Jesus' love-your-enemies ethic is often juxtaposed with Paul's sword-bearing theology in Romans 13. Who should Christians side with? - Image of "Conversion of St. Paul" from St. John's College, Oxford, courtesy of Lawrence OP (http://bit.ly/1ngmtnB)

Jesus’ love-your-enemies ethic is often juxtaposed with Paul’s sword-bearing theology in Romans 13. Who should Christians side with? – Image of “Conversion of St. Paul” from St. John’s College, Oxford, courtesy of Lawrence OP (http://bit.ly/1ngmtnB)

By Preston Sprinkle and Jonathan Merritt

After a botched execution in Oklahoma left an inmate writhing for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack last week, Christian leaders began making their cases both for and against the death penalty. As with any time Christians debate political issues, it felt a bit like Ping-Pong—except opponents in this game swing Bibles instead of paddles.

Pro-death penalty believers grounded their position in the Old Testament’s call for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder. Christians who oppose the death penalty countered with Jesus’ teachings on peacemaking and his acquittal of the adulterous woman.

“But what about Romans 13?,” some protested, referring to the Apostle Paul’s remarks that the government does not “bear the sword in vain.”

So who should we side with–Jesus or Paul?

For Christians who believe the Spirit of Jesus inspired Paul to write Romans 13, the answer is both. But how then do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between loving our enemies (Jesus) and killing them (Paul)? The answer, it turns out, requires a bit of digging into Paul’s letter to the Romans.

At first glance, Paul does seem to speak positively about the death penalty in Romans 13:4. He argues that God is sovereign over the government and uses it to avenge evil. But any verse taken out of its complete context is a misinterpretation. Only a few verses prior, in Romans 12:19, Paul commands Christians never to avenge evil but to let God take care of it. Is Paul talking out of both sides of his mouth, encouraging the government to do what he forbids for Christians only a few verses before? What happens when a Christian works for the government? Should she obey Romans 12 or Romans 13? She can’t do both.

The answer is found in a Biblical principle taught throughout the scripture: God often uses broken systems and sinful people to carry out His will. In Genesis 50:20, for example, we encounter Joseph years after his brothers have thrown him into a pit, sold him into slavery, and lied to their father to cover it up. After all this, Joseph says to his brothers, “you intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.” The same human evil that God-followers should rightly condemn was used by God to carry out His will.

Again, in Judges 14, Samson has the hots for a Philistine woman and tells his parents to get her to be his bride. They rightly balk at his choice, since it was against Israelite law to marry idolatrous Philistines. But Judges 14:4 says that “it was from the LORD.” Again, the “it” is both Samson’s poor choice of women and God’s will working through evil circumstances.

The same message reemerges in Romans 13. Paul never tells the church to celebrate, vote for, support, or delight in the death penalty. He only tells them to submit to the government—the same empire, by the way, that beheaded John the Baptist, crucified Christ, and burned many Christians alive in Nero’s gardens.

We find the best analogy to Romans 13 in the Hebrew Scriptures where God uses Assyria and Babylon to carry out His will. In 722 B.C., God punishes Israel through the pagan nation of Assyria. God does the same thing again with Babylon about 150 years later. Just as Romans 13 calls Rome God’s “servant who punishes evildoers,” so also God calls Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar His “servant” (Jer 27:6; 43:10) and Assyria the “club of my wrath” (Isa 10:15).

Does this mean that God-followers should have supported or celebrated Assyria slaying Israelites and chopping off noses and ears and tongues?

No.

Christians celebrate God’s Lordship over evil, but we never glory in the evil itself. Just as God used the sons of Jacob in their evil, Samson in his evil, and Assyria and Babylon in their evil, so also God can use a secular and sinful institution like the American government to carry out His will. The Christian mandate to love our enemies and never avenge evil is clear (Matt 5:44; Rom 12:19). And in Romans 13, Paul only tells the church to submit. Not to support.

Sometimes God works in and through humans, even when the latter is less than perfect. Or to put it another way, God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. But if we don’t understand the complex relationship between divine and human agency taught throughout the Scriptures, we’ll miss this and be forced to choose between Jesus and Paul.

Luckily, we don’t have to choose. Jesus’ and Paul’s ethical teaching was exactly the same: Christians are to love their enemies and never avenge evil. This is the final verdict of the One who forgave his enemies from death row as well as the executed author of Romans.

—–

Book cover courtesy of David C. Cook

Book cover courtesy of David C. Cook

 

Preston Sprinkle (Ph.D. Aberdeen University) is Vice President of Eternity Bible College’s Boise extension and author of Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation, Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us, and Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.

 

 

 

Cover image courtesy of Faithwords

Cover image courtesy of Faithwords

 

Jonathan Merritt (Th.M. Emory University) is the award-winning senior columnist for Religion News Service and author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars and Jesus is Better Than You Imagined

 

35 Comments

  1. These biblical arguments I think could be helpful if we were sure that the US death penalty system was fair, non-biased and only being used on people that we are sure are guilty. At that point we could talk about whether with a good legal system the death penalty was something that should be supported by Christians.

    But in a system there a significant portion of death penalty convictions have been overturned (in Illinois is was half in the years before Illinois revoked the death penalty).

    It has also been pretty clearly shown that poor and non-White defendants are given the death penalty at much higher rates and that a significant number of people on death row had substandard defense.

    The death penalty seems to have no deterrent effect. And it is not even cheaper execute people than keep them in prison all their lives.

    Pragmatically, there is just no reason that Christians (or anyone else) should support the death penalty. We don’t need to fight over scripture when the basic fairness of the system (a requirement for Christian support of the death penalty) is not present.

  2. Marcus Johnson

    This isn’t a complaint against anyone in particular, but is it possible for us to have a conversation about the death penalty on its merits, without trying to decode Scripture (usually badly) to find the “secret” hidden message? Seriously, the verse-dropping that folks from either side of this debate do in order to support their stance usually ignores the immediate, rhetorical context of their meanings. Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” argument, for example, was delivered to an audience significantly different in demographics and interests than Paul’s. Their messages were delivered 40+ years apart, to people who literally had a sea between them. This is not a “two sides of the coin” argument; these are two different messages, delivered to two different audiences, for two different reasons.

    Besides, there’s plenty of legitimate dilemmas with the death penalty argument that do not require us to consult our WWJD bracelets.

    • @Marcus,

      I agree.
      You are interested in applying reason to the argument on capital punishment. You seem to recognize that religion does not contribute anything useful to the the analysis.

      The influence of religion on every decision is really nothing but clutter.
      What would Jesus do? – why should anyone care? He lived a long time ago and has nothing to do with the problems of today.

      Besides, Christians are forbidden to do what Jesus did anyway:

      Jesus didn’t forgive his enemies – he sent them to Hell! (Mark 16:16)
      Jesus cursed his enemies – “Thou Fools!”, “swine!”(Matt. 23:17)
      Jesus stole things – “untie them” “and bring them to me” (Matt. 21:2-3)
      Jesus destroyed his enemies – “execute them in front of me”(Luke 19:27)
      He didn’t love most of his neighbors, – They are ‘Dogs’!(Matthew 15:26)
      Jesus told people to judge others – “Remove your blessings”!(Matt 10:14)
      He was bigoted – “They are swine” (Matthew 7:6)
      Jesus violently whipped people – attack on the temple (John 2:5)
      He didn’t want peace – “I do not bring peace.”(Matt 10:34)
      Jesus lied to people – “He went in secret” (John 7:8-13)
      Jesus prepared for war – “if you have money, buy a sword” (Luke 22:36-37)

      And don’t follow God’s example either:

      “Utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.” (1 Samuel 15:3)
      “have sex with comely women as you wish.” (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
      “Save for yourselves every girl who is a virgin.” (Numbers 31:18)
      “Enslave everyone in the villages.” (Deut. 20:10)
      “Kill my enemies” (Luke 19:27)
      “I the Lord…create evil” (Isaiah 45:7)
      “Do not make peace with your neighbor on the land” (EXODUS 34:15)
      “remove your blessing of peace” (Matt 10:14)
      “submit to your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22)
      “Raping a neighbor’s wife is a correct punishment.” (2 Samuel 12:11)

      Yes, Marcus.
      It is high time to work out what is best for society in a secular, reasonable way and stop paying attention to these ancient barbarisms.

      • Marcus Johnson

        First, Atheist Max, I should point out that I can both make this argument and still identify as a believer in Jesus Christ. However, I’m in favor of having an argument about the death penalty that doesn’t devolve into a battle of Bible verses, mainly because the context of those verses are too complex for the way they are used in this argument.

        Take your post, for example. Twenty-one verses, recorded over the period of hundreds of years, spoken or written by different people, in different genres, for different reasons, to different audiences, in wildly different contexts. Unless someone can make the argument that a nomadic tribe wandering around the Sinai peninsula around 3500 B.C. has the same context as a church community in first-century Asia Minor (hint: that is impossible), then we have to respect that your twenty-one verses could have twenty-one distinctly separate meanings, and fit somewhere over the chronology of man’s evolving understanding of the concept of God.

        As far as the term “barbarisms,” I’m not sure that these statements, taken in their proper historical context, would qualify. It’s no more appropriate to condemn these verses by 21st century standards of morality any more than it would be to construct standards of morality from them. Both strategies are equally devoid of logical reasoning, and neither belong in this debate.

        • @Marcus Johnson,

          I appreciate your reply. But I have to take the bait.

          How do you justify killing someone for a crime if you are a Christian?

          If the Christian cannot refer to the Bible for guidance on the question – contextually or otherwise – what is ‘Christian’ about the decision to kill a criminal and how does one ensure they haven’t sinned in the process?

          • Marcus Johnson

            First, I just want to make sure that when you talk about “killing someone,” you’re talking about the death penalty, not combat kills or self-defense. That’s another discussion for another day.

            Despite what you’ve heard, the Bible isn’t to Christ-followers as a cookbook is to a chef; it’s not a how-to-live book. Its existence is not supposed to tell us what to do, but for Whom we’re doing it. As I’m sure you’re well aware, the conversations about the preservation of life and justice are not a purely Judeo-Christian concept; plenty of other societies have been asking the same questions long before the Bible was introduced into their culture. I think that’s a premise that a lot of Christian communities have gotten wrong (and continue to get wrong), so there’s all this apologizing and sheepish backpedaling on the existence of Biblical passages that appear to directly contradict our modern sense of morality.

            Personally, I’m against the death penalty, for reasons that don’t require me to cite a single Bible verse. That doesn’t bother me at all. It’s okay for me to state that my faith in God–as understood through my study of the Bible–underscores some of my moral objections. But I’m not lost without the right Bible verse to fire off in a debate about capital punishment. I have evidence that racial minorities, low-income people, and people with mental differences are more likely to get sent to death row. I have evidence that the cost for sustaining these people through the death row process can be more than life sentences. I have more stuff, as well, and I got it all from non-Bible sources.

            So, to answer your questions: 1) I don’t justify the death penalty, and I’m a Christian, and the two concepts are not in conflict; 2) Christians should refer to the Bible for guidance on who God is, but not on whether or not to go pro- or anti-death penalty; 3) Were I to support capital punishment, I would pour over the life of Jesus, as well as where the evolution of man’s understanding of who God is has brought us to, and make a decision about whether or not my need for order, justice, revenge, etc. is in keeping with the character of Jesus. That’s a really tough, complex question to answer.

    • The Great God Pan

      “…is it possible for us to have a conversation about the death penalty on its merits, without trying to decode Scripture (usually badly) to find the “secret” hidden message.”

      In fairness, this site is explicitly devoted to a religious angle on the news. I wouldn’t really expect Religion News Service to delve into non-religious arguments regarding the death penalty.

  3. Joseph Randall

    Dr. Sprinkle,

    I continue to be surprised at the exegesis of the Scriptures that you are encouraging. I say this because I have a high respect for you and for your writings in the past.

    Let’s look at what Paul says in Romans 13:

    Romans 13:1-5: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

    The Holy Spirit makes it very clear here that God has established authority for the purpose of punishing wrong doers – people who do evil – with a sword – with the wrath of God – for the purposes of justice and righteousness.

    The Assyrians were not “God’s servant for your good.” But this is what the Holy Spirit calls the civil magistrate.

    In your Assyrian analogy, God uses evil to do evil for His good purposes.

    In Romans 13, God uses evil (Roman Government), to do good (uphold justice) for his good purposes.

    The Holy Spirit says the civil magistrate rewards good with approval (did the Assyrians do this?) and that this is for our own good. I don’t think the Assyrians ever did anything for Israel’s good.

    The analogy just doesn’t work.

    When a man’s 5 year old daughter gets raped and killed by a serial child molester who’s done it to 50 other girls as well, God has ordained a weak, sinful government to bring about good justice in a good way that God Himself employed for 1,000’s of years and ordained long before the Mosaic Law was ever given (Gen. 9:6).

    And I assure you, no one will be rejoicing in the execution chamber or celebrating. The father weeps his eyes out. May that rapist murderer repent of his sins and be forgiven by King Jesus. But there are still consequences for sin in this life, as King David knew well.

    Your logic against the death penalty would end all forms of justice and punishment for all criminals. We would just forgive everybody and turn the other cheek. We wouldn’t need prisons anymore – we’d just let everyone go free because we’ve forgiven them. Utter chaos would explode!

    Your logic doesn’t work, and it’s unbiblical.

    And the good justice of Romans 13 is a justice Paul Himself was willing to face: Acts 25:11: “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

    To understand Romans 13 more fully, go here:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/by-scripture/romans/13

    To understand the Bible and the death penalty and grace and mercy, go here:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-you-believe-in-capital-punishment

    And here: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-it-wrong-to-want-mercy-for-a-criminal-who-deserves-capital-punishment

    And here: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/05/01/why-christians-should-support-the-death-penalty/

    • Joseph,

      How on Earth can you sincerely say, “May that rapist murderer repent of his sins,” while actively speeding his death? That doesn’t jive.

      The Catholic Church has the correct position here: If you cannot practically imprison for life, capital punishment may be justified. Otherwise, life imprisonment. God extends his mercy and forgiveness even to monsters.

      God’s ordination of authorities for earthly justice does not have us be fatalistic or reckless with the application thereof.

      We obviously restrain, imprison, etc. to remedy that which a criminal represents in society. We also attempt punishment to remedy that criminal, even if our methods are still fairly crude. Anything beyond action for remedial prospects is pure, prospectless retribution.

      When you can imprison, you imprison.

  4. Christians often insist that the Old Testament is not part of Christianity; its claims are no longer part of Jesus’ message.

    When an atheist points out Biblical barbarism the Christians screech “You took it out of context”.

    Yet Context never seems to matter in the least. Kill, love, forgive, hate everything is permitted and everything is forbidden.

    Dump Jesus as well as the Old Testament.
    Do what is best after reasoning through the matter independent of barbaric codes. It is no accident that Non religious countries have lower crime and more humane punishments!

    “Execute them..” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

    • Marcus Johnson

      Context always matters, whether you or your opposition believes it does or not is irrelevant.

      Take that passage from Luke 19. On its face, it looks as though Jesus is advocating for his followers to commit violence. If you read the whole chapter, though, you’ll see that it’s part of a story, and that story has a lot of allusions to common practices which Jesus’ listeners would have understood.

      Perhaps it would be best for you to dump Jesus and the Old Testament, since your anger with religious institutions (I’m sure there’s a much longer story there) is leading you to the same illogical statements of which you rightfully accuse Biblical literalists and mis-interpreters.

      • @Marcus,

        Yes, I very much would love to leave Christians alone. And Jesus. And the Bible.

        But I am confronted with religion (utter nonsense to me) because Christians are interjecting the Bible’s claims into public policy – such as questions of Capital Punishment, Women’s rights, Public prayer, etc..

        I don’t expect anyone’s sympathy, my skin is too tough to bother.
        But Christian injunctions regarding things like Capital Punishment are part of that discussion. And if Christians are getting around to the idea that those theocratic ideas are irrelevant (as you seemed to indicate) – it seems reasonable to cobble together some support from like minded fellow citizens.

      • @Marcus,

        Regarding Luke 19:27, Parable of the Minas, (“Execute them”) the context won’t make much difference to those who died because of those words of Jesus. God – if he exists – had to have known all along that these words would be ‘misinterpreted’ and end up being used for mass slaughter.

        It is interesting that context is supposed to matter only when the message is bad and never when it is nice.

        “God is Love”
        “He is Risen”
        “Behold the Lillies”

        Only when Jesus calls for utter destruction do we need to hear the context (excuse):

        “I have come to bring fire to the earth…to bring misery and division!”
        (Luke 49-51)

        • Marcus Johnson

          You’re missing the complexity of that rhetorical situation. No one died simply because someone recorded the final line of a story Jesus told. They may have died because someone did what you did: read the verse, ignored the surrounding verses, decided it was an imperative to do some killing, and did so with a sense of moral righteousness. But that’s not a fault that lies at the foot of Jesus, or at the person who recorded His words; it’s a fault that lies at the feet of the person who doesn’t know how to read in context.

          • @Marcus,

            Um..Complexity?

            “bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and Execute them in front of me.” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

            Did God not understand what would happen?

            “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. [Jesus] recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them.”
            “…with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross.”
            Adolf Hitler, speech on April 12, 1922

            Suppose God assured you through a sacred text:
            ‘Cigarettes are good for you so go ahead and smoke’
            Wouldn’t that God and his text deserve blame for the lung cancer that follows?

          • Marcus Johnson

            Yes, complexity. Just like any other novel, essay, poem, or other type of text, the passages in the Bible have a unique rhetorical context. You don’t have to be a follower of Christ to figure that out; they’re teaching that in high schools as literary interpretation. It is a shame that we don’t treat a text like the Bible with the same amount of scholarly respect and analysis that we do William Faulkner, yet claim that it is the base for our ridiculous assumptions.

            As for the lung cancer hypothesis, it’s irrelevant, because you’re assuming that God told me what to do, which is a rhetorical context significantly different from any in the Bible (people wrote to specific audiences, in specific contexts, and I find meaning in the conversation that they wrote as a third party). Just to make this absolutely clear: the Bible was not written to me, or addressed to me; it was written, compiled, and preserved for me. Assuming that the Bible is a direct address to me is ridiculous, and would require me to consider your hypotheticals as legitimate criticisms. I don’t, however, because it isn’t.

          • @Marcus,

            “you’re assuming that God told me what to do”

            Are the Commandments optional?

          • I could read a biography of Norman Mailer and see parts of his life I agree with and parts I disagree with. I can choose his good statements as wise and reject his bad statements as poor or wrongly contextualized considering where they fit into his life.

            Why put Jesus in a higher category
            if you are going to do the same thing with his words?

          • Marcus Johnson

            The question of whether or not the Ten Commandments are “optional” is irrelevant; they have a specific context. It seems as though the premise you’re working under is one in which Christians are not supposed to kill, steal, murder, etc. because of the Ten Commandments. If so, then Christians have to explain what we did for a moral code in the millenia before the Ten Commandments were codified. Yes, for the people of Israel, the Ten Commandments were a requirement, the prologue to an extensive contract between themselves and God that would establish them as his people. No halfway intelligent Christian would assume that morality began at Mount Sinai, though. So, there is a possibility that the standards for morality can exist beyond the immediate text of Scripture. In other words, if the only reason why I don’t kill is because of a four-word sentence in Exodus 20, you would do well to keep your distance; I’m sure I’d be a little crazy.

            And, again, we’re not just dealing with Jesus’ words. Keep in mind that Jesus never wrote anything down; someone else did as part of an attempt to use His story to make an argument to a specific group of people. If you’re referring to the Gospels as books of the Bible, you’re looking at a much more complex rhetorical situation than that:

            1) Jesus said something to a specific person in first century Judea.
            2) Someone wrote it down and preserved it in a book designed for a particular audience, most likely one significantly different than the one Jesus wanted to address.
            3) Hundreds of years later, you pick it up and read it, then make assumptions about what that text meant.

            Now, if you’re the atheist, you’re supposed to be smart enough to recognize the rhetorical context here is much more complex than, “Jesus said in Matthew that…” This is not demoting the words of Jesus to the level of contemporary literature; this is elevating the discourse and meaning making of Biblical passages to a level that is at least as high as a high school literature class.

          • How does one love the Lord?
            Does it not matter that when Jesus was asked that question he said, “Follow my commands”?

            We cannot see the Lord. We cannot know the Lord.
            How do you ‘love’ such a thing specifically?

            So how else does one Love the Lord?

          • Marcus Johnson

            And are those “commands” the same as the Ten Commandments? Keep in mind that that’s the name we gave them; there is no place in the Bible where that prologue is referred to as “the Ten Commandments.” The answer to that question really depends on what Gospel, verse, and situation you’re referring to when Jesus said those words.

            For example, there were two times in John 15 where Jesus specifically told his disciples to follow his commands. If all you did was read those two verses, without looking for context, then it is quite possible to make the assumption that Jesus was referring to the Ten Commandments. But, if you look at that chapter just a little longer, you would have seen verse 12, in which Jesus specifically stated what his command was and, in doing so, answered your question. We show that we love the Lord by loving each other.

          • So you are saying that ‘loving one another’ is to love the Lord?

            Sorry but that is not doing enough to “Love God”
            according to Jesus.

            Jesus has several additional stipulations:

            In Luke 10:25-28 we find another requirement Jesus commands of us:
            “Teacher,…what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
            “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
            He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
            “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

            So is this true?
            Will that bring eternal life?

            Actually it is not true.
            In Luke 18:18-22 Jesus says something completely different
            TO THE SAME QUESTION:

            “A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
            “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”
            “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
            “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. SELL EVERYTHING you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

            Then in John 6:53-58 we find an additional requirement:

            Jesus said to them,

            “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

            1. So “loving one another” is not enough.
            2. You must also follow FIVE specific commandments; four from Exodus and ‘do not defraud’ is from Leviticus.
            3. You must eat of his body
            4. You must sell everything and give your money to the poor.

            I don’t think it is fair, frankly, to tell people that all they have to do is ‘love each other’ and that is enough to ‘love god’.
            Do you?

          • Marcus Johnson

            Again, complexity. Again, context. Max, you’re pulling three different conversations from two different authors who wrote their accounts decades apart from each other, to different audiences, for different reasons. This conversation is dragging on, so I won’t go into the particulars of the logical context that you’re ignoring, but I will tell you that the way you are reading the Bible is not how anyone–atheist or Christian–should read. It’s simplistic and lazy, relies on proof-texting to build theologies and straw men, and ignores the fact that real people wrote the books of the Bible for real audiences. For each one of the passages you described, there is a greater context which, in most cases, only requires you to read a couple verses above or below the quoted passage.

            I can totally respect people who choose atheism due to careful study and soul-searching, but it’s becoming clear to me that you’re practicing lazy atheism, which is an insult to those who choose not to identify with people of a particular faith tradition or acknowledge the existence of God. You don’t need to go to church, Max, just a basic contemporary religion or literature course will do.

          • Who are you calling lazy?
            look at how you dodge every question.

            If every biblical contradiction is simply a matter of understanding context then this statement must also not be clear;

            “He is Risen”

            I must therefor conclude Jesus did not rise from the dead and I must go and do some homework on it.

            Thanks for confirming that the Bible his hogwash.

    • Atheist Max,

      The rabbis over the centuries have reinterpreted what Christians call the Old Testament. There are centuries of commentaries and reinterpretations of the “Old Testament.”

      For example, in order to execute someone for murder there had to be a witness to the murder. Since murders are rarely committed with witnesses, it was nearly impossible to actually execute anyone for murder. All the judges had to agree with the verdict, if there was one dissenting opinion, no one could be executed. An “eye for an eye” was almost immediately interpreted as monetary compensation for an eye.

      Yet, Christians and even atheists believe that Judaism begins and ends with the “Old Testament.” They point to the Old Testament without knowing anything about the history of Judaism.

  5. Whenever someone says “The Bible says…” instead of “Jesus said…” we should have a red flag flapping in our minds. Christ is to be our interpretive lens for understanding the whole of the Bible. Thanks, Jonathan, for calling him out on it.

    Furthermore, the Bible doesn’t teach anything. It doesn’t speak – the Biblical authors did. So, when preachers say “the Bible says…” they are conveniently bringing a religious or philosophical idea to the table to begin with and manipulating the Bible to twist our arms into going along with their argument, as Mohler does.

    • Marcus Johnson

      I’m not sure about a red flag, but I try to keep some Visine handy. Apparently, whenever someone says, “The Bible says…,” my eyes automatically roll so hard that I have to keep them moist to go back to normal.

  6. Arguments NOT to be taken seriously. :)

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/the-arguments-for-and-against-capital-punishment,35918/
    The Arguments For And Against Capital Punishment

    The heated debate over capital punishment has been reignited after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, in which the inmate suffered what has been described as a tortured death at the hands of the state, having succumbed to a heart attack 43 minutes after an untested combination of drugs was injected into his bloodstream. Here are the leading arguments for and against the death penalty:

    FOR
    -Every now and then you get a guilty one

    -Last meals often inmates’ only chance to have king crab legs

    -Hammurabi’s Code has never steered civilization wrong before

    -Deterrent effect on those considering snapping and killing family in blind rage

    -Your constituency is pretty gung ho about it

    -Bestows much-needed closure for executioners

    AGAINST
    -Better for prisoner to be fully rehabilitated over course of seven consecutive life sentences

    -We don’t get to watch

    -Prevents brutal rapists and murderers from being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment

    -Wasn’t a huge fan of victim

    -Squanders tax dollars that could be better used to build larger, scarier prisons

    -Prosecuting attorney already living with guilt of knowing he falsely imprisoned someone

  7. Disclaimer: I’m anti-death penalty. I point this out because I find fallacies in your argument.
    ” But how then do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between loving our enemies (Jesus) and killing them (Paul)?”
    There is no contradiction here. Criminals are not enemies. Punishing criminals is not akin to showing a lack of love to enemies. Even if enemies=criminals, your statement above would apply to any punishment, not just the death penalty. By that logic, Jesus wants authorities to let all crime go unpunished, which is ridiculous. And by your logic, to refrain from punishing someone is to show them love, which is equally ridiculous. Often, refusing to give consequences is the most UN-loving thing you can do.
    No, my anti-death penalty stance is much more simple: when we put an unbeliever to death, we are condemning them to hell for all eternity. I’d much rather let them have earthly consequences, and pray for their salvation as they serve their sentences. I don’t think Paul or Jesus would have a problem with that, and no twisting of scripture is needed to come to this conclusion.

  8. Even a first term philosophy student can easily identify the logical fallacy here. Comparing apples and oranges. The state punishing criminals according to a code of justice is hardly comparable with personal relationships and loving one’s enemies. Jesus never once criticized the death penalty but rather told government officials to do their duty.

  9. Hi,
    I don’t know what to say. The audience here is diverse. So lets do it this way. In the Theory of God, the ideas that a god might or might not exist, requires testing. Testing that theory using the Biblical text is amazing. Other than false claims, no one, to themselves, has ever proven that text wrong, to themselves. You can generally lie to anyone but yourself. If you are a liar, it is quite easy to lie to most people, at least for awhile.
    A research paper several years ago, came up with a single observation, in what determined whether or not, a person can be a leader. The only thing they could find, to separate leaders from non leaders, was “The ability to believably lie”
    Both of those concepts, The Bible, and Leaders being believable liars, stands up when you test those ideas, yourself, to yourself.
    Now, on the death penalty, if your best feelings were the only thing used, and if you were able to be objective, what would you do, and also what do you think God would do?
    This is what I think. I think God, would keep them alive and locked up, if that were possible economically, and not cruel. If it was not, He would have them returned to Him, for Him to decide what to do next. I think as an atheist, (at least the supposed definition of atheism), I would agree. I think as a dyed-in-the-wool-Bible-understanding-Christian, I would to the same.
    To Bible people, you cannot throw out what you don’t like. Also you must look at all there is from front to back on a particular subject. When you do that, God never actually hates like humans, he opposes. He never likes to destroy people or property, and he doesn’t like it if we like revenge, BUT, He does do things always, when He has to, to stop others from doing too much damage, He does kill and hurt others then, only to stop them.

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