Archive for the ‘justice’ Category

>On the provocation defence

2009 August 6 4 comments

>For those outside New Zealand there has recently been a widely publicised trial on the murder of Sophie Elliot by Clayton Weatherston. I did not follow this trial, nor did I follow the high profile murder retrial a few months earlier. However it is of course difficult to avoid knowing about it with frequent items in the newspapers and on television.

Weatherston admitted to killing Elliot but went to court in an attempt to have the murder charge downgraded to manslaughter invoking the defence of provocation. This defence was not successful and Weatherston was found guilty of murder.

According to the New Zealand Herald on the defence of provocation:

The defence is covered under section 169 of the Crimes Act 1961.

The provocation defence allows for a killing that would otherwise be classed as murder to be downgraded to manslaughter if it can be proven that the person who caused the death was provoked.

The provocation must have some relation to a characteristic of the offender.

It must cause the offender to lose the power of self-control of an ordinary person and have induced the offender to kill.

I am not certain whether the defence solely applies to verbal/ written provocation, or also physical provocation. I assume both. Though physical provocation may also lead to self defence.

It is important to note that provocation does not remove all culpability, it merely reduces the blame; and also, perhaps, affects sentencing.

There has been a significant amount of controversy following the verdict because the court case allowed Weatherston to reveal a significant amount of private data concerning Elliot. Complaints along the lines of continuing to persecute the family, insult Elliot from the grave, etc.

2 well written responses have been made by Glenn Peoples and Madeleine Flannagan. I just wish to make a variety of comments.

1. Murder is a horrible situation. It is horrible when it happens, it is horrible being reminded of it, it is horrible going through court, it is horrible on the anniversary of the victim’s death. In a broken world we have horror and while we can try and minimise it, it cannot be removed. Decisions about justice must be made on the principles of justice and mercy, not on the basis of preventing bad feelings. Else the law will become unjust and cause more, and even worse horror.

2. The provocation defence was not successful in this instance. Thus the law worked correctly. It is questionable that people consider changing the law based on a wrong case outcome, but to change it after a correct conviction?

3. Evil people do evil. They try and misuse the law to their advantage, they lie, they murder. Law changes do not affect evil men, they disregard them anyway. Removing this defence will not prevent evil people being evil, but it will damage those less evil. It will prevent legitimate provocation from being taken into account. It will also mean that criminals will falsely use other defences such as self defence and insanity to get reduced sentences or acquittal.

4. Culpability is not a dichotomous variable. People have partial blame. To disallow the discussion of events around a crime denies that there are considerations that need to be taken into account and can prevent justice being fully accomplished.

5. Much of this debate would be a non-issue if we did not allow the courts to be treated as entertainment. It is true that open courts have their benefits. Perhaps family court should be more open for example. But allowing anyone to attend a court case is a far cry from broadcasting audio or video. People may have a genuine interest in a case, but most people watching from their living rooms would not put in the effort to attend court daily and listen to the arguments. Allowing media into courts means that the case is effectively served up as entertainment, and it allows the media to sway public opinion by what they show and what they leave out.

I think that the courts should probably be open, but disallow the videoing and recording of cases, save what the courts wish to do for their own purposes. Reporting of cases should be forbidden until after the event. I even wonder whether defendants should be routinely given name suppression, as much as practical, with maintenance of this in cases that are successfully defended.

If this had been in place, then many of the things said by Weatherston about Elliot would have not be known by the public.

That being said, as the situation played out, most of New Zealand hold Weatherston in contempt, and probably more so than had the events not been played out in the media.

Categories: justice, law, media, murder

>The adulterous woman and capital punishment

2009 July 14 4 comments

>Blair asks how Jesus’ acquittal of the adulterous woman affects the Christian view on capital punishment.

In John 8:3,5 the leaders of the Jewish people (the experts in law and religious authorities) challenge Jesus as to what to do with a woman caught in adultery. They directly refer, Jesus, to the law of Moses which states such a person should receive the death penalty. While she has not committed murder she, according to Mosaic law is deserving none the less of the death penalty.

It is clear from the passage that they are not motivated by any sense of the holiness of God, obedience to the law or justice. Rather, their desire is to trap Jesus over a legal question to discredit him (verse 6).

In response, he does not contradict them on their point of law. Instead he issues a challenge to their understanding and application of the law. A challenge that is intended to expose their hearts: before Christ the only one who can administer the punishment they have called for is one who is without sin. Jesus isn’t making this point to a group of individuals who are self appointed but to the Jewish leaders (verse 3): those in authority who could ‘legally’ stone her. It appears to me that in Christ’s mind only those who were without sin could administer such a penalty (verse 7).

If the only ones who could administer such a penalty were those without sin – where then does this leave us if, as Christians, we advocate for the death penalty? Surely in the same position as those that Jesus spoke to in (verse 7).

In my mind it is clear from the passage, that as one who never sinned, Jesus considered himself the only one justifiably (from a legal, moral, ethical & spiritual sense) able to administer the death penalty, but in this situation he chose not to. Instead he asked her where her accusers were (after his challenge to her accusers), forgave her and in doing so ‘raised’ her from the dead (for without his intervention she was as good as dead) while commanding her to go and sin no more. (He met her as her redeemer for her sin, saving her from the death penalty. In choosing to exercise grace and mercy and not judgment or condemnation (verses 10–11) he set her free and restored her to be able to fully partake in society again as one forgiven and restored). This is evident from his question with regards to her accusers and in his command to go and sin no more.

Understanding Jesus’ approach to the Mosaic Law is important as it gives us greater understanding in the ways of God. Jesus frequently exposed the inadequate views of Jews of his day. He gave deeper perspectives on what the Law meant and he corrected inappropriate weighting of the Law, that is he showed them what was most important. As an example of the former Jesus taught that hating people in one’s heart contravenes the command not to murder (Matthew 5:21); as an example of the latter Jesus taught that tithing while proper (for the Jews) was less important than justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).

Therefore I am interested in Christian apologetics against the death penalty. I must say however that I have not read any that I find convincing.

There are several reasons why I don’t think this passage contradicts my perspective on capital punishment.

  1. Is this passage really part of John’s gospel?
  2. I am defending capital punishment for murder
  3. Mercy does not negate the permissibility of the death penalty, or even the necessity of it
  4. The Jews were not able to administer capital punishment in this situation
  5. The question was to give the scribes and Pharisees a charge against Jesus
  6. Jesus was a servant during the first advent
  7. Jesus did not address the question of capital punishment

I will address each of these in turn and then what I think Jesus words to the accusers and the accused imply.

Is this passage really part of John’s gospel?

There is considerable debate over the legitimacy of this passage. It is not found in the oldest manuscripts, it is found in Luke in some manuscripts. The ESV Study Bible states

There is considerable doubt that this story is part of John’s original Gospel, for it is absent from all of the oldest manuscripts. But there is nothing in it unworthy of sound doctrine. It seems best to view the story as something that probably happened during Jesus’ ministry but that was not originally part of what John wrote in his Gospel. Therefore it should not be considered as part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed in Scripture.

I do not intend to address this debate here. I am prepared to interact with this passage and I am happy that this event is possibly true—it has similarities to the question about paying taxes to Caesar—but I do think the caveat is worth keeping in the back of one’s mind.

I am defending capital punishment for murder

In my post I specify that my defence is restricted to murder. I am prepared to extend this to related crimes such as treason and espionage.

I made this restriction as the reason for execution of murderers is not the same as the reason for other crimes. The Israelites were to execute men who drew their neighbours away to worship foreign gods (Deuteronomy 13:5; 18:20). While this is appropriate for the ancient Israelites because of God’s redemptive plan, I don’t think God intends for Christians to kill every infidel in the current age.

Thus even if Jesus does qualify the punishment for adultery within the Mosaic Law (I am not certain he does), this may not affect the appropriate punishment for murder in Gentile nations.

Mercy does not negate the permissibility of the death penalty, or even the necessity of it

There are 2 related questions concerning this (or any) punishment.

  1. Is this punishment acceptable?
  2. Is this punishment required?

If a punishment is: acceptable but not required, then not having such a punishment within the justice system is a possible scenario. In the case of theft, one country may prescribe a fine, another a jail term.

But even if a punishment is required, there are times when we may not give a full punishment. Offering mercy is allowed within a legal framework. One should not show favouritism. Note that when a man knows he deserves a punishment he is more receptive to mercy.

The Jews were not able to administer capital punishment in this situation

The Jew’s were not legally allowed to execute criminals under Roman occupation. When the Sanhedrin brought Jesus before Pilate he said

“What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”

The question was to give the scribes and Pharisees a charge against Jesus

Because the Jews were unable to execute people under Roman law the question was to try and catch Jesus. It is similar to the situation when they asked him if it was lawful to pay taxes or not. The Jews were not interested in understanding Jesus’ interpretation of the Law, they were trying to place him in a catch-22 position.

Jesus was a servant during the first advent

Jesus is God. He is the judge of the world. And we are fully at his mercy. John the Baptist recognised he greatness as did many others.

Jesus was sent on a mission to earth 2000 years ago. That mission was as a servant to men. That is partially why many did not recognise him as a Messiah as they were looking for a king. Now Jesus is in and of himself a king. He
set up a kingdom. And he will return as king and judge. But this was not his role during the first advent. So while he is judge by right, Jesus the man denied his role as (an earthly) judge at that time. He submitted himself to the authority structures when appropriate during his earthly sojourn. Where Jesus did act in “judgment” over situations, it was as an eternal judge, not temporal; e.g. “Your sins are forgiven you.”

Jesus did not address the question of capital punishment

Jesus’ words in this situation do not specifically say whether or not capital punishment is appropriate for this or any crime. And I am uncertain if he did elsewhere. However he noted that all men must face judgment and we need to be ready when we die, whether justly or unjustly.

So what of Jesus’ response to the accusers and the woman?

Jesus response to the accusers did not exactly deal with the issue of the appropriate punishment for adulterers. It dealt with the hearts of the accusers. And this is frequently Jesus’ modus operandi. People come to Jesus with a question about justice, or requesting a judgment and Jesus speaks to that person’s heart. When the man asked Jesus to intervene so an inheritance was divided fairly Jesus spoke to the man’s covetness (Luke 12:13). Jesus was not necessarily saying the other brother had done the right thing, Jesus was using the man’s plea to focus him on things eternal. Note also in this example that Jesus refuted that he was an appropriate judge in the specific scenario.

Therefore I am not certain that the statement

Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.

says anything about the appropriate punishment for adultery. Jesus is speaking to the hearts of the men bringing the accusation.

Jesus response to the woman was clearly redemptive.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8)

God does not want people to be condemned, Jesus came to redeem them. John 3 says

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

So Jesus does not condemn this woman yet still exhorts her to leave her life of sin.

Still, the focus on redemption leading to life could hint at the possibility that allows an alternative to the death penalty, compare Ezekiel 18, and note also item 6 above.


The several reasons above show why I think this particular passage does not obliterate capital punishment for murder; and I am not even certain the Jesus is suggesting that capital punishment is inappropriate for adultery (in a Jewish context).

I will add that Paul thought that death remained an appropriate punishment from the state in certain situations. Paul said,

If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. (Acts 25)

Categories: adultery, justice, law, murder

>Does the death penalty prevent reconciliation with God?

2009 June 25 5 comments

> Now on to jc_freak’s objections.

Now in the case of the death penalty, rehabilitation clearly does not apply.

I don’t see why not in principle. Convince him that he should not murder again.

I think that Christians should no longer support retributive capital punishment. I agree with you that we cannot expect worldly governments to live by Christian principals. Indeed, I agree with you that it may not be wise for Governments to act like churches at all, since, to some degree, governments need to interact with worldly people (war comes to mind as something that Christians should avoid, but governments need to often pursue).

I think God has expectations for governments and that they are best to govern according to God’s desires. They will be judged on how they governed. The government is not the church. God has requirements for the church and requirements for government. They need not be the same. The church perhaps should not pursue war, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that members of the church cannot fight in war.

But I think that Christians need to avoid supporting the death penalty because of our call to evangelize. We, as Christians, need to remember that when the government kills a convicted murderer, there is a very good chance that that person is going to Hell. This is not something we should pursue, but something that we should be actively avoiding. The longer we can keep those men alive, the more opportunities we have to reach them…. I also understand the principal that the threat of death may cause a criminal to seek salvation, but this also assumes a Christian justice system that actively works to teach criminals the gospel. This we do not have, so the concept doesn’t really apply.

But we can still evangelise. The state is required to do her role and the church is required to do hers. I don’t think the justice system has to be overtly Christian (though it should be godly) and teach the gospel; I think the church should evangelise within the jails.

But to your main point which is the key to this discussion. Now I agree that we should not pursue men going to hell, but I take issue with your assumption that the longer men are kept alive the more opportunities we have to reach them. This sounds somewhat reasonable but is it true? C.S. Lewis asked the question whether a man condemned to death in 30 days is any less likely to seek God than the man incarcerated for 30 years. And I think Lewis has a valid point. People need to face their own mortality. A murderer who has been caught and knows he is to die in a month is forced to face his mortality. He is forced to look thru to eternity. He is likely to ask if there will be any reckoning for his actions. Whereas the man who gets incarcerated for the rest of his life does not necessarily have these issues placed in such stark contrast. He may adapt to life in prison and continue to live a life avoiding God. I am not convinced that a longer duration of life, even if it gives more potential opportunities to witness, makes a man more likely to respond to the gospel. I wonder if facing a short life may be as or more effective in the path to repentance.

There are a couple of other issues that arose in the discussion. I said

And if a murderer murders in prison, or arranges one from prison, does the state bear some responsibility because they did not execute him. And what of the victims who are hell bound because they died before they heard the gospel

to which jc_freak responded,

Let’s take the second one first. If a murderer kills an unbeliever, and that person is hell bound now, then why would that influence the way the now treat the murderer? Should we be less inclined to see that person in heaven? I dont really understand here.

That may be because you separated my comments out.

As far as the criminal killing while in prison, I did say that I support incapacitation as a reason for the death penalty, which is what you are talking about here. If a person is too dangerous to keep alive, then it is understandable to kill him.

Murderers have murdered in prison and they have arranged contract killings from within prison. The point here is that by not executing the murderer after the first crime (so that they may respond to the gospel) we have allowed him to be in a position to murder a second time and the victim of the second murder may not have heard the gospel.


My issue is that not whether the death penalty is present, but why it is present and how it is being used.

Bad laws and misuse of the law—yes those are very real issues, but side issues. We must establish the legitimacy (or not) of the death penalty as a punishment. Is it intrinsically allowable for the state; is it expected of the state? If it is, there may still be reasons to oppose it on pragmatic grounds. Disregard for the law and excessive numbers of innocent people being executed for example.

Categories: criminals, justice, law, murder

>Reasons for sentencing criminals

2009 June 24 3 comments

> In response to my post defending the death penalty a few months ago jc_freak raises some issues and several objections. Firstly he gives some helpful philosophies surrounding reasons for sentencing.

  1. Retribution. When someone does something wrong, they are responsible for their actions, and must pay it back.
  2. Deterrence. When someone does something wrong, punish them in such a way as to make anyone else who may commit that crime afraid.
  3. Rehabilitation.When someone does something wrong, punish them in such a way to convince them the act was wrong so that they would never do it again.
  4. Incapacitation. When someone does something wrong, prevent them from ever being able to do it again.

One must remember that sentencing is something done in the course of carrying out justice. Thus while each of these positions may have validity, and in fact more than one can be ascribed to, there is primary philosophy which the others need to accommodate.

Sentencing is about retribution (as defined above). Justice demands that wrongs be righted. A thief must return what he stole, and perhaps cover the costs of the victim being without his property. The object is owned by the victim and not the thief, even while it is in the possession of the thief. One can hardly advocate rehabilitation while the thief retains the stolen property.

Deterrence is also a secondary reason in sentencing. Forms of deterrence can be draconian. Hanging men for stealing food and amputating limbs of thieves are effective deterrents, both for the criminal and citizens. But this is hardly just. The talion limits punishments to the level of the crime, thus justice is primary over deterrence.

Incapacitation is related to retribution, it is the last step for a recalcitrant criminal. The criminal’s history is such that his future is predictable. One could say he is being punished for the crimes he is bound to commit.

Thus retribution (and incapacitation) are primary, and deterrence and rehabilitation secondary. That being said, the message of the cross is rehabilitation. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Note Ezekiel’s message to the Jews,

But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18)

A primary reason need not be the most important reason. Jesus offers us rehabilitation; yet he still deals to the issue of retribution via the crucifixion.

I will deal with the objections in my next post.

Categories: criminals, justice, law

>Self enacting justice

2009 April 5 2 comments

>It would seem that the appropriate punishment has been meted out to a criminal and his associates before the event.

A would-be suicide bomber accidentally blew himself up on Thursday, killing six other militants as he was bidding them farewell to leave for his intended target

Categories: justice, warfare

>In defence of the death penalty

2009 March 21 14 comments

> There is disagreement within Christendom over whether the death penalty is compatible with Christian theology. I am not fully certain as to which camp is correct, though I favour the conclusions below.

Here I wish to give a defence in favour of capital punishment. I will restrict my discussion to the case of murder. I will not cover pragmatic opposition such as miscarriage of justice and the fear of innocents being put to death. While these are important issues, they are issues of administration. My concern is whether execution is fundamentally an appropriate punishment.

There is Scripture in support of the death penalty in certain situations. Therefore I do not think the question is whether or not capital punishment is intrinsically wrong, God ordained it several times. The question is whether not putting people to death is preferable for reasons based on Jesus’ deeper revelation of the intentions of God.

The first mention of the death penalty follows the Flood.

But you* shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your* lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,/
by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image….” (Genesis 9)

As mentioned previously this verse is significant in its reasoning. Men have the implanted imago Dei. We must not remove this. Only God has the right to destroy life because it is his image that is being erased.

When God gives the Law to Moses we see similar commands. The 6th commandment is, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5). Others translate this as, “You shall not kill.” Neither “murder” nor “kill” is fully conveys the Hebrew ratsach (רָצַח). “Kill” is too generic. “Murder” implies immoral intention, though the word can be applied to sanctioned and accidental killing. The NET Bible notes state,

The verb רָצַח (ratsakh) refers to the premeditated or accidental taking of the life of another human being; it includes any unauthorized killing (it is used for the punishment of a murderer, but that would not be included in the prohibition).

Compare Deuteronomy 19:

This is the provision for the manslayer (ratsach), who by fleeing there may save his life. If anyone kills (nakah) his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past—

This prohibition clearly does not apply to those carrying out capital punishment for murder. This is seen in the specific commands given to the state and those acting for the state. The above example from Genesis specifies that the offender is to be put to death; that is, there is a command to kill in the pursuit of justice. The Mosaic Law also makes similar provision:

Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill (harag) him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die. (Exodus 21)

But if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities, then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die. Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you. (Deuteronomy 19)

The command to put someone to death is specific. It holds even if there is a general command not to kill men. Deuteronomy expands this commenting that the murderer killed an innocent man. The prohibition of killing or murdering does not apply to the murderer as he is not innocent.

So we see clear commands both in the time of Noah and of Moses that men are prohibited from killing people and the punishment for such crime is to forfeit one’s life. The reason for such is:

  • that the victim is innocent;
  • that such behaviour offends God’s holiness (note the words: “take him from my altar”); and
  • that God’s image in man is destroyed without God’s permission.

I do not see statements from Jesus that would lead us to reconsider the above arguments. Jesus spoke to hatred. He informs us that hatred and murder come from same source within us. We cannot claim to obey the commandment not to murder if we hate. Despising men in our hearts is breaking this law. This does not necessarily imply that the degree to which we sin when hating our brother is the same as if we murdered him. Not all sins are equal. But it does state that before God non-murderers who hate have still offended God. They have still broken the essence of the 6th commandment. They are still in need of judgment by God for this.

Jesus also emphasised the need for us to forgive. Whether we are to forgive those who do not request or desire it is debated by Christians. There are examples of those who forgave unrepentant men including Jesus and Stephen. We are definitely commanded to forgive those who ask us (Matthew 18). I do not seek to resolve this question here. But even assuming the murderer is repentant and requests forgiveness, should this affect punishment?

While forgiveness is important to our own spiritual health, and forgiveness removes any right of redress when extended to a repentant man; I am not certain that this is relevant to government punishment. It would be difficult for them to let such murderer free immediately as although he has acknowledged his wrong, he may struggle to behave righteously. He may hate his anger but his struggle to control it may put the lives of others at risk in the future. So for the safety of the community he, at minimum, probably needs to be in prison.

Further, Jesus’ commands seem to be predominantly aimed at the individual. The problem with the world is us and it is us that need to change. Individuals repent and enter the kingdom of God, not governments. Granted, men in government can belong to the kingdom of God and thus govern righteously, but it is still individuals who are redeemed. We are eternal, cultural structures are not. But although the state may be temporary, it still the governing authority in the current dispensation. And I do not see how the teachings for individuals change God’s intention for the state.

Paul makes an interesting comment in the era of grace.

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afra
id, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13)

The sword may be representative of the threat of punishment, however if the threat does not go headed then the punishment occurs. And sword here is a metonymy for execution. Paul affirms the appropriateness of state having the power of execution. If the state is allowed to execute at all then this will apply to the most appropriate crimes. Murder being the most appropriate, save, perhaps, treason.

The earliest teachings tell us that the death penalty is to be enacted. Ezekiel suggests that refusal to execute those deserving of death is unacceptable,

You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies. (Ezekiel 13)

Since Jesus we know that capital punishment for murderers is still at least permissible. However could a judge appropriately override this punishment? Say a righteous judge who was not open to corruption, a murderer who has repented, the victim’s next of kin forgiving and not desiring revenge. Perhaps the murderer has accepted Christ and the judge is Christian; both aware that Christ’s death had atoned for his heinous sin.

I guess a situation like this could allow for an exemption. And because Christ takes the curse there is no curse on the land from the bloodguilt.

This assumes a (Christian) theocracy, or a general tacit approval by the governed (in a democracy) or the king (in a monarchy) of the truth of Christianity. This may describe the current situation in Rwanda. I do have difficulty applying this to all governments. It also opens up the possibility that men will claim religion to escape punishment and thus, potentially, lead to the perversion of justice.

In conclusion there is strong evidence that the death penalty for murder is an appropriate punishment, it is probably the best punishment and it may even be commanded by God. Therefore governments who disallow it are answerable to God for this. There may be situations in which men may be exempt from this punishment however this should be applied with caution. In situations where exemption is permissible, if exemption is still not granted the state is probably not sinning in its refusal.

>The principle of proportionality

2009 January 19 3 comments

>Various commentators and news outlets have expressed opinions about the current conflict in Gaza. It is difficult to know all the relevant issues from a secular viewpoint with much misinformation, lies and propaganda.

On the side of the Palestinian cause are arguments about Israel blocking access along the borders of Gaza, specifically Egypt and the Mediterranean, and the involvement of Israel in creating their enemy. Arab support is also along the lines of mutual ancestry, mutual religion and mutual hatred for Israel.

On the side of the Israel cause are arguments about right of defence, right of conquest, larger concessions in negotiations. This on the background of a repeated stated desire of their enemies to completely annihilate them. There is some support from some advocates of democracy because of Israel’s political structure. Several Christians are sympathetic to Israel because of their eschatological beliefs.

Without discussing the merits of these arguments nor resolving the various rights of both parties, I wish to comment on the ethics of the warfare and tactics as it relates to this conflict. I will discuss proportionality here and civilian casualties in a later post.

A lot is being made of the proportionate response theory. The idea being that the defence against an aggressor is proportional to the attack. This appears to be analogous to the principle of talion. The difficulty here is that talion limits the punishment for a crime committed by an individual. Under this principle a murderer can be put to death but a assaulter cannot be. You can force a thief to recompense his victim (and fine him) but not cut off his hand.

The number of casualties in a war is the sum of all individual deaths. However the idea that total number of deaths is comparable does not automatically follow. Each individual has died, but the addition of one individual’s death to another does not seem to make sense.

Granted, mass death seems more horrible than individual death, and it is. But even with a single death, that person has still died. If a serial murderer is put to death for his crimes, he is only executed once. It doesn’t matter whether he killed 3 people or 27 in terms of the degree of his punishment. We don’t go and find 26 of his acquaintances to execute to even the numbers.

One could argue that victim proportionality can be applied to warfare even if it cannot be applied to serial murder because an army has a chain of command. But war is also an act of the state, not of individuals; and it is to individuals that talion applies. Suffice to say that totalling deaths to assess “proportionality” lacks any convincing principle and appears simplistic.

I am not even certain that “proportionality” by any metric is a required ethical aim for warfare, as opposed to, say, the combatant/ civilian distinction.

But assuming proportionality, as so many do, a more rational approach to proportionality is to look at intent. If soldiers from 2 countries are fighting each other, the fact that 1 side is more successful in killing the other side just reflects their better ability. Both sides are continuing to fight. Where proportionality potentially comes into play is when 1 side surrenders. Significant ongoing warfare after surrender (and agreed terms of peace) could be argued as disproportionate. So if Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel, even though Israel has killed more Palestinians than Hamas has killed Israelis, then the response by Israel can hardly be described as disproportionate.

Interestingly Jesus makes this statement,

Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. (Luke 14)

Now it is important to note that Jesus was talking about joining the kingdom of heaven: men should consider all the implications of following Jesus. Jesus is not necessarily justifying some wars, nor is he commenting on the righteousness of the king’s cause. But he is making an observation about kings that his hearers would have understood: when rulers know they cannot win they show prudence by negotiating.

The principle of proportionality also allows the aggressor disproportionate positioning. The aggressor can attack at will and the response is dependant on the attacks. This allows the aggressor to optimise his position and fight as munitions become available, knowing they will never be attacked at a greater level than they inflict. If this is disputed then why do those who hold to proportionate response not ask the aggressor to cease fire then the response to cease? Note that with individuals the wrong is with the aggressor (if it is not then they are not punished) and a proportional punishment against him acts as a limit on further activity. With warfare the aggressor may not be in the wrong and even if they are a proportional retaliation does not limit further activity.

None of this states which party is morally right or wrong in the situation. There have been cases when the righteous have won battles and wars and cases when they have been defeated.

Categories: ethics, justice, warfare

>A biblical defence of standards

2008 December 9 Leave a comment

>My recent posts on the need for standards and the government enforcement of such came from my thinking about weights and measures. This is a frequent biblical theme and I wish to mention several verses in defence of how important God sees honesty in trading.

The Lord commanded the Israelites that their measures were to be honest.

“You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19)

“You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 25)

An ephah is a volume measure for solids and a hin is a volume measure for liquids. In Leviticus God points to length, weight, and volume as measures that should be standardised. Examples of relevant measures for the Israelites would have included

  • Length: land
  • Weight: precious metals
  • Dry volume: grain
  • Liquid volume: oil

Note that the Israelites had to ensure both the scales were accurate as well as the weights used on the scales. God commands them to do so:

  • based on the fact that he indeed is God;
  • that they may dwell in the land for a long time, either live to an old age or that as a people they may occupy Canaan for many generations; and
  • because to not do so is dishonest and thus an abomination to God.

There are also several proverbs that mention the importance of honest weights and measures.

Unequal weights and unequal measures/
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 20)

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,/
and false scales are not good. (Proverbs 20)

God reminded Judah not only to have just standards but what the standards were,

“You shall have just balances, a just ephah, and a just bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of the same measure, the bath containing 1/10 of a homer, and the ephah 1/10 of a homer; the homer shall be the standard measure. The shekel shall be 20 gerahs; 20 shekels plus 25 shekels plus 15 shekels shall be your mina.” (Ezekiel 25)

Hosea (Hos 12:7), Micah (Mic 6:10-11), and Amos spoke against dishonesty in trading. Amos makes some interesting comments on the actions of the people,

Hear this, you who trample on the needy/
and bring the poor of the land to an end,/
saying, “When will the new moon be over,/
that we may sell grain?/
And the Sabbath,/
that we may offer wheat for sale,/
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great/
and deal deceitfully with false balances,/
that we may buy the poor for silver/
and the needy for a pair of sandals/
and sell the chaff of the wheat?” (Amos 8)

There are several behaviours he condemns besides that which concerns us currently. They are:

  • Oppression of the poor or oppressed
  • Concern for business over things spiritual
  • Disregard for God’s law
  • Possibly forcing the poor to become bondslaves
    • They do so just to get enough food to eat
    • They do so because they are cheated out of the money
    • The oppressors encourage this because they want their labour without cost
    • And the price of bondslavery is unjustly low

Specific transaction sins of the merchant identified here are:

  • Labelling merchandise as containing more than it really does
  • Charging more than the agreed amount (via deceit)
  • Including material/ refuse not desired by the purchaser

All these 3 actions the Lord considers abominations. We can conclude that merchants are to trade justly, and this includes:

  1. Accurate labelling
  2. Clear agreed price
  3. Not passing off refuse for merchandise

>Standards versus consumer affairs

2008 December 2 4 comments

>Given the importance of standards it is reasonable to argue there should be a portfolio and minister assigned to this. New Zealand has a Ministry of Consumer Affairs which covers much of this. Unfortunately the structural organisation is such that different issues are at risk of being conflated. The hierarchy is

  1. Ministry of Economic Development
  2. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs
  3. Measurement and Product Safety Service
  4. Trade Measurement

Standards are not an issue of economic development, they are an issue of honesty. That it may lead to economic growth is a side issue. Consumer Affairs covers a variety of related and unrelated issues. Measurement and Product Safety is an umbrella group for both measurement (i.e definitional standards), and safety issues and minimum standards (possibly important but a separate issue). I would favour expanding trade measurement to cover all relevant measures and making it a separate portfolio.

Confusion in this area of ensuring standards is seen in the Briefing to Incoming Ministers.

The practical implications of this structure is that Consumer Affairs has a special identity as the Ministry with a focus on creating an environment in which consumers can transact with confidence, and also works within a broader sustainable economic development framework.

One can attempt to encourage confident transactions without being involved in economic development. One can ensure market transactions are honest without trying to manipulate the market.

One outcome was that the focus of consumer policy should be on creating the conditions in which consumers can “transact with confidence”. In practice this means that consumers should get what they reasonably expect from a purchase and, if not, have access to redress.

Transacting with confidence is not just important for the individual, it is also essential to a thriving, innovative and sustainable economy. When consumers demand higher quality products and services, make effective choices among the offerings of competing suppliers and seek satisfaction when their purchasing expectations are not met, they can stimulate greater economic efficiency and innovation.

The first paragraph is reasonable, so long expectation is in line with what was offered. But we desire this not because it leads to a thriving economy, rather because the alternative is fraudulent transactions. The error is apparent in the further comment.

For example, information barriers are a significant reason why consumers do not get what they expect when making a purchase and this has led to an emphasis on information disclosure as a principal regulatory tool. However, consumers do not always respond as expected when better information is available to them. Behavioural economics may offer new insights into consumer behaviour.

Information is exactly what is needed. But there is not necessarily any state expectation concerning consumers. The government shouldn’t care if the demand is for higher or lower quality, the quality margin may not exceed the monetary margin. I don’t want the government telling me what I should and should not buy. And not recognising that there are different issues here may lead the ministry to focus on economic manipulation and growth rather than honesty. If fraudulent behaviour leads to economic growth, why forbid it?

Categories: economics, justice, politics

>Ministry of standards

2008 November 29 6 comments

>Governments involve themselves in much of public life. It is reasonable to think that at least some involvement is excessive. Many would argue that most involvement is excessive. Of all the portfolios that governments have, there is one that I think should exist of its own accord.

We should have a Ministry of Standards.

Now we do have laws related to these issues, but I think the issue is important enough to warrant its own department with various divisions.

By standards I mean

  • defining various standards;
  • ensuring they are appropriate;
  • enforcing their use; and
  • prescribing punishments for breaches

Given that I prefer minimal government this may appear intrusive, but I see it as an issue of justice, and justice is an important role of government.

Defining standards

It is important to understand that I mean standards which are defined not prescribed. I do not think the government should enforce what manufactures should do, rather describe accurately what they in fact do. Granted there may be safety issues that mean minimum standards must be met in some areas, but by and large I think people should be able to exchange what they wish to do so. People should be able to buy products of varying quality.

Quality often relates to price. For any given object, desired price and quality vary among consumers. Some want high quality, others want low price. Most want high quality and low cost, but decisions are made at the margins. Government does not have a role in specifying a minimum standard (usually). Such a policy limits people, especially the poor who may not be able to afford such high quality items.

I do however think the government can have a role in ensuring that such items are of the claimed quality, and further, the government can have a role in specifying what must be shown on items for sale.

Examples include weights and volumes for foodstuffs, measurement dials in vehicles, breaking force and insulation property of glass, and electricity meters. Much of which is already covered by law.

Ensuring appropriateness

Consumers have the benefit of taking their custom where they will. Manufactures have the benefit in knowing exactly the quality of their product. Few consumers have the knowledge or ability to assess quality to this degree. Manufacturers may advertise various benefits of their product which is fine, but this should not be used to remove focus from more important quality issues that may not be mentioned.

Consider digital cameras. The quality of a photo is determined by several things including resolution. For people who print photos 6 megapixels is probably adequate. Now manufacturers can produce cameras of higher density such as 9 megapixels and they should be free to do so. This is good for larger photos, for cropping photos, and for digital zoom. The problem is that people may assume that the number of pixels reflects the quality of the photo because of the way cameras are marketed; but other factors are important such as the depth per pixel, speed of shot, stability of image capture, and software manipulation. So one may spend the extra money gaining extra pixels with no gain in printed product, and possibly worse if the pictures are blurred. He would be better spending the extra money on a camera that shoots more stable pictures at a lower resolution.

Defining standards of measures that affect photo quality that must be displayed on the product makes people aware of the issues, it lets them choose what they think best, and makes it harder for manufacturers to make cheap improvements and market the product as significantly superior.

Enforcing use

This is legislation that makes certain labelling compulsory and allows for the government to fund random testing to ensure compliance. Not compliance to some artificial mandate, rather accuracy of labelling. I am not concerned whether a product contains 1% or 20% sugar, just that one can trust the label.

Dealing with non-compliance

I think there is a role for this ministry to define the level of fines for breaches. The relationship between consumer and manufacturer is asymmetrical. Fortunately manufacturers are quite responsive to consumers for the sake of their brand name. However they may not be, especially in areas that may not have significant repeat service such as car and house sales. When organisations are blatantly and knowingly passing off a false product it is unduly onerous to expect a duped consumer to take up this cause. It costs them time, time that may be intentionally delayed by a company; money they may not have; and even if they were to win in court they may still be out of pocket and time and the company may be inadequately fined nor forced to significantly change their practice. Government enforcement is probably preferable.

I do not see this as applying to legitimate disputes, nor should it remove the ability for a consumer to act if they deem it necessary.

Nor am I anti-industry. I think some people make frivolous claims. Frivolity should be dealt with by claim dismissal and fining if necessary (paying the appropriate costs of all sides at minimum). Further, many companies care about both their employees and their customer base; they are what keep them in business.

Some caveats

  • As mentioned above, I don’t see the governments role as setting what standards a product should have, just what standards it should measured by and making those easily accessible, preferably displayed on the product. Of course the company can include any other benefits it wishes to, so long those claims are accurate.
  • If the government wishes to set minimum standards, e.g. seatbelt positioning and engagement, then this is the role of a different department. It is very important the roles are not confused and that excessive red tape is not created.
  • I do not think the compliance costs should be high. It is reasonable to measure the macro- and micro-constituents of foodstuffs as this is a one-off cost. Incorporating the data into a label is not that costly either. But requiring a car company to carry out extensive crash testing would be an excessive cost. Car companies remain free to do this of their own volition and many large car companies do this anyway. And the government is free to carry out this testing (though at whose cost?).
  • I am not certain whether the government should enforce standards that are measured by a group not of the manufacturer’s choosing. It is their product, they should have some say. Though if it is a sensible and well defined standard then the result should be the same whoever tests.
  • Protecting vulnerable people from predators and the public from scams are important issues, but may come under a slightly different aegis. Possibly a division within the “standards” umbrella, probably within a policing portfolio.
  • I think monetary policy and inflation comes under the definition of standards, but the issue of monetary standards is large enough to have a separate division within a Ministry of Standards.

Current law

I am aware that much of this is already in legislation. I do not mean to imply that this is not done. I just think it important enough for citizens that it is reasonable for the state to involve itself. It is after all an issue of justice, and justice is one of the few mandates of the state.

More to follow.

Categories: justice, politics, standards, truth

>Does temporal punishment attenuate eternal punishment?

2008 January 21 6 comments

>This is a question I have pondered but have never read about elsewhere. I tend to think that hell will have degrees of punishment. Just as believers will be rewarded for their devotion to Christ, and that reward will vary, I think it is possible that the wicked man’s punishment may be dependant on his sin. All sin is not equal and it is reasonable to think that punishment will match the crime. Of course God will take into consideration our heart, and an adulterous Christian may be more sinful than an adulterous infidel.

Jesus refers to men being hit with few or many lashes.

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12)

Jesus also mentions men can be more severely punished.

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12)

The proposal I wish to suggest (at least for consideration) is that punishment on earth for wickedness means that punishment in eternity will be less.

I am suggesting that a murderer who is caught and imprisoned or sentenced to death receives a less nasty Hades (or possibly subsequent hell) than the man who is not caught or who is excused by a corrupt justice system (though in the later example the unjust judge may wear some of the guilt). This assumes all other things being equal such as the state of the murderer’s heart and the lack of repentance before death.

There is no direct biblical evidence for this proposal, and I do hold it or consider it tentatively, but it seems consistent with Scripture.

I am suggesting this is the case because they have already received some of their punishment.

If I am incorrect it is still possible that a man is changed by the temporal punishment such that his heart is less opposed to God. Due to the lessening of his hatred of God his eternal punishment may be less severe, not because he has received his punishment in part.

If I am correct about this it has implications in biblical exegesis and God’s expectations of government.

In terms of biblical understanding, temporal judgment will be seen as having an aspect of mercy. Those whom God judged in Sodom and those whom the Israelites destroyed in Canaan were already wicked. They had decided on a destiny without God. Their eternal dwelling place is unpleasant, yet possibly less than it may have been had God not acted decisively in the situation. Leviticus hints at this when God explains the disaster he will send if they disobey him. Progressive punishments thru to exile are promised if they persist in disobeying him. But even if progressive judgments finally result in exile, God says, on the condition of repentance,

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 26)

Even in judgment there is the desire of God that we repent, and his actions, while just, are tempered with mercy and desire for us to return to him. Perhaps even final temporal judgments are actioned so that eternal ones will be less severe.

In terms of government, this brings an even greater responsibility to those who rule us. Failure to punish the wicked not only makes life more unpleasant for the righteous, it means that eternity may be worse for those than it could have been. Of course God’s punishment will be just and appropriate, it is just that with poor government the wicked man is able to clock up that much more wickedness and not have any of it dealt with this side of death. Letting the evil man away with his actions may not be a kindness of a despot to his unjust cronies, rather a greater evil delayed. Interesting that Satan can lead a man to curse his friends while that man thinks he is blessing them.

>Objects of wrath

2007 December 22 2 comments

>The fall of Adam put us in opposition to God. It changed our nature and our relationship with God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2)

This is not just some, it is all mankind. All men prior to redemption are by nature children of wrath. Even if we desire God’s ways we still sin and fall under God’s wrath. We deserve judgment.

This is not the pleasure of God. God does not desire that the wicked are destroyed. Jesus says,

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3)

Paul tells us,

…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)

And Peter informs why the day of the Lord is delayed:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)

Jesus, Paul and Peter all state that God desires the salvation of every man. He would that heaven be filled, that not a single person lost.

Sure, the destruction of the wicked will demonstrate God’s glory but their condemnation his not his desire. God gains much greater glory by showing mercy than by just judgment. If God judges by justice alone he will send every man to hell.

So how do we square Jesus’ offer of mercy to all men with Paul’s comment on God’s mercy?

So then God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9)

I find it interesting that the actions here are not opposites. God is described as hardening men, but not softening them. I am sure God can soften hearts, but the point is the context contrasts hardening and having mercy. These actions of God can be seen in connection to our response to God. We are all children of wrath because of our nature. So when one rejects God’s work in his life he is resisting the work of God in drawing him to himself. If we reject God and refuse his ways then God cannot gain glory by offering mercy to us. There is nothing else but to harden us that God’s glory may be maximised in our lives; not as objects of mercy, which is God’s preference, but as objects of wrath: that all may see that the rebellious will not prevail against God.

And for those who choose God, yet who by their nature are children of wrath, he offers mercy so that they may become children of God. If in judging those who deserve judgment God is glorified, how much more so when he shows mercy to those who deserve judgment!

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11)

>Reconciling the talion

2007 September 26 Leave a comment

>We read in the Law of Moses about punishment for crime which causes permanent injury. The law states that the same injury the offender has caused should be meted out to him.

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:22-25)

“Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. (Leviticus 24:17-20)

Further, even if a person intends to cause injury by false accusation they are to punished in the way they intended to harm.

If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:16-21)

How is this reconciled with Jesus’ teaching? Jesus’ views on the inerrancy of Scripture are clear. In commenting on the law he preludes his statements with:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew5:17-20)

Then he discusses anger/ murder, lust/ adultery, divorce, making oaths, talion, and loving your enemy.

The introduction to each topic is:

  • “You have heard that it was said to those of old,…”
    • for anger and taking oaths
  • “You have heard that it was said,…”
    • for lust, talion, and love
  • “It was also said,…”
    • for divorce, though this is relating to the discussion on adultery.

In mentioning “those of old” Jesus is obviously referring to the Hebrews receiving the Mosaic Law. Although Jesus doesn’t say “to those of old” for 3 of them (lust, talion, love), the context suggests he is still referring to the Law. As mentioned the divorce commentary is tied into the lust/ adultery commentary so is not a separate discussion. The Old Testament references are:

  • Murder
    • Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17
  • Adultery
    • Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18
  • Divorce
    • Deuteronomy 24:1
  • Making oaths
    • Numbers 30:2
  • Talion
    • passages mentioned above
  • Loving your neighbour
    • Leviticus 19:18

The Old Testament does not have a direct parallel command to hate one’s enemies. It may have been (incorrectly) surmised from the Leviticus passage, though there are commands for Israel to fight her enemies. If the idea of hating one’s enemies had been incorrectly surmised by many Jews then Jesus is correcting this wrong belief.

However the talion is clearly taught in the Law yet Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

How do we reconcile these passages? Jesus’ says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” which precludes a resolution that denies the truthfulness of Scripture.

There are at least 3 solutions to this issue, though all may come into play.

The first is that the laws were a limit on punishment. While it may have been appropriate to invoke a judgment that matched the crime, it also limited judgment. It disallows punishments that were excessive, and likely common at the time in other cultures. It rejects the possibility of a sentence of hand amputation for stealing. A man cannot be executed for breaking another’s arm. It forced justice to be just.

Second, it may be that this law is for the government and people were applying it personally. What God allows the state to do may frequently be very different to the responsibility of individuals—this concept needs expanding at another time. So the talion may have been a commandment to judges that they may judge justly and men were (wrongly) applying the principle individually. This allows a judge to sentence in this way but prevents individuals from vigilante justice. Jesus was, in effect, saying not to seek one’s own justice. If Jesus is saying this here, this message is very consistent with Old Testament teaching: seek justice for others and let God fight for you. We see examples of this in the life of David where he refused to take what would become his but waited for God to give it to him.

A third possibility is that Jesus was calling for a higher way. It is not that justice is wrong, God is very just; rather that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2). Jesus is saying that forgiveness is greater than vengeance. And this is the message of the gospel: that we owe God a debt we cannot pay but he forgives us if we come to him and ask him to. If we don’t, judgment is all that remains possible. We are not to respond like God in the area of judgment as we are still in the era where God is seeking men. We are part of that activity of God and therefore must act in love. If men reject it, punishment will come, but we are to leave that part to God.

So 2 seemingly disparate passages are in fact complementary. We can reject difficult passages as being too hard, we can reject God claiming his Word errs, or we can seek to understand what initially appears contradictory and come to a greater understanding of the ways of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11)

While I have attempted to reconcile the issue, I have not really explained what turning the other cheek means; that may prove more difficult.