Recently Matt Walsh, a popular evangelical (and somehow very Roman Catholic) blogger posted a series of tweets condemning the death penalty as an excuse for “vengeance.”
Death penalty isn’t needed in modern society. Therefore it exists purely for vengeance. That means I can’t support it — Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) May 23, 2014
Vengeance. That’s an interesting word choice. Mainly because its a Biblical word choice.
Matt Walsh assumes that all vengence is evil. I’m sure he might resort to the phrase “Vengeance is mine says the Lord” but that fails to properly understand who “The Lord” uses in time and space to appropriate vengeance.
Now for the record, we can’t just throw terms around like they don’t mean anything, because that’s a liberal thing to do. Matt Walsh might use the word vengeance to describe the death penalty, but when he uses that term, he is certainly not using the Biblical, God honoring form of vengeance AKA “Justice”.
Did I just say that proper justice, is indeed righteous vengeance? Indeed.
The Bible also uses words like vindication, wrath, and atonement to describe vengeance as well. However, for some reason, Matt Walsh’s definition of vengeance presupposes a mean spirit, ill-will and altogether sinful wrath on those who execute it. In Matt Walsh’s mind, justice and vengeance cannot possibly be interchangeable. Forget the fact that one can be both unjust and vengeful, or vengeful and just.
But the question remains “Does the Lord use earthly means, to establish temporal justice?” Well, what does the Bible say?
Romans 13 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 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.
Wait a minute? The Bible says that the government, (courts, police, judges) are “servants of God” and “an avenger, who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” So what we have here is God Himself, speaking through Saint Paul, telling him to tell you that the government is supposed to avenge those who do wrong. Thus they carry out justice.
Now here’s an interesting problem for Matt Walsh to have, He opposes vengeance by civil authorities when the Bible instructs civil authorities to exercise vengeance. Huh.
Now I am sure that Matt Walsh will point to Jesus simply turning the other cheek, or telling people to love their enemies. But clearly those verses are not directed towards the civil authorities, because that would mean several foolish, incomprehensibly silly things which Matt Walsh is far too intelligent to consistently believe.
First, it would mean that Paul was wrong to even speak on how rulers are “bearers of the sword” because that would contradict the instructions of Jesus, who said there should be no civil justice.
Second, it would mean that there could be no civil justice whatsoever. Thieves should not pay back what they owe, child molesters should roam free as everyone turns the other cheek in a happy, justice-free utopia. That’s a utopia for criminals maybe, but a society with no justice is no utopia for us regular, hard working, love your enemy types.
Third, it would contradict Jesus’ very own upholding of the death penalty when He was before Pilate.
So Pilate said to Him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him,“You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10-11).
In this passage Jesus actually upholds Pilate’s authority to bear the sword by saying his authority to do so is given to him by the Father. This is echoed of course in Romans 13.
The word choice of Paul is interesting. He says that civil rulers actually bear the sword as a tool to terrorize those who do evil. It doesn’t say civil rulers bear a feather, to tickle those who do evil, or bear a complex billion dollar prison hotel system made of your own tax dollars to feed and house criminals while giving them libraries and internet access and free HBO for the rest of their lives.
That’s not terrorizing anyone, except the victims with heavy tax burdens.
But what about the death penalty? If the “love your enemies” line that is so often repeated was just to individuals, and Romans 13 really, honestly, and truly gives civil authorities permission to bear the sword, why should we then desire a death penalty over complex prison institutions?
First off, and most importantly, the death penalty is a reflection of God’s nature. It’s the first law He laid down after the Flood in Genesis 9 and the entire basis of substitutionary atonement. God demands the death penalty for sin. Jesus of course took the death penalty Himself for those whom he saved. But the interesting thing about Genesis 9, is that the death penalty for murder is included as a stipulation of the Noahic covenant.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Genesis 9:6
Now here is the real kicker. The Noahic covenant is for everyone, including the birds and the beasts of the earth. It’s a promise from God, to all people that God recognizes the importance of human life. It’s an eternal covenant “for all future generations” So how does God demonstrate the value of human life, for all generations?
By demanding that blood be shed (by an avenger of justice) for destroying something created in the image of God.
Now sure, Matt might regurgitate the popular phrase “Well, that’s the Old Testament!” To which he would be correct, but if by “Old Testament” Matt believes that the death penalty is no longer needed then he must also say, by the pure logic of the passage that God just might flood the earth again with water and rainbows might cease to exist.
Because as the text says, this is for “for all future generations.”
I assume, and hope that Matt would actually believe that it really does extend to all future generations, or else I might need to take up scuba diving in preparation for another flood.
I also hope Matt is willing to engage in a discussion with the texts I presented, I’d like him to really have to go through these texts. We both really hate abortion. He blogs about it. I made a movie about it.
It would be nice to see two people (of vastly different theological camps) really hash out the issue as to what we are to do with those who have abortions, once abortions are illegal again.
So here’s hoping Matt Walsh will respond and deal with the text that is in opposition to his “modern day justice.”
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