Are You a Slave to Jesus?

Christians have always understood the paradox: in the service of God is perfect freedom.  John MacArthur’s sermon and promo for his book Slave doesn’t seem to appreciate subtleties like paradox.  He recognizes that the δοῦλος – κύριος metaphor is a metaphor; but he doesn’t seem to recognize that it is an inadequate ultimately judged inadequate by Jesus and Paul.

A twenty-minute check in the library confirmed that MacArthurs conclusions after three years of intensive study are basically valid–on the literal level and with one important exception.

Two standard Greek reference sources, Kittle’s famous Theological Dictionary and Bauer’s lexicon as edited by Danker in the third edition.  Both agree that δοῦλος basically means “slave.”  Both of these sources also agree that in Greek culture the whole idea of slavery was degrading, whereas in the middle eastern world of great empires, the kings ministers were called “slaves” or “servants.”  In that context, it was considered an honor to be the δοῦλος of a great king.

This concept was transferred in the Hebrew Bible to the privileged servants of the Lord: Abraham, Moses and the prophets.  The Lord keeps his servants in a special relationship to himself:

Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?  (Numbers 12:6-8)

Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).

It is in this sense that Paul applies the term δοῦλος to himself and other members of the apostolic team; other Christians he normally calls brothers and sisters.  The expression paradoxically implies humility and service on one hand, but honor and authority on the other hand.

Jesus and Paul both recognize the inadequacy of the expression δοῦλος to convey our relationship with God.  Jesus said,

I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you my friends (John 15:15).

In the epistle to the Galatians, Paul compares the relationship slaves to heirs.  The whole point of Galatians is to reject the imagery of slavery in favor of the mature and free relationship that adult children have with their father.  Galatians is the magna charta of Christian liberty and the manifesto of the Reformation.

Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts . . . so you are no longer a slave, but a son or daughter  (Galatians 4:6)

The Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother    . . . we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman (Galatians 4:26,31).

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Where is the Outrage?

Does anyone remember Terri Schiavo?  She had suffered severe brain damage and was unresponsive: her husband asked the hospital to remove the machines that were keeping her heart pumping, but her parents clung to the hope that she would recover.

Pro-life conservatives were outraged that the courts finally ordered the hospital to follow her husband’s, rather than her parent’s wishes.

I am pro-life.  I don’t believe in killing people unless it is absolutely necessary, or in letting them die due to neglect when it is in our power to save a life.  I don’t believe in unnecessary abortions, unnecessary wars, capital punishment, the excessive use of force by law enforcement, or passing by on the other side of the road when someone is dying.

I think we should always give the benefit of the doubt to life.  I don’t believe you can put a financial value on a human life.  I don’t believe we as a nation (or any of the the fifty states) will ever be in such economic distress that we will have to make the decision to let people die.

When Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed, many political commentaries called it an “execution.”

What do you call it when the state of Arizona cuts off financial support for people who need transplants? These are people who want to live and are capable of making their wishes known.  One is a father of six children.  Wouldn’t pro-life, pro-family people want to keep him alive?

If the state of Arizona is too poor to keep him alive, can’t the federal government step in with a minor bail out?

I don’t think anyone should exploit the tragic massacre in Tuscon for political purposes.  But maybe we could take the opportunity to express our support to the state and say,

We are all Arizonians now.  Let us help you take care of your citizens who need life-saving surgery.

The Government Takeover of Capital Punishment

If we want to follow the biblical law for capital punishment of murderers, the execution must be carried out by the victim’s next of kin.

The murderer shall be put to death . . . The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death (Numbers 35:16-19).

In the ancient world, to avenge a murdered relative was considered a sacred duty and honor.  In Rome, young Octavian had the obligation to avenge his uncle Caesar’s death–he was Caesaris ultor.  In Hebrew the word was goel.  The goel had other roles as well, but that of avenging murder was considered an essential service.

The laws in the Torah brought due process io an ancient social reality.  Previously the goel would take vengeance summarily; but the Mosaic regulations required a trial, and there could be no conviction without two or more witnesses.  Further, capital punishment could be avoided if there was not proof of premeditation.  But if premeditated murder was established, there was no substitute for execution at the hands of the goel.

The Torah provisions of due process stopped the cycle of bloody vengeance.  They were a great advance over the practices of the ancient world.  But I don’t think we want to copy the Torah provisions for capital punishment exactly in our world.  Those provisions were given to Israel as part of her civil law while living in the promised land.

The laws were based on important principles and the principles have value for us.  Life is sacred and there is no substitute for a human life except another life.  Vengeance is dangerous and the impulse to vengeance must be brought under control through a fair legal process.

I have no bleeding heart for murderers.  I pray for God’s grace, to help me resist my desire for vengeance, but compassion for vicious criminals does not come natural to me.  I understand the impulse toward vengeance.  But I cannot support capital punishment.

I wouldn’t really want to go back to the principle of direct vengeance by the next of kin.  But I also realize that state sponsored execution is a totally different thing.  Three simple reasons convince me to support life in prison without parole for murderers, rather than execution:

  1. Under the best of circumstances, our legal system makes mistakes.  Recently in Kansas a man was exonerated nearly thirty years after being convicted of rape.  He was awarded over 7 million dollars to compensate for the mistake.  The money might be some consolation for the lost years, and the state has given him back the rest of his life; but there is no giving back a life wrongly taken.
  2. Under normal circumstances, the government is run by politicians and the legal system is run by politicians.  Prosecuting attorneys are either elected or appointed by elected officials.  Attorneys play to win, and if that means suppressing evidence or coercing confessions, that sometimes happen.
  3. Under the worst circumstances, politicians use the power of death to silence their enemies.  I don’t know that it has ever happened here, but I know it is happening in Iran today.  Why would we want to be associated with governments like that?  Why would we want to give our government that kind of power?

Conscience and Nursing

Lethal injection is considered a humane and sanitary means of dispatching convicted murderers.  Inserting an IV requires skill and training.  Here is what one nurse says,

Past experiences influence my belief that the essential vein will not be accessed on the first try. Despite the diminutive size of the needle, there is still pain with it’s insertion.

Worse than blood draws is the starting of an IV for either medication or for hydration. Now, we’re talking about a much larger IV needle. I have started IV’s for 30 years and never had one myself until six years ago, where it took the nurse four tries before she called another nurse to successfully start my IV. The first nurse was frustrated which only added to her difficulty with each of her next several attempts. I was so tense, that my veins went into hiding, “determined” to not be accessed by anyone!  (More here)

So, if we are going to have lethal injections we need trained professionals, specifically nurses, to do the deed.  But what if most nurses are conscientiously opposed to killing? When the federal prison in Indiana needed an executioner for Timothy McVeigh in 2001, they had to go all the way to Missouri to find a nurse willing to inject the poison cocktail.  David Pinkley was on probation in a plea bargain after stalking and threatening another man and his family.  He was willing to use his medical skills to end the life of America’s most notorious mass murderer (more here).  Presumably, he followed procedure and used an alcohol swab before delivering the potion (see Why an Alcohol Swab).

What would happen if all nurses refused to volunteer for the work of execution?  Would there be some sort of draft?  Would it be like jury duty?

Should nurses who conscientiously object be protected–or should they be fired if they refuse a summons to execution duty?

Do we want health care professionals with a conscience, or do we want doctors like Joseph Mengele and his subordinates who mindlessly followed his orders?

(More at Amnesty International)

HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION III

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

A friend who taught a survey course on the Bible at a community college mentioned that the students were surprised at “how bloody” the Old Testament is. In addition to Israel’s frequent wars, the death penalty was apparently required for several crimes. Hostile critics of faith see this as incredibly barbaric, while enthusiasts for capital punishment see it as a divine mandate. Both fail to read the Bible historically. A historical reading would reveal several facts:

1) Capital punishment was widespread in the ancient world for a variety of crimes including religious offenses and insults to kings and governments. It was a bloody, cruel world. When all the facts are considered, the laws in the Old Testament represent a great restraint on death and cruelty. Death, for example, is never the penalty for property crimes or insulting a king; as it was in other nations. Bodily mutilations are common penalties in the laws of Hammurabi but (with one rare exception) are not prescribed in the Torah.

2) The rhetoric of the Middle East is considerably more uninhibited than that used by English speaking politicians. For example, when David heard of a man who murdered his neighbor’s pet lamb, he cried out, “The man deserves to die!” Then he adds the strangely anticlimactic “moreover, he shall repay fourfold.” David could not literally execute the man; the law only provided for a monetary fine–but he could express his outrage in angry rhetoric. Our national leaders might express outrage at an NFL football player arranging dogfights, but they wouldn’t say, “he deserves to die.” That kind of language is reserved for talk radio.

3) In many of the passages that say someone guilty of a sin, such as blasphemy, “shall surely die,” God is the presumed enforcer of the law. In other words, the commandment is a warning, “God will get you.” If blasphemers do not in fact drop dead, it is to be taken as a sign of God’s mercy, not a call for human intervention. Joe Sprinkle has shown that such commandments are a vivid way of teaching morality, appropriate to the ancient culture of the Bible. (see here)

4) In other cases, such as negligent homicide, a ransom was allowed in lieu of death.

5) In ancient Israel, capital punishment for murder was administered by the next of kin of the victim. The case was tried before a court. If the accused was found guilty, he was turned over to the “avenger of blood,” i.e., the next of kin who had the social obligation to kill the murderer.

6) The testimony of two eyewitnesses was required before any capital sentence was given.

7) In historic Judaism, the courts were extremely reluctant to order execution. The Talmud declares a Sanhedrin that hands down a verdict of death once in seventy years is a bloody court.

If we understand capital punishment in the Torah historically, two conclusions become clear. First, from a redemptive movement perspective, there is clearly a move away from automatic instantaneous retaliatory violence. Compared to neighboring civilizations, the number of cases in which capital punishment was applied was clearly restricted. Further, precautions were taken to assure that the penalty was not applied to an innocent person.

The second conclusion that becomes clear is that the law of capital punishment places a high value on human life. Because a human life is valuable, because human beings are created in the image of God, nothing can substitute in value for a human life. As a moral principle, “a life for a life” is still valid.

In applying capital punishment today, we still need to be guided by two facts.

First, Christ taught us to seek reconciliation rather than vengeance. He himself paid the debt that murderers and all sinners owed. He offered his life in exchange for the guilt of the world. The early Christians in the first three centuries were opposed to capital punishment.

Second, we do need to remember practical factors. Our legal system is imperfect, and the state cannot give back a life wrongly taken. The fact that several death-row inmates have been exonerated by DNA evidence should be a sober reminder. The fact that capital punishments places us in league with “Axis of Evil” nations like North Korea and Iran, should also be a sober warning.

Giving the state the power of life and death is giving it too much power.

Opinion polls show that American citizens deeply distrust the officials they have elected. Why would we grant these same politicians the power to take life?