:17-23a; c) Pilate (John 19:11-12).


Because all authority to rule and to govern comes from God, those in authority are called God's "ministers" (v. 4) and God's "servants" (v. 6). This is descriptive of their function, not any supposed religious relationship to God. See Isa. 45:1-7; Jer. 27:6 (25:9). Paul stands opposed to all forms of anarchy.


b.             Because all governmental authority comes from God, all Christians are to live in subjection to it (vv. 1,5)


This is an obligation from which no person, whether Christian or not, can claim to be exempt. See 1 Pt. 2:13-17; Titus 3:1.


c.              Because all governmental authority comes from God, to resist it is to resist Him (v. 2)


Whereas not all sins are crimes, all crimes are sins. Are there any exceptions to this?


Fear of civil judgment, however, should not be the only, or even primary, reason why Christians should obey the law of the land. See v. 5. "Conscience" refers to our moral obligation to God. We are to obey the law of the land, not so much from fear of legal sanctions, but by virtue of our relationship with God. We obey based on principle, not pragmatism.


d.             The purpose of government (the state) is two-fold: 1) to promote and praise good; 2) to punish and prohibit evil (vv. 3,4)


The primary purpose of the state is to preserve and protect public morality, justice, and to insure the punishment of the offender. It is not the purpose of the state to promote the gospel, but to provide a legal and moral atmosphere in which the church can do its work (1 Tim. 2:1-2).


·          What does this principle tell us about the concept of "the separation of church and state"?


·          What is the Christian to do when the state begins to promote the very thing which God has ordained it to restrain?


e.              It is the right of government to levy taxes and the obligation of its citizens to pay them (vv. 6,7).


The "very thing" to which rulers devote themselves is the collecting of taxes! The word translated "devoting" is the same as that found in 12:12. PT: "If Christians would exercise the same concern over prayer that the IRS does over collecting taxes, no telling what might happen in today's church!" (Alan Johnson, 111).


Observe that simply paying our taxes isn't enough. We must also show the respect and honor due unto those who fulfill their God-ordained responsibilities.



Five Questions:


a.              Does Paul endorse a particular form of government?


b.             Are Christians ever free to publicly criticize their government?


When Paul says that God ordains human government and invests it with authority, he does not mean to suggest that government is therefore free to do as it pleases. It is subject to God and his will. Government is not morally autonomous. See Prov. 16:12; Isa. 10:1-2; Luke 13:31-32; Mark 6:18. The church is the conscience of the state.


c.              Are Christians ever free to engage in civil disobedience?


Yes. But under what circumstances?


The Christian is free to engage in civil disobedience when the state prohibits him/her from doing what the Bible commands or commands him/her to do what the Bible prohibits. See Exod. 1:15-22; Dan. 3:16-18; Acts 4:18-21; 5:27-29. As Charles Colson has said, "Rightly exercised, civil disobedience is divine obedience. But when Christians engage in such activities, it must always be to demonstrate their submissiveness to God, not their defiance of government" (251).


When one is faced with a situation in which it may be permissible (though not mandatory) to disobey, several guidelines should be observed:


First, "the law being resisted must be unjust and immoral, clearly contrary to the will of God", and not just inconvenient or burdensome (Davis, 216).


Second, "legal means of changing the unjust situation should have been exhausted. Civil disobedience should be seen as a method not of first resort, but rather of last resort, when legal channels have already been pursued" (217).


Third, "the act of disobedience must be public rather than clandestine" (217).


Fourth, "there should be some likelihood of success, particularly when the intent is to produce changes in laws and institutions" (217).


Finally, "those who consider civil disobedience should be willing to accept the penalty for breaking the law" (218).


d.             Are Christians ever free to engage in armed revolution?


The difference between civil disobedience and armed revolution is that in the former the legitimacy of the existing government is not in question, whereas in the latter it is. Armed revolution is justified, in my opinion, only if the state has become totally opposed to the purpose for which God ordained it, and if there is no other recourse available to prevent massive evil.


e.              Does the government have the moral authority to inflict capital punishment?


Contrary to what many suppose, there is not a consensus in the Christian community on the morality of capital punishment. Although a majority of evangelicals probably endorse CP, at least in the case of premeditated murder, a significant minority oppose it. For example, representatives of the American Baptist Convention adopted this resolution in 1960 concerning CP:


"Because the Christian believes in the inherent worth of human personality and in the unceasing availability of God's mercy, forgiveness, and redemptive power, and


Because the Christian wholeheartedly supports the emphasis in modern penology upon the process of creative, redemptive rehabilitation rather than on punishment and primitive retribution, and


Because the deterrent effects of capital punishment are not supported by available evidence, and


Because the death penalty tends to brutalize the human spirit and the society which condones it, and


Because human agencies of legal justice are fallible, permitting the possibility of the executing of the innocent,


We, therefore, recommend the abolition of capital punishment and the re-evaluation of the parole system relative to such cases." (Cited in "The Argument against the Death Penalty" in The Death Penalty in America, pp. 167-68).



[For a brief history of capital punishment and the legal developments in the U.S., see Evangelical Ethics, by John Jefferson Davis, pp. 176-78.]


Our approach to this issue must begin by a careful analysis of the relevant biblical texts.


Biblical texts bearing on Capital Punishment


1.             Genesis 9:5-6


First, is Gen. 9:6 a statement of fact or a divine command? Is it predictive or prescriptive? Is it a forecast of what the consequences of murder will be, or is it a divine sanction for CP? The Hebrew grammar will permit either view.


If this is merely predictive, the point of the text is that divine retribution against the murderer will take its course and will sooner or later catch up with the killer. I.e., God's providence will ultimately insure that he/she be brought to justice. But:


a.              Verse 5b speaks of God's requiring the life of the murderer from the hand of man. If in v. 5b God requires the death of the murderer, it seems reasonable that in v. 6 he commands that it be done.


b.             Subsequent provisions in the Law of Moses explicitly require that murderers be put to death.


c.              Experience tells us that not all murderers have in fact had their blood shed by other men. I.e., if Gen. 9:6 is merely predicting what will happen to murderers, it is a prediction that has failed. The fact is, many murderers go to their graves after a long and happy life. Not all of them are brought to justice.


It seems more likely, then, that the text is prescribing CP.


Second, what reason do we have for believing this command is always and everywhere binding?


a.              The basis for the command is that man is created in the image of God (v. 6). "To kill a person was tantamount to killing God in effigy" (Kaiser/91). Man is still in the image of God. Thus the rationale for CP is not tied to any cultural or socio-economic phenomena but to a truth regarding man that is universally relevant.


b.             The command is part of the Noahic covenant which is universal in scope and carries no ethnic limitations (vv. 9-10). Noah stood as the new head of the race, even as did Adam in Eden. This is a new beginning, a re-creation of the world, as it were.



2.             Exodus 20:13


This text cannot be used to forbid CP.


a.              The word translated kill is one of several Hebrew terms which mean to take life. Here it should be rendered "murder". This is a prohibition against the unlawful taking of an innocent life.


b.             God commanded Israel to kill their enemies during the conquest of Canaan (Dt. 20:10-13). Clearly, this commandment does not prohibit all life-taking.


c.              God commands CP in Ex. 21:12.



[Special Note: The death penalty in the Mosaic Law was called for in numerous cases:


1)             premeditated murder (Ex. 21:12-14);


2)             kidnapping (Ex. 21:16; Dt. 24:7);


3)             striking a parent (Ex. 21:15; the word means "to attack with great force," not merely slap; i.e., it is attempted murder by severely beating someone);


4)             cursing a parent (Ex. 21:17; a repudiation of parental authority; a verbal despising of them);


5)             sacrificing to a false god; idolatry (Ex. 22:20);


6)             sorcery/magic (Ex. 22:18);


7)             breaking the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2);


8)             adultery (Lev. 20:10-21);


9)             homosexuality (Lev. 20:13);


10)          incest (Lev. 20:11-12,14);


11)          bestiality (Lev. 20:15-16);


12)          human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2);


13)          blasphemy (Lev. 24:11-14,16,23);


14)          incorrigible juvenile delinquency (Dt. 17:12; 21:18-21; this is not a young teen but an "older youth"; this deals, not with a one-time outburst, but with a settled disposition; note the public trial);


15)          false prophecy (Dt. 13:1-10);


16)          fornication (Dt. 22:20-21);


17)          rape (Dt. 22:23-27).


In the case of all these offenses (with the exception of murder), it was possible to pay a ransom or make some form of monetary or property settlement and have the sentence commuted. See Num. 35:31.


Question: Was the Mosaic law strict, oppressive, heartless and cruel in its application of CP? NO.


The fact is, the Mosaic Law actually represents a massive reduction in capital offenses from the original list. As R. C. Sproul puts it, "the OT code represents a bending over backwards of divine patience and forbearance. The OT law is one of astonishing grace" (The Holiness of God, p. 148).


The original law of the universe is that "the soul that sins, it shall die." Life is a divine gift, not a debt. Sin brings the loss of the gift of life. Once a person sins he forfeits any claim on God to human existence. The fact that we continue to exist after sinning is owing wholly to divine mercy and gracious longsuffering.


We recoil and are aghast at what we are convinced was undue cruelty and severity in the OT law. Why? Because we are twisted and confused in our thinking. We think we deserve to live and that God owes us life. The fact that God made only 15-20 sins capital offenses was a remarkable act of mercy, compassion and grace. Why? Because it would have been perfectly just and fair and righteous had he made every sin a capital offense.


The Mosaic stipulations regarding the death penalty, therefore, were remarkably lenient and gracious.]



3.             John 8:1-11


[The textual problem: although this narrative is probably not a part of the original inspired text of John's gospel, it probably occurred precisely as recorded. See John 20:30-31; 21:25.]


Did Jesus abolish the death penalty when he said to the religious leaders, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," and to the woman taken in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you"?


a.              The incident took place on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. 7:2,37) when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims. Chance encounters between men and women, leading to adultery, would be commonplace.


b.             They claimed to have caught her in the very act. It was difficult to prove adultery under Jewish law. Mere suspicion was inadequate. Even direct knowledge of their presence together was insufficient grounds on which to bring charges. There had to be at least two eye-witnesses who "must be able to testify that the movements of the people in question allowed no other interpretation" (than that adultery had occurred) (Leon Morris, p. 293).


c.              Their motivation is made clear in v. 6. They were not there out of moral outrage nor because of a commitment to justice. They intended to trap Jesus. They wanted grounds on which to accuse Jesus, not the woman.


d.             Where was the man with whom she had allegedly committed this sin? Had he escaped? Did they deliberately let him go? Had he bribed them? Perhaps they had intentionally set him up with the woman so they could make us of her against Jesus. Or did they regard only women caught in adultery as morally accountable? Was she married? If so, where was her husband? Was she single, engaged?


e.              Their intent was to entrap Jesus on the horns of a dilemma (cf. Mt. 22:15-22). The Jews could pass sentence on a capital crime but did not have the authority to execute someone (cf. John 18:31). If Jesus were to insist that she be executed, this could be twisted into an illegality or an endorsement of subversion against the Roman state that might serve as the basis for an accusation against him in a court of law. On the other hand, if he refused to demand that she be punished, they could persuade the people he was in defiance of the Mosaic Law and thereby undermine his reputation among those who were his followers.


f.              His response - v. 6b. The Pharisees interpreted this as a stalling tactic and pressed their attack by repeating the question (v. 7).


g.             Why and what did Jesus write in the ground? Suggestions include: (1) he was imitating the Roman magistrate who would first write down the sentence of a criminal and then read it aloud. If so, Jesus would be writing the words of v. 7b. But if this is the case, why does he write again, as v. 8 indicates he does? (2) Some say he wrote Jer. 17:13. (3) Other say it wasn't what he wrote but that he wrote that is significant. See Ex. 31:18 where God wrote the Law with his finger; hence, Jesus is symbolically declaring that he is God, author of the law. (4) Perhaps he was doodling, hoping to calm his anger or perhaps buy time to think. (5) Did he write the sins of his accusers? (6) Perhaps he first wrote Ex. 23:1b and then Ex. 23:7. We don't know.


h.             What did Jesus mean in saying, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her"?


(1)           He was not requiring absolute sinlessness before one can rightly/justly participate in a criminal proceeding. If he were, there could never be any civil justice (neither judges nor lawyers nor witnesses nor juries) or ecclesiastical discipline, for all are sinners; none is sinless.


(2)           Others say he means that if you are a sinner you should refrain from ever judging or criticizing others. But see Mt. 7 and 18.


(3)           He may mean, "He who is without the sin of adultery . . ." I.e., an adulteress cannot be condemned and executed by other adulterers. But is it likely that all of these religious leaders were adulterers?


(4)           He probably means, "He who is without fault," i.e., whoever is qualified to serve as a legitimate witness against her and has fully complied with the law of Moses. In other words, Jesus questions their competence to serve as legal witnesses against her. Thus, "He who is faultless in regard to the criteria for a witness against her, let him cast the first stone."


The Mosaic Law required that both the man and woman caught in adultery be executed (Dt. 22:22-24). Also, more than one person had to testify to having caught them in the act (Dt. 17:6-7). If only one was willing to bear witness, the case would be thrown out. Also, the eyewitnesses had to throw the first stone, indicating that he, if he existed, was not present. Finally, if the victim was later found to be innocent, having been put to death on the basis of perjured testimony, the executioners (witnesses) were themselves to be executed (see Dt. 19:16-19).


Thus Jesus is probably challenging the integrity of the eyewitness case against her. The religious leaders leave, stunned and humiliated (v. 9).


i.               Why did Jesus decline to condemn her (vv. 10-11)? Primarily because he was not an eyewitness either. But neither does he condone her sin. He doesn't make light of adultery by setting her free. He commands her to "sin no more."


If Jesus abrogated the death penalty in John 8, he did it only in the case of adultery, not murder.



4.             Acts 25:11


Several important observations are in order:


a.              Paul recognized that there were in fact some crimes that were worthy of death. How many or which ones we cannot know; but at minimum, murder is in view.


b.             Paul says he would offer no resistance should he be found guilty of such a crime. He would make no plea for clemency simply because he was a Christian.


c.              Implicit in Paul's statement is his belief that the governing authority had the right to inflict capital punishment. He did not rebuke or denounce the government for usurping a prerogative it did not rightfully possess.



5.             Romans 13:3-4


Paul envisions a two-fold purpose of government: to promote and praise that which is good, and to prohibit and punish that which is evil. In order to carry out this latter function, God has invested the state with the power to inflict punishment: the sword (cf. Lk. 21:24; Acts 12:2 where the sword is associated with death). The sword is not merely a sign or symbol of the state's authority to enforce its laws but also a power to execute.



Arguments raised against Capital Punishment


1.             CP is not an effective deterrent to crime


2.             CP violates the biblical warnings against seeking vengeance (Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Pt. 3:9); believers are to love their enemies, not execute them (Mt. 5:43-44)


3.             CP constitutes cruel and unusual punishment


4.             CP discriminates against minorities and the poor


5.             CP allows for the possibility of the execution of the innocent


6.             The demand for CP ignores the biblical examples of mercy and clemency (Cain, David, and Moses all committed intentional murder yet were extended mercy; David and Moses went on to live productive and godly lives)


7.             It is logically and morally inconsistent for Christians to argue in favor of capital punishment while at the same time arguing against abortion and euthanasia


8.             CP terminates all hope for the salvation of the victim



Answers to the arguments against Capital Punishment


1.             Several things may be said in response to the argument from deterrence. (a) Statistical evidence on the issue is inconclusive. Studies have yielded support for both sides of the argument. (b) The question needs to be answered: what deters all of us who have never committed a capital crime? Could it be the prospect of death? (c) CP certainly deters the murderer from committing another murder. (d) "If capital punishment does not serve to deter the potential murderer, the abolitionist will thus need to acknowledge the grim reality that neither will any other form of punishment. (Thus, any punishment is arbitrary)" (Daryl Charles). (e) CP is not primarily for the purpose of deterrence but an expression of justice.


2.             There is a difference in Scripture between what is the prerogative of the individual in interpersonal relationships and what is the prerogative of the state in the administration of public justice. Whereas Christians are not permitted to seek personal vengeance, the state is allowed to seek public justice. The prohibition of personal revenge in Romans 12 is followed immediately by the endorsement of public retribution in Romans 13.