Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Period of Grace Makes the Death Penalty Irrelevant?

The Bible indicates that the civil government ought to have and enforce laws providing for capital punishment of male homosexual behavior. It is written: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." (Leviticus 20:13) It's not a law that is in force in many places in the world today, and consequently meets with some cultural/traditional resistance from lots of folks.  I should point out that the text applies to the government, not individuals.  We Christians are not called to take the law into our own hands.

Someone recently posed the following question to me: "How would you respond to people who try to refute your views by stating that Christ brought forth the period of grace, making the death penalty of that time irrelevant?"

My responses are as follows:

1) Where does the Bible say that the death penalty is irrelevant?
2) On the contrary, the Bible affirms that the civil magistrate is God's minister to administer punishment including death: "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." (Romans 13:4) The sword/wrath reference is a reference to putting evil-doers to death.

In response to (1) my friend suggested that the people may appeal to the Pericope Adulterae, the story of Jesus saying that the person without sin should be the first to cast a stone at the woman caught in adultery.  I respond:

a) The person should keep in mind that the story of the woman taken in adultery is one that is not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Scripture.  One should be careful about trying to build one's argument primarily on a text that is a major variant.

b) Does Jesus, in the story, say that the death penalty is irrelevant?  
- If so, does that mean that the "period of grace" was already in place at that time? That's not usually what I hear from dispensationals.  If it was already in place, what were Jesus and the disciples doing celebrating Passover?
- If not, why conclude that the death penalty is irrelevant?

c) What is the point of Jesus saying, in the story, that the person without sin should cast the first stone?  Was it to convict them of the fact that this woman supposedly taken in the act was being brought without the man who allegedly was engaged in the act with her?  How is just to prosecute only the adulteress and not also the adulterer?  In other words, was the point that the prosecution was not being handled justly?  There were a lot of irregularities to her trial, if the trial is judged by the standard of 2nd temple Judaism or the Torah itself.

d) How would a point about ending the civil death penalty (either for adultery) fit within the context of John's gospel, where the story is currently found?  It doesn't have anything particularly to do with the context.

e) If the conclusion is "no death penalty" because all human judges themselves have sins, why wouldn't this apply also to crimes like murder, rape, and kidnapping?  Or perhaps these objectors would also say that the death penalty is forbidden in those cases as well.

f) But where is the justification for stopping at the death penalty?  How can such judges impose any penalty at all, if the standard for judgment is that they must be sinless to condemn her?

g) How does Jesus' own non-condemnation of the woman fit within this rubric?  He was sinless, yet he did not condemn the woman.  Why was it?  The lack of sufficient witnesses?  The lack of proper judicial process?  Or was Jesus' point instead about God's mercy to sinful men?

In short, this appeal to the story of the woman caught in adultery is ill-advised.  Not only is there the canonical question, but even assuming its canonicity it does not point at an end to the death penalty either for adultery or in general.  Yet, if it pointed to an end to the death penalty for adultery, its grounds of justification would logically apply to all punishment for any crime, since none of us are sinless.  That conclusion is absurd, demonstrating the absurdity of the underlying position whose logical conclusion it is.


Monday, September 09, 2013

A Couple Quick Comparisons between Dr. White and Dr. Caner

Ergun Caner said: "I got my doctorate in Global Apologetics because I'm curious." (source)
James White actually has earned degrees in apologetics:
  • Th.M. Apologetics, Faraston Seminary, 1995
  • Th.D., Apologetics, Columbia Evangelical Seminary, 1998
  • D.Min, Apologetics, Columbia Evangelical Seminary, 2002
Ergun Caner said that he debated Shabir Ally (source).
James White actually has debated Shabir Ally:
  • Is the New Testament We Possess Today Inspired? May, 2006, vs. Shabir Ally, Biola University
  • Did Jesus Offer Himself on the Cross as a Willing Sacrifice for the Sins of God's People?, October, 2007, vs. Shabir Ally, Seattle, WA
  • Is Jesus Prophesied in the OT? vs. Shabir Ally, November 17, 2008, London, England
  • Is Muhammad Prophesied in the Bible? vs. Shabir Ally, November 17, 2008, London England

Early Ninth Century Commentaries on the Pauline Epistles

Studying the patristic era authors is hard enough.  There is a wealth of writings, which nevertheless only represents a tiny fraction of the actual men of the era, much of which is not particularly accessible in English today.  The medieval period is even more of a challenge.  For example:
From the years 800-860, the Pauline epistles received more exegetical attention than any other scriptural texts. There are eleven extant works of either homiletic selections (2) or comprehensive commentaries (9) on the Pauline epistles. Six authors are responsible for the nine commentaries: Alcuin, Claudius of Turin, Rabanus Maurus, Haimo of Auxerre, four by Florus of Lyons, and the Collectaneum by Sedulius Scottus.
(Michael C. Sloan, The Harmonious Organ of Sedulius Scottus, p. 40)

I've previously mentioned the commentary by Claudius of Turin (here), and you may have heard of some of the other writers.  Nevertheless, it is hard to find English translations of these commentaries.  The same problem seems to hold true through to the Reformation, and even into the Reformation, with many Reformation-era Latin works remaining only available in Latin.  This makes the task of historical theology that much more difficult for English-speaking students.  It also effectively cuts off most English speaking Christians from the thoughts of the medieval authors.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Eaten Verse of the Quran - A Shia Fabrication?

I recently had an interesting exchange with a Muslim who insisted that the Quran has been perfectly preserved. I pointed out that according to at least one hadith, one verse of the Quran was eaten. The Muslim responded that I should not believe what he claimed was a Shia fabrication.

The relevant hadith can be found in one of the six major Sunni collections of Hadith:
It was narrated that 'Aishah said: “The Verse of stoning and of breastfeeding an adult ten times was revealed, and the paper was with me under my pillow. When the Messenger of Allah died, we were preoccupied with his death, and a tame sheep came in and ate it.”
Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1944 (Arabic reference: Book 9, Hadith 2020). The copy of Ibn Majah I used has designated this as a "good" (Hasan) hadith (see here).

Essentially the same story can also be found cited this way:
[Narrated 'Aisha] "The verse of the stoning and of suckling an adult ten times were revealed, and they were (written) on a paper and kept under my bed. When the messenger of Allah expired and we were preoccupied with his death, a goat entered and ate away the paper."
Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal. vol. 6. p. 269; Sunan Ibn Majah, p. 626; Ibn Qutbah, Tawil Mukhtalafi 'l-Hadith (Cairo: Maktaba al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya. 1966) p. 310; As-Suyuti, ad-Durru 'l-Manthur, vol. 2. p. 13
I found it cited that way, interestingly enough, in a web page that appears to be Shi'ite, criticizing the Sunnis for their adherence to ahadith. The page argues:
It needs no great intelligence to see that this theory of abrogation of recital cannot be of any use in such cases. If a surah or verse was recited in the life of the Prophet and then it was lost either because the reciters were killed in a battle, or because a goat devoured it or for any other reason, then the question arises: Who had the right to abrogate a Qur'anic verse after the Prophet's death? Had any other prophet come after Muhammad (peace be on him and his progeny)? That is why Sayyid al-Khu'i has said, "It is clear that the theory of abrogation of recital (naskhu 't-tilawah) is exactly the same as belief in alteration in and omission from the Qur'an."
Therefore we have to strictly adhere to the well established principle that any hadith going against the Qur'an must be discarded and 'thrown to the wall' - if it cannot be reinterpreted in an acceptable way.  

One downside of this particular Shi'ite approach to the hadith material is that the person will never be able to persuaded by the historical evidence that demonstrates that the Qur'an has not been perfectly preserved.

Moreover, the Shi'ite argument cited above presumes that the Qur'an was in a fixed form by the death of Mohammed.  That assumption, however, is open to question.  There are good reasons (such as the very hadith mentioned above) to believe that the Qur'an was not in an assembled form at least until Abu Bak'r recognized the danger arising from the fact that so many reciters of the Qur'an had died in battle during the battle of Yamama.  Moreover, there is reason to believe that the form of the Qur'an created by the first caliph (Abu Bak'r) is not necessarily the same form as that provided by Uthman (the third caliph).