Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thesis 18: The Patriarchal Power Of “Capital Punishment”

After the flood, the command to shed the blood of capital criminals (and not to eat blood) was given to the Family, not a “State.”[1] Thus (cf. A), even after man’s Fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden, neither a political (“State”) nor an ecclesiastical (“church”) institution was needed to supplement the Family.

1. Genesis 9:1,4-6

John Frame writes:

Some have found divine warrant for the state in Genesis 9:6, where God commands Noah’s family to return bloodshed for bloodshed. But this is a command given to a family. There is no indication here of any new institution being established. And in the law of Moses, the execution of murderers was carried out, not by the state as such, but by the "avenger of blood," kin of the murder victim (Num. 35:19,21; Deut. 19:12). The family, here, is the instrument of justice. We have no reason to believe, therefore, that any special institution beyond the family for the establishment of justice was created in Genesis 9:6.

We began the previous section (A) with these words:

In the Garden of Eden there was no State, nor was there an ecclesiocracy (institutional church). Biblical Society consisted of the Family. Every sociological function necessary for the smooth (shalom) and Godly (“righteous,” “just”) operation of a society (e.g., health, education, welfare, etc.) can be provided by Godly Families.

We repeat the same claim here as we look at the next period of time, the time immediately after the Flood, looking specifically at what we now call "capital punishment." We referred to :

Appendix A of our "Death Penalty Debate," which also applies here.

Genesis 9:5-6 is always cited with reference to "capital punishment" -- verse 4 is not:

4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

A few verses earlier we had read:

8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

In all of this the subject is blood: dietary blood, "civil" blood, and "religious" blood.
• Everyone agrees that the laws which directed Noah concerning religious blood shed on the altar are fulfilled only in Christ.
• Many also agree that the laws regulating blood and other dietary concerns are also fulfilled.
• Very few will see that the shedding of the blood of criminals also served an atoning function.

Numbers 35:32 And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest. 33 So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. 34 Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel.’”

In all three cases, Noah served as a kind of priest. In the personal, civil, and churchly spheres, the common denominator was blood.

In Deuteronomy 21, Moses commanded that in cases of an unsolved homicide, the blood of a heifer must be shed to make atonement. Nobody (well, almost nobody) believes that the civil magistrate is obligated to apply Deuteronomy 21 literally, and shed blood in the case of an unsolved homicide. Reason: only Christ's blood can make atonement. But if the homicide is solved, these same Christians go back to Genesis 9 and Numbers 35, which say that

no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.

and they demand that the murderer's blood be shed (well, they ignore the blood part; they just want death).

We will return to this idea in Thesis #54, concerning war.

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