Christianity and Crime IV

Introduction:

Since the Fall, man’s nature has been evil. Only Jesus Christ can change a man’s nature. Original sin passed on genetically by fathers is a fact of life.[1] Adam and Eve’s first son Cain, murdered his younger brother Abel (Gen.4:8). Christians must learn from the Bible and be realistic about the nature of man.

But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (Jn.2:24-25).

Gaols were non-existent under Biblical law. The concept of gaols for the reformation of criminals was popularised by the Quakers, who believed that spending time in gaol would compel prisoners to examine themselves and be penitent. Thus we have the U.S. term  “penitentiary” for a gaol, now more commonly called a “correctional facility.”

Having rejected the true Messiah Jesus Christ, modern man had to come up with a substitute. This has been the pattern throughout human history, since the time of the Caesars. The idea that the State has a responsibility to rehabilitate criminals so that they will be better members of the community is a reflection of the modern, messianic view of the State. Clearly, with this view criminal “rehabilitation” becomes more important than restitution for the aggrieved person.

Justice: The idea that criminal law should focus on the criminal’s reformation or well-being is alien to Biblical law. Biblical law in cases of crime focussed on the victim-the aggrieved person being given proper restitution. God instructed Israel that “justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and posses the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut.17:20).

This is particularly clear with the law concerning the apprehension of a burglar:

If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft (Ex.22:2-3).

While the criminal’s remorse in cases of crime is certainly desirable, this would certainly be brought about by him having a pay restitution (in cases of theft) that would be a minimum of twice the sum stolen from the victim, and could be five times as much, depending on the offence.

I heard in 1999, that the cost to the community of maintaining a prisoner in an Australian gaol was $40,000 annually, and recently (in 2011) I heard anecdotally this has now risen to $70,000. Whatever the amount, it is a cost that the community is paying through taxation, not the criminal. The innocent are paying for the maintenance of the guilty; clearly a perversion of justice. Furthermore, the idea that a criminal would be rehabilitated by being constantly in the company of other criminals in gaol is ludicrous, for the Bible explains to us that “the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov.13:20).

W. Cleon Skousen, a lawyer, has drawn attention to the upside-down nature of modern criminal law. He explained that

…by the time a criminal has paid his fines to the court, he is usually depleted of funds or consigned to prison where he is earning nothing and therefore could not pay damages even if his victim went to the expense of filing a suit and getting a judgment. As a result, modern justice penalises the offender, but does virtually nothing for the victim.[2]

The foundations of criminal law are found in Exodus 20-23, and are extrapolated in other passages of the Pentateuch. Exodus 20 lays out the Ten Commandments, and the following chapters provide us with details of their application. The term “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Ex.21:24), does not mean that the criminal shall lose his eye or his tooth, his hand or his foot. It must be seen in the context of financial compensation, which is clear from v.22: “…he shall pay as the judges decide.”

The “eye for an eye” principle is known by the Latin phrase, lex talionis, or “law of retaliation.” The English word, “retaliate,” is derived from the same Roman word as “talionis.” Today, “retaliate” means to inflict injury, but earlier English usage conveyed a broader meaning: to pay back or return in kind, including good will…[3]

What is the goal of God’s justice? Rushdoony points out that, “emphatically, in Biblical law the goal is not punishment but restoration, not the infliction of certain penalties on criminals but the restoration of godly order. The centre of attention is thus not the criminal but the righteous man and the total godly order.” [4] As Boecker observed, “the intention of the talion was not, therefore, to inflict injury-as it might sound to us today-but to limit injury.”[5]

The Bible teaches that the victim must have his goods restored two-fold (Ex.22:4, 7), four-fold (for stealing a sheep), or five-fold (for stealing an ox) (Ex.22:1). The passage on restitution in Leviticus 6 indicates that if the thief turns himself in before the authorities identify him as a thief, he must restore the principal (6:4), and must also add a 20% payment-a double tithe-presumably because of the false oath (6:5). The restitution is equal to the value of the item stolen, and the penalty is one-fifth of this.[6]

This has significant implications for how the State collects fines. Because the modern State has decided there are many legitimate demands on its budget, fines for traffic infringements and crimes become a convenient means of raising revenue. The budget of the State is put before the victims of crime.

The State is not to use fines to increase its operating budget or increase its control over the lives of innocent citizens. The State is to be supported by tax levies, so that no conflict of interest should occur between honest judgment and the desire to increase the State’s budget. The proper use of fines is the establishment of a restitution fund for victims whose perpetrators cannot be located or convicted… such a fund is a valid use of the civil law.[7]

The law of God clearly includes capital punishment for capital crimes. The role of the State in “bearing the sword” (Ro.13:4) is to render capital punishment where necessary. After listing a number of sins/crimes in Romans 1:26-31, such as homosexuality and murder, Paul indicated that the perpetrators were “… worthy of death” (Ro.1:32).

When God gave the law to Moses and the children of Israel, He expanded on the revelation given to Noah in Genesis.  Thus murder as He defines it is never an accidental event; it is deliberate and pre-meditated: “lying in wait” to harm someone (Ex.21:14). Capital punishment is always required for murder (including abortion). This has been God’s standard of justice from the beginning.

Capital punishment was to be utilised for a number of other crimes, such as child sacrifice (Lev.20:1-2), kidnapping (Ex.21:16; Deut.24:7), a child striking or cursing their father or mother (Ex.21:15,17), incorrigible sons or criminals (Deut.21:18-21), some cases of manslaughter (Ex.21:28-31), some cases of perjury when the intention was to knowingly convict an innocent person of a capital crime (Deut.19:16-21), unconfessed fornication (Deut.22:20-21), adultery (Lev.20:10), rape of an engaged or married woman (Deut.22:25), incest[8] (Lev.20:11-12), homosexuality (Lev.20:13), sorcery (Ex.22:18), bestiality (Ex.22:19),  sacrificing to another god (Ex.22:20), false prophecy and promoting rebellion against the Lord (Deut.13), and blasphemy (Lev.24:16). Conviction for capital punishment always required more than one witness (Deut.17:6).

The death penalty is final. Its beneficial effects for society are twofold: it restrains the judgment of God on society, and it provides a deterrence effect-deterring the criminal from future crime (he dies), deterring other criminals from committing similar crimes (fear of death), and deterring God from bringing His covenant judgments on the community for its failure to uphold covenant law (fear of God’s wrath). Capital punishment is God’s way of telling criminals, whether convicted criminals or potential criminals, that they have gone too far in committing certain crimes. It also warns the community that God’s law is to be respected. Obviously, there is no element of rehabilitation for the convicted criminal in the imposition of the death penalty. The State speeds the convicted criminal’s march towards final judgment.[9]

What is the role of the Church in this? To see the law of God enforced in society, and to preach the gospel to all, including convicted criminals awaiting their death sentence.

Executions should be in public, and carried out by members of the community. Why? If the community determines capital punishment is right, it should then be responsible to complete the process itself, not leave it to a professional executioner.

The Biblical community was responsible to stone offenders in cases requiring capital punishment; execution could easily be done today by a community firing squad. If a murder takes place at or near a town, the inhabitants of that town should carry out the execution.[10]

Conclusion:

The Biblical principle of an eye for an eye protects society from a lawless State which recognises no limitations on its power. This law establishes the fundamental judicial principle that the punishment should fit the crime. This principle, sometimes called lex talionis, requires that the criminal pay back to the victim whatever was stolen, and in some cases an additional penalty payment is required…

The fundamental goal of Biblical law is restoration. Evil people are to be restored to God by righteousness…restitution by the criminal to the victim is an effective way of restoring wholeness to both parties. It upholds a basic principle of civil law: the punishment should benefit the victim…[11]

It is incumbent on Christians to begin to rethink their presently collapsing social order, and this alternative must be self-consciously judicial. Christians must become judicial revolutionaries, not simply defenders of the present social order.[12]


[1] The fact that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, and that Mary was “…with child by the Holy Spirit” (Mat.1:18), meant that Jesus did not inherit original sin. Jesus could not have been the Saviour of the world, had He been a sinner.

[2] W. Cleon Skousen, “The Third Thousand Years,” 1964, p.354.

[3] North, G., “Tools of Dominion,” 1990, p.387.

[4] Rushdoony, R., “The Institutes of Biblical Law,” 1973, p.515.

[5] Boecker, “Law and the Administration of Justice,” p.174. Quoted in North, p.394.

[6] North, p.393-4.

[7] North, p.396.

[8] Incest is noted in scripture as deserving capital punishment. The sexual abuse of children is not specifically identified, but it would appear that it too is worthy of capital punishment. See Ex.22:22-24; Prov.23:10-11; Mat.18:1-10.

[9] North, p.324.

[10] To attempt to extract information by sleep-deprivation, water-boarding etc, is torture. The mistreatment or torture of anyone (criminal or otherwise), has no place in a Christian community.

[11] North, p.412.

[12] North, p.1062.

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