Retributive Justice–further thoughts

Brian Auten over at the Boars Head Tavern has drawn attention to my previous post and asked a very salient question about the latter portion: 

“How does this work if it’s about “redress of a wrong suffered” as well as innocents who are in ongoing-but-perhaps-not-immediately-clear danger?   That is, what happens when you come upon the someone who killed your mama three years ago, and you know that same someone is, or really appears to be, planning to kill all of the other mamas in your neighborhood?  I just wonder about the frequency of situations, particularly regarding state actions, where “redress of a wrong suffered” isn’t bound up in all sorts of connected concerns over the protection of innocents and tranquillitas ordinis.”

Somewhat bizarrely, the ensuing discussion of my post over there has centered merely on the question of whether in my sentence “However, I’m with Paul on this one, who had no hesitation in calling himself “the chief of sinners” even when he clearly was not” I am “explaining away Scripture”  Be that as it may, Auten’s question is a very good one, and one that I half-hoped someone would raise.

Essentially, what he’s saying is that, in political practice, the distinction between retributive justice and what we might call “protective justice” (presumably there is a proper term for this, but not knowing it, I shall coin this one) tends to break down.  This objection requires some very careful thinking through, and here’s a first attempt.

 

For clarity, I’d like to distinguish here between foreign policy and domestic policy.  In foreign policy, the argument would run something like this: the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.  Ok, there’s nothing we can do about that now–we can’t protect Pearl Harbor after the fact.  So would taking the war to them thus count as retributive justice?  On my account, would I have to say that we could only legitimately fight the Japanese *while* they were bombing Pearl Harbor, and then would have to wait until they attacked again somewhere else before we could legitimately resist again?  No, I would not want to say that, not as a general principle at any rate.  That would be to artificially break down a “war” into a series of isolated engagements, pretending that one could not speak of a “state of war” existing between those engagements.  If someone has opened hostilities, and certainly appears to be planning to continue hostilities, to continue to attack innocent people unjustly, then one can certainly take action against them as an act of “protective justice” to the extent necessary to prevent their further attacks (note that this does not mean that “preemptive strike” in which one claims license to act based on the mere assumption that they will attack, is justified).  This would be the only basis, in my mind, upon which you could seek to justify our war in Afghanistan (although I am highly skeptical that in this particular case, that justification ends up working; and in any case, the war has often rhetorically been justified in terms of retribution).  On the other hand, if it appeared that the enemy, having stricken their wicked blow, was ready for their part to go on their way and leave you alone, then I think Christian political ethics would require that you let them do that–to take the war to them at this point would be motivated by retribution.  Now, one will say, “Yeah, but if you do that, you’ll simply encourage them (or other bad guys) to attack again another time, or to attack someone else, convinced that they can get away with it.”  Let’s hold that thought, and return to it, since the following point relates to it.

Now, what about in the domestic sphere?  A criminal kills your mama.  Three years later, he’s found.  Should he be executed, now, upon principles of retributive justice?  If we say no, then what about the fact that, as Auten says, he might go around killing other people’s mamas?  Does retributive justice equal protective justice, in this case?  Well, I suppose it depends.  If he is in fact in a mad rampage around the neighborhood, systematically killing people’s mamas, then he needs to be stopped, no doubt about it; hopefully this need not involve killing him, but perhaps it might.  But put this way, it is clearly an example of protective justice–nothing retributive about it.  And more often than not, incarceration will do the trick, offering protection without retribution (not that I think incarceration should be our first choice, far from it; but it may serve as a last resort).  So this is not, I think, Auten’s point.  Rather, I expect he has in mind the principle of “deterrence.”  Someone does something wicked and violent, and unless they are punished somehow, others will be tempted to do the same thing.  It is quite interesting, actually, that this is the primary basis upon which the death penalty is now justified–it is a utilitarian argument.  Historically, this argument did play some role, but people were often comfortable to speak in terms of the duty of the state to exact justice in a quite abstract sense.  Nowadays, people shy away from that, and argue from deterrence.  Now, my problem is that in fact, when the Old Testament talks of retributive punishment, it does not seem to have any interest in deterrence.  The death penalty is a matter of purging the land of the one who has dishonored God.  It is indeed a cultic matter as much as it is a merely judicial matter.  Other penalties often have similar logics.  So I am quite hesitant to resort to the principle of deterrence.  My sense is that deterrence (and here is my pacifistic side speaking) represents too much of an attempt to take matters into our own hands, rather than trusting in God; represents too much of a sense that the most obvious and most forceful gesture is necessarily the most effective.  Here, I want to embrace the counter-logic of Christ, who seeks to show that a non-violent response can often bring the enemy to his knees much more effectively than a violent one.  I suspect that, with a little imagination, we could find much more effective ways of preventing people from murdering people than the death penalty.  

Of course, there’s certainly other kinds of “retribution” besides the death penalty.  No doubt part of what Auten had in mind was the need for punishments of infractions of all sorts of laws, as deterrents to maintain order in society (say, imprisonment for assault or theft).  Of course, I have far less reservations about what we might call “non-violent retribution,” but I would still like to ask whether we could not confine ourselves to a penal code that was restitutive and therapeutic rather than retributive.  “Restitutive” would mean the requirement that any harm done to another’s person or property would require repayment or service (with the goal of reconciliation), as opposed to fines or imprisonment.  “Therapeutic” would mean penalties aiming to induce discipline and overcome vice in the offending individual, rather than simply to make him suffer “because he deserved it.”  Obviously, it is the inability of the death penalty to restore anything to an offended party, or to be of any benefit to the guilty party, that makes it a pure example of retributive justice, and hence so objectionable. 

Now, to come back briefly to the sphere of foreign policy.  The remarks I made above about trusting God instead of taking matters into our own hands and about non-violent responses often being more effective in the long run than violent ones certainly apply here.  However, this doesn’t mean being stupid, and it doesn’t mean mere “appeasement.”  A bad guy attacks someone, and gets away with it.  Does that mean we go and punish him to teach him a lesson, and to deter him and others from attacking anyone else?  No, I don’t think so.  However, we can diplomatically isolate him.  We can prepare strong defenses or make an alliance to dissuade him from attacking again.  So what I am saying does not mean an abdication of government or a suicidal foreign policy.  It does mean, however, that we work to end the cycle of provocations and paybacks that fuel so many of the world’s conflicts by showing a willingness to renounce vengeance and offer reconciliation, thus depriving our enemies of martyrs and recruits.  

 

Anyway, there’s a stab at it.  Clearly, this raises at least as many questions as it answers, but that seems to always be the nature of ethics.

19 thoughts on “Retributive Justice–further thoughts

  1. Bradley

    I'm with you emotionally here, but haven't come quite this far rationally. Yes, it feels right that Christ's atonement would have removed the need for any earthly attempts at retributive justice. But is that actually true? I'm just not sure. Throughout the entire OT, beginning with Noah, we have commands to put to death murderers. Anybody else can be redeemed, anybody else can be forgiven, or perhaps simply pay a fee or be banished. But murderers must be executed, because blood requires blood. That's the consistent requirement throughout the OT. If a principle that huge had changed, surely the apostles would've mentioned it? Surely we would have some indication, explicitly, that under the new status quo not even murderers need to die? It seems that, lacking such an indication, we must stay with the OT status quo. Murderers must be executed.

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  2. Bradley

    "If someone has opened hostilities, and certainly appears to be planning to continue hostilities, to continue to attack innocent people unjustly, then one can certainly take action against them as an act of "protective justice" to the extent necessary to prevent their further attacks (note that this does not mean that 'preemptive strike' in which one claims license to act based on the mere assumption that they will attack, is justified)."Minor quibble here: Why wouldn't the same principle apply to well-justified preemptive strikes? If you can clearly see they plan to open hostilities, how is that different from clearly seeing that they plan to continue hostilities?

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  3. Donny

    Yeah, I'm a little confused as to why the OT example isn't more central here. Remember, Brad, that Romans 12:19-20 is quoting the OT. The idea of letting God handle vengeance wasn't a new concept, and it was apparently consonant with the public executing/punishing criminals to make restitution, from capital punishment to repayment after theft. Apparently there is some sort of distinction between the individual and the community.Of course, it's not a simplistic distinction. We still have the redeemer of blood, who seems to be some union of the two, since he's avenging the blood of his kin, but it's also some sort of communal act.

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  4. Brad Littlejohn

    "I'm with you emotionally here, but haven't come quite this far rationally." Oh dear. If you hadn't convinced me before that you were with me rationally, I might not have dared to post this publicly. You, my friend, are a double-minded man, unstable in all your ways.As you and I discussed before, the general argument against continuity with the OT on this is that the execution of murderers always has a cultic dimension–it is a matter of expiating the blood-guiltiness that has come upon the land. Christ's sacrifice is the expiation for bloodguiltiness upon the land, in light of which God no longer requires blood for blood. That is the gist of it, of course. I am well aware that it needs to be parsed out quite a bit more to provide an adequate theological account of such a monumental shift. My purpose here was simply to spell out some of the ethical implications, but I do hope to go back and work out more adequately what the theological groundwork looks like. If a principle that huge had changed, surely the apostles would've mentioned it? Surely we would have some indication, explicitly, that under the new status quo not even murderers need to die? An argument from silence is a dangerous thing. One might easily answer that the apostles needed to do no such thing because it was widely recognized and never disputed among the early Christian communities, so there was no need to write explicitly on it. Or else simply that few enough early Christians were in positions of civil office that it didn't seem relevant. Certainly, the testimony of the early Church against the death penalty would lend credence to such an account.Minor quibble here: Why wouldn't the same principle apply to well-justified preemptive strikes? If you can clearly see they plan to open hostilities, how is that different from clearly seeing that they plan to continue hostilities?Heh, I wondered if someone would ask that. I have a knee-jerk antipathy to pre-emptive strikes, because it seems so easy for the principle to be abused. For every legitimate pre-emptive strike, there have probably been 50 illegitimate ones. I guess I ought rather to say that there would be an enormous burden of proof that would need to be satisfied to warrant preemptive strike to protect ones citizens; a burden that is far, far easier to satisfy if an attack has already been made, a state of war exists, and it is simply a question of trying to figure out how much they intend to continue attacking. So, for now I'll concede that there's not an absolute theoretical distinction, but an important practical distinction.To Donny–obviously, my brief remark to Brad B. about the OT above applies here. Bringing up Romans 12:19-20 is certainly relevant. If "vengeance is mine" in the OT does not outlaw human execution of God's vengeance, then why should we suppose that it does in the NT, especially when Rom. 12:19 is so close to 13:4, which apparently rubber-stamps the human execution of divine vengeance? This is a very common reading of Rom. 12:19-13:4, and certainly not something to be dismissed lightly. But I would argue, with other exegetes, that the surrounding context of Romans 12:19 makes this reading rather difficult. 12:14-21 is all about blessing the enemy rather than cursing him, in language that while drawing on the Old Testament, seems quite different from it. "Cursing" means calling down God's vengeance, so apparently we're not supposed to call down God's vengeance on enemies. For Paul to then turn around and encourage us to welcome and indeed be the instruments of God's vengeance seems incongruous. It is certainly possible to read Romans 12 simply as laying out a rather standard private morality ethic that most authorities, Christian or not, would happily recommend to their subjects, and then Romans 13 as authorizing an alternative ethic for the public domain. Such a reading was for a long time quite common. But I'd like to think, given the radicalism of the rest of Romans, that something more is going on. However, clearly to lay out this out convincingly would require some very detailed exegetical argument. Don't worry–I'll finish that book sooner or later.

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  5. Bradley

    Sorry. I confess I do change my mind quickly…but only when confronted with good reasons to do so! 🙂 And it's usually not a flip-flop back and forth; it's generally a flop-flop progressing forward.In any case, that's not what's going on here. If some random dude on the street asked me what I thought about the death penalty, I would say, "I think it's no longer applicable in the NT. Probably." It's my default position, and I would provide the same reasons above that you've given, like we've talked about before. In fact, I think I might even have been the first to point out the primarily cultic dimension to you, in our podcast that one time with Adam N., when I was talking about cities of refuge and the death of the High Priest (though I might be remembering incorrectly, and it doesn't matter much either way). Nevertheless, I'm not entirely sure about the doctrine. I have unanswered questions and objections reverberating throughout my skull. So, if somebody wrote a blogpost vigorously defending the position, I would inquire and probe deeper, as I have here, hoping to find out more. On the other hand, if somebody made a blogpost defending the death penalty as beautiful sweet justice, I would oppose them. So that's officially where I stand on this issue. Does that make sense of why I was hiding behind your opinions on Facebook, rather than declaring my own? 🙂 So although I do tend to change my mind quickly, my problem with this issue is that for the past year I've had difficulty finding my footing at all.

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  6. Bradley

    "Cursing" means calling down God's vengeance, so apparently we're not supposed to call down God's vengeance on enemies."So then, what about imprecatory psalms? I still struggle to understand this. My default position is that we should sing the imprecatory psalms in a nuanced manner, through the mature Christian lens of hating the sin rather than hating the sinner. So when we call down destruction on God's enemies, we should do so without hatred of individual men and women, but with a full and appropriate hatred of wickedness itself. And when we speak of "destruction", that can also be understood as conversion to Christ (which is a kind of destruction and death unto itself). Just because psalms are imprecatory doesn't mean they can't also be loving. Loving our enemies was just as right in the OT as it is in the NT. The OT never tells us to hate our enemies; see Matt 5:43. We are to hate evil, and sometimes in our childish ways we equate evil with certain men. Perhaps sometimes that's appropriate—God basically equated the Canaanites with evil incarnate, which is why he commanded the Israelites to slaughter them mercilessly. But aside from such childishly easy situations as pure-evil-Canaanites, loving our enemies is a nuanced command. It must always be a mix of love and hatred, because what God feels towards them is always a mix of love and hatred. Perhaps this nuanced, mature-Christian interpretation of hating our enemies is how the imprecatory psalms should always have been understood. In any case, we MUST make sure that our understanding of Romans 12 is consistent with the rest of the Bible, or else have a good reason to explain the discrepancy. So then? What about the imprecatory psalms, Bradford? I'm unsatisfied with my default answer above.

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  7. Donny

    To Donny–obviously, my brief remark to Brad B. about the OT above applies here. Bringing up Romans 12:19-20 is certainly relevant. If "vengeance is mine" in the OT does not outlaw human execution of God's vengeance, then why should we suppose that it does in the NT, especially when Rom. 12:19 is so close to 13:4, which apparently rubber-stamps the human execution of divine vengeance? This is a very common reading of Rom. 12:19-13:4, and certainly not something to be dismissed lightly. But I would argue, with other exegetes, that the surrounding context of Romans 12:19 makes this reading rather difficult. 12:14-21 is all about blessing the enemy rather than cursing him, in language that while drawing on the Old Testament, seems quite different from it. "Cursing" means calling down God's vengeance, so apparently we're not supposed to call down God's vengeance on enemies. For Paul to then turn around and encourage us to welcome and indeed be the instruments of God's vengeance seems incongruous.

    But I wasn't appealing to Romans 13. I was saying that clearly, whatever Paul's teaching is, he sees it as consonant with the OT. You say that his language "seems quite different from [the OT]." Where are you getting that from Romans 12? Again, he quotes the OT repeatedly.This is the crux of the issue for me. To say that the NT is doing something so fundamentally different, when the OT is so often quoted in support of NT teaching, just feel strange an off-balance.The claim about Christ cleansing the land and removing the need for capital punishment has some potential, since it would actually be in line with the OT and not just some sort of brushing aside of OT barbaric, bloodthirstiness, but not only does it need a lot of fleshing out (e.g., remember that the high priest's death seems to have cleansed the land for manslaughter), it also seems to fly in the face of God's own justice. Does God no longer bring the wicked to justice, now that Christ has died? That doesn't fit at all with NT, and we have specific examples of the saints calling down God's justice against the wicked (Revelation). The land certainly doesn't seem cleansed there, at least in a way that removes the need for retribution.To attack retributive justice seems to attack the core of judgment and justice in the OT (and also the NT, for that matter). God brings the sins of the wicked back on their own head. Those who shed man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. That's just the way He, and so the world, works.Of course, if you aren't arguing that the very nature of things has changed, then your point is more about whether men are permitted to administer that justice anymore. But why would we lose privileges (and it is a privilege; see Psalm 149) after Christ?Now, you could argue for some sort of better, higher version of justice in the sword of the gospel and all that. But the arguments you're making seem more wide-sweeping than that, and hence they seem more strangely at odds with OT patterns.Okay, I've rambled long enough. Have at it.

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  8. Brad Littlejohn

    Bradley,Gotcha. That makes sense. I'm far from confident about all this myself, so I'm probably not in that different a place than you. But, since I'm the one with the blog, the way it usually plays out is that I'm the one who posts the bold experimental thesis, and you're the one that raises all the objections. Not fair–you should get a blog, or post on this one.Regarding imprecatory psalms, your rambling answer there is as good as any that I've gotten. Of course, I don't have that much problem with saying that the imprecatory psalms represent an immature attitude that is transcended in Christ. Indeed, that would be a very easy position to take, it seems to me, if it weren't for a few bits in Revelation. (Revelation always causes trouble, doesn't it? You can see why the Church Fathers were so hesitant to put it in the canon.) In fact, a great many Christians (the majority, so far as I can tell), have taken something like this view. In any case, although I suggested that Romans 12:14 seems to run against imprecatory psalms, there does not seem to be a complete repudiation of the idea of calling down God's vengeance in the NT (as Donny suggests with Rom. 12:19). I do think we still have to have a place in our theology for God's vengeance against evil being a good thing, and thereby something to be welcomed in some respect. I just always want to hold this in tension with the lament aspect, with the "God does not desire a death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his ways and live." This is why I always come back to Lk. 19:41-44–Jesus weeps over the coming judgment on Jerusalem, and yet we know from elsewhere in the NT that this is somehow *his* judgment on Jerusalem. Perhaps it's better to try to make sense of all this in literary terms, rather than systematic theology terms. What experience do you have when Gollum gets his just deserts and gets fried along with the ring? A sense of relief and fittingness, yes, but not of jubilation. A sense of grief and tragedy, but not dejection. Donny–Re: Romans 12, no I get you. My point is that, while quoting the OT, Paul is putting it in a new context that gives it a new twist. To say that vengeance belongs to God in a passage where you have just told people not to call down God's vengeance on people (as "do not curse" would seem to mean), suggests that there is some kind of shift.On the larger point, methinks you have possibly misunderstood me, or are not sure how to understand me. You say, "Of course, if you aren't arguing that the very nature of things has changed, then your point is more about whether men are permitted to administer that justice anymore." Yes, that latter is what I'm arguing. Nowhere in here have I contested the continuing reality, and goodness, of divine judgment. That would seem to lead to universalism. Now, it need not, I should add, and there are many very excellent and godly Christians who feel prepared to argue that Christ reveals to us a God who in no way takes pleasure in the death of the wicked, and that their downfall is always their own doing (as with Gollum), rather than the result of an act of retribution on God's part. I'm on board with a good deal of this, but don't see that I can go all the way here. So, I've always contended not for the view that says, "We shouldn't kill people because God doesn't kill people," but the view that says, "We shouldn't kill people because only God kills people," so to speak. Now, to this you have what seems like two quite pointed objections. One is that if Christ's death actually makes a difference of the sort I say it does, it would seem to imply not only that we shouldn't avenge bloodguiltiness, but that God won't do so either–that the judgment upon Christ is an end to all judgment. And that would again appear to lead to universalism. Possibly, but not necessarily. For the continuing judgment that God brings upon the wicked is of a different order. A murderer can be pardoned because of the sacrifice of Christ, but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit cannot escape judgment. It is only sins against God himself that continue to require divine judgment, not sins against man. At least, there's a theory. To provide an adequate theological foundation for this will, as I said, would require a great deal of further work. The other objection is that, as you say, participation in God's vengeance is a privilege for the saints (e.g., Psalm 149), and that in the New Covenant, we are given more, rather than fewer privileges. Why should we be robbed of this one? This is a forceful objection, and one that I have pondered from time to time. I think it would be easy enough to argue that, in fact, it is a higher privilege to fight against God's enemies with the sword of the Spirit, than with physical swords (notice the transformation of the "two-edged sword" imagery of Ps. 149 in the New Testament, including Revelation), that we have been promoted–we no longer do God's dirty work, but do the nobler work of converting. Worshipping by sacrificing animals was a privilege for the saints in the OT. Do we say that we have been robbed of a privilege because we are no longer allowed to do this? No, we have been given the higher privilege of worshipping by offering ourselves as living sacrifices. Perhaps something similar is going on with retribution. However, again, it would take a lot more theological work to flesh this out properly.Both of you may be interested to see that a very similar discussion has been raging on Byron's blog, spawned, of course, by the same original issue.

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  9. Donny

    Donny–Re: Romans 12, no I get you. My point is that, while quoting the OT, Paul is putting it in a new context that gives it a new twist. To say that vengeance belongs to God in a passage where you have just told people not to call down God's vengeance on people (as "do not curse" would seem to mean), suggests that there is some kind of shift.

    I understand the difficulty with the curse passage, but that seems like a remarkable weak argument when everything else in the context is consistent with the OT. Could it just be that we don't understand the OT thoroughly enough, and that's why we're imagining discontinuity?In fact, approach it from the other angle. What about the curse passage doesn't line up with the OT? Think through examples of men being persecuted. Think through Proverbs and the Law. Does that line up with what Paul says here? If not, why not? And why is Paul giving this command? What does he mean by it?It seems that leaping to OT-NT discontuity is hasty, and honestly, too easy of an answer.

    On the larger point, methinks you have possibly misunderstood me, or are not sure how to understand me. You say, "Of course, if you aren't arguing that the very nature of things has changed, then your point is more about whether men are permitted to administer that justice anymore." Yes, that latter is what I'm arguing. Nowhere in here have I contested the continuing reality, and goodness, of divine judgment. That would seem to lead to universalism. Now, it need not, I should add, and there are many very excellent and godly Christians who feel prepared to argue that Christ reveals to us a God who in no way takes pleasure in the death of the wicked, and that their downfall is always their own doing (as with Gollum), rather than the result of an act of retribution on God's part. I'm on board with a good deal of this, but don't see that I can go all the way here. So, I've always contended not for the view that says, "We shouldn't kill people because God doesn't kill people," but the view that says, "We shouldn't kill people because only God kills people," so to speak.

    Okay, that is good to hear. Thanks for the clarification.

    Now, to this you have what seems like two quite pointed objections. One is that if Christ's death actually makes a difference of the sort I say it does, it would seem to imply not only that we shouldn't avenge bloodguiltiness, but that God won't do so either–that the judgment upon Christ is an end to all judgment. And that would again appear to lead to universalism. Possibly, but not necessarily. For the continuing judgment that God brings upon the wicked is of a different order. A murderer can be pardoned because of the sacrifice of Christ, but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit cannot escape judgment. It is only sins against God himself that continue to require divine judgment, not sins against man. At least, there's a theory. To provide an adequate theological foundation for this will, as I said, would require a great deal of further work.

    I think you know that sounds remarkably weak. God doesn't bring to justice sins against other men? Does that at all fit the NT? Or history, for that matter? You're grasping here.

    The other objection is that, as you say, participation in God's vengeance is a privilege for the saints (e.g., Psalm 149), and that in the New Covenant, we are given more, rather than fewer privileges. Why should we be robbed of this one? This is a forceful objection, and one that I have pondered from time to time. I think it would be easy enough to argue that, in fact, it is a higher privilege to fight against God's enemies with the sword of the Spirit, than with physical swords (notice the transformation of the "two-edged sword" imagery of Ps. 149 in the New Testament, including Revelation), that we have been promoted–we no longer do God's dirty work, but do the nobler work of converting. Worshipping by sacrificing animals was a privilege for the saints in the OT. Do we say that we have been robbed of a privilege because we are no longer allowed to do this? No, we have been given the higher privilege of worshipping by offering ourselves as living sacrifices. Perhaps something similar is going on with retribution. However, again, it would take a lot more theological work to flesh this out properly.

    Yeah, I do think that's a good point, and I think, in general, that shift is true. But The idea of conversion isn't a brand new idea. It's more a shift in emphasis, a shift in actual power to convert, with the coming of the Spirit.Also, the analogy assumes that the death penalty, or any civil justice in general, has been in some way superceded in Christ. We see that with sacrifices. I don't necessarily see that with civil punishment. For example, if a thief steals, yes, we want to convert him. But what would we say he should do when he converts? Give back the money he stole, like Zaccheus. The principle of restitution is still here, and we still want sins/crimes to be made right. That pull for justice is definitely not gone.And maybe that's another thing to investigate. You could say, possibly, that the administration of restitution (how we go about accomplishing it) has changed from civil coercion to voluntary restitution through spiritual conversion. That at least would retain the restitution principles and not leave us with unfulfilled justice. Still a difficult argument to make, but it's more satisfying, I think, in the end.

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  10. Bradley

    "You could say, possibly, that the administration of restitution (how we go about accomplishing it) has changed from civil coercion to voluntary restitution through spiritual conversion."So when a murderer converts, he should kill himself? 😛

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  11. Donny

    Ha. Yes, thanks. So that doesn't even really work, at least for violent punishments.But focus on the broader point. The main reason I'm pushing restitution is that wrongs still need to be made right. Christ should, if anything, make this happen more, not less. He doesn't leave sin hanging, but he deals with it thoroughly. Why would Christ's coming mean sins between men are no longer dealt with in any unsatisfactory way?So if you're going to argue along spiritual lines, and say that civil punishments are replaced with the gospel and the Church (e.g. James Jordan arguing that excommunication in some way is NT version of capital punishment), justice still needs to be done. What does that mean for murder, if there's no death penalty? Well, if you argue that the land is cleansed, then blood no longer needs to be shed, so you could place it under the lex talionis laws, which do not require literal reciprocation. Instead of a literal eye for an eye, if I remember right, you can pay a fine. So for murder, perhaps a measure of repentant service?Of course, as I'm saying this, I myself just can't buy off on it. It just, in the end, doesn't see right, like there's still injustice left undealt with.

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  12. Brad Littlejohn

    A bit of confusion seems to have crept into the discussion, and it's best to try to clarify that before addressing anything else. At the latter part of his penultimate comment and in his reply to Bradley, Donny has started talking about "restitution" rather than "retribution." Now, at no point have I tried to argue for doing away with restitution. Of course, if you want to argue that, in point of fact, retribution and restitution are inseparable, then that would be an argument I would be interested to hear. But I have generally seen them as being clearly different. Restitution is a matter of making things right here in space and time, between individuals, giving back to the victim what was taken from them. Theft is of course the most obvious example, but the same principle can apply in many other situations–if I injure you, I should make things right by serving you or assisting you in some way, or if that is not possible, at least offering money. Retribution, on the other hand, does not restore anything to the victim, except perhaps a sense of satisfaction, but not a sense of satisfaction that I am very comfortable with. If I kill your mama, killing me does not bring your mama back–it does her no good and it does you no good. Killing me would simply serve the purpose of "equalizing the scales of justice" so to speak, "giving me what I deserve." And my question is whether this satisfaction of abstract justice, which is not the restitution of interpersonal injustice, still has a place in the world after the satisfaction of Christ.Now, to reply to a couple other points:I understand the difficulty with the curse passage, but that seems like a remarkable weak argument when everything else in the context is consistent with the OT. Could it just be that we don't understand the OT thoroughly enough, and that's why we're imagining discontinuityWell, I suppose it depends what you mean by "consistent'–I do believe that Christ fulfills the law, rather than abolishing it, so we shouldn't expect radical discontinuity. But there does seem to be a considerable shift in ethical posture (admittedly, one that we see already happening as the Old Testament progresses). Is love for the enemy completely irreconcilable with the Old Testament? Of course not. However, is it a major theme in the way it is in passages like Romans 12? Charity is the NT virtue, and that is what Paul is expounding here. As charity always desires the best for the other, it does not desire vengeance for the enemy, but seeks to reconcile him. I see this throughout Romans 12-13, not in one isolated phrase, "Bless and do not curse." But we could risk getting sidetracked here.I think you know that sounds remarkably weak. God doesn't bring to justice sins against other men? Does that at all fit the NT? Or history, for that matter? You're grasping here. Nah, not grasping, just musing. Perhaps you don't understand the point I'm trying to make here (or perhaps I don't understand it–we'll see). If Adolph Hitler had repented at the end of April, 1945, and begged God for forgiveness and pardon, would he have received it? The great scandal of the Gospel is that we have to say, "Yes." Catholic theology could not fully accept this scandal, and so posited purgatory, so that justice would still be done on wicked sinners who had repented. But Protestantism rejected this device. Ultimately, the only sin that eternally condemns a man before God is a refusal to accept God and his grace. That is the only point I was trying to make there. However, clearly God still does judge us for our works. How do we reconcile these two? In some ways, this has been the paradox of all Christian theology. A strict sola fide seems to imply that it really doesn't matter how we behave, and Christianity has naturally shied away from that. But Christianity has also had to shy away from a strict justice mentality–each person must receive reward in accord with how good or badly he has done. That is simply not so; God treats us as righteous in Christ, even when we are not, even if we are worse sinners than someone who has not received Christ. We must beware, then, of the mindset that says, as you did in your final comment, "It just, in the end, doesn't seem right, like there's still injustice left undealt with." For, even if we did bring temporal retribution on murderers, that doesn't fully fit the bill. It still feels like not enough–like you can't fully deal with injustice. The ultimate dealing with injustice happens on the cross, and we thus have to figure out how and why there is a continuing role for us to try to deal with injustice, and what form that is supposed to take. That's what I'm still wrestling with.To make sure we don't get off track in the big picture and lose sight of the particular issues, I want to re-emphasize what I think were the two key points under discussion. One is that I'm quite uncomfortable with using war as a tool of retribution–simply to punish our enemies for hurting us, rather than merely seeking to protect ourselves against them. You might say that my discomfort here is merely that of acting as a judge in our own cause, that I would be more comfortable if an international tribunal brought retribution on our enemy. Perhaps, though it would still seem that a Christian should not seek retribution at all. The second, which may not turn out to be as closely related as it has at first seemed here, is whether or not we are required to bring retribution on criminals–which means, above all, executing murderers. This is not, like the first case, a matter of acting as a judge in our own cause; it may in fact be a matter of acting as a judge in God's cause–if it is God who requires the blood of the murderer, then we must obey. This seems to be your argument. And my question is whether God still requires the blood of the murderer, since everywhere else in the Bible that God requires blood seems to be fulfilled in Christ. If he does not *require* it, then I think that such retribution can be shown on other grounds to be unjustifiable or at best unwise.

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  13. Bradley

    "retribution on criminals–which means, above all, executing murderers."Thanks for the clarity of separating out interpersonal restitution and abstract retribution. Good distinction. But you know, if we're separating out those two things, then there's only one action left that we can label as 'retribution': execution. Other forms of punishment could potentially be acts of restitution (depending on the attitude and rationale behind them). Execution is the only action we do that would fall into this category of retribution. If we dismembered a doctor because he dismembered a fetus (Ex 21:22-25), that would certainly qualify as retribution, but nobody does that these days…perhaps because "it just doesn't seem right." Or maybe we should dismember abortionists? Yikes. Probably not. I guess that's the question at hand.

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  14. Brad Littlejohn

    I think that I actually made all this fairly clear in the original post, for instance, in the second-to-last paragraph. My point is indeed that a non-retributive outlook will more affect "attitude and rationale"; it will not mean a cessation of the justice system. As you say, it is only at the point of capital punishment where we meet with something that can only be retributive (unless you take the utilitarian deterrent argument), and hence deserves special scrutiny.

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  15. Bradley

    I suppose you did make it clear in that paragraph. Hmm. In any case, now I've internalized it. :-)The utilitarian deterrent argument? Pshaw. Either we have the responsibility to execute murderers, or it's wrong to do so. I don't see any room for execution being a middle-ground option. "Oh hey, here's a clever way to deter violent crime, guys…we should try this out for a little while and analyze the murder statistics…"

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  16. Donny

    Brad, your last post was helpful to get us back on track, but I actually think some of the rabbit trails are more central to the issue. Here's the way I'm seeing it.First, the distinction between restitution and retribution is huge. You seem to be fine with restitution, but you have a problem with retribution. But I don't see the two as so separate. On my general reading the OT law, they actually seem very connected, and I think we honestly just need to study the law more to understand what those concepts mean and how they're connected. For example, check out Leviticus 24:17-23. Here we have a whole range of punishments, from "making it good" for taking an animal's life (think of the goring ox laws) to capital punishment for killing a person. They're all under the umbrella of eye for an eye, "making it good".However, elsewhere, capital punishment seems very unique. Something like Deuteronomy 21:1-9, where the so-called "cultic" elements of capital punishment are more apparent.The problem is that we can't separate the different portions or aspects of the law very easily. Concepts like restitution, retribution, atonement, land-cleansing, the sacrificial system, "justice" in general, etc. are all very tightly woven together in the law. That's why I'm a little skeptical when you want to retain restitution but toss retribution. How can we do this without doing violence to the Law?Of course, I'm not saying we can't do this at all. There's an element of picking-and-choosing, and I'm not advocating going back to animal sacrifices. But we need to make sure that the distinctions we're drawing aren't too arbitrary or ad hoc, and we can only do that if we actually understand the Law as whole system. And that's tough.For another example, take the reasoning for capital punishment. It has to do with cleansing the land, because blood, which is the life of a man, cries out from the ground. There's a ton packed into that reasoning: blood as life (which relates to the anti-blood-eating laws), the ground crying out as an agent for justice, cleansing blood, etc. Think back to Cain. Abel's blood cried out from the ground until his death was satisfied. What does that even mean? Why?I'm not saying Christ's death didn't affect anything; you're right, it seems that, with all the sacrificial/atonement language, something should change, if not in practice at least in language and meaning. But we can hardly figure that out if we don't understand the language and meaning in the OT.In other words, I think we need to understand the OT system better before we figure out how Christ's death affected it.Also, I think you're being unnecessarily hard on the OT. You seemed to claimed that charity isn't the primary virtue of the OT. But it is, and Christ even explicitly says it is. The whole law is summed up in which commands? Think back to OT laws on war. Aside from the laws about purging Canaan, they're actually remarkably defensive and peaceful. Israel was not a violent, warlike nation, or at least they weren't supposed to be. They were supposed to be priests to the world.Of course, at times, that involved killing people (war was a priestly act, for example, and so, it seems, was civil justice), and that just brings us back to what I was talking about above. What does it mean? I dunno, but it'd be cool to figure it out. Especially before we start positing discontinuity between Paul and Moses.

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  17. Donny

    And since I was talking about it, I start taking a very, very quick look at some of the eye for an eye language. The Leviticus 24 example is interested; in v. 18, the word translated "make it good" in the ESV is actually shalom.

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  18. Brad Littlejohn

    Sorry for the tardy comment replies. This blog is in vacation mode now. 🙂 Indeed, I had the opportunity to talk through some of these questions with Donny in person yesterday, so no need to continue the comment thread ad infinitum. Basically, I will grant that yes, a great deal of further attention to the original context and meaning of the OT laws is necessary to give a satisfactory account of just how the work of Christ affects them. And indeed, such an account would also depend upon a certain understanding of the atonement, of which there are several rival accounts. I had worked through these questions enough last year to my own tentative satisfaction, but I will have to do a lot more thorough work to present a full theological case. This is work that really needs to be done, it seems to me, because most people who are interested in transcending the Old Testament law in this regard have no interest in really thinking through and doing justice to the Old Testament. They are happy to just be semi-Marcionites and proclaim the New Testament God of love. And I agree with Donny that this won't cut it. So I completely agree with this remark:Also, I think you're being unnecessarily hard on the OT. You seemed to claimed that charity isn't the primary virtue of the OT. But it is, and Christ even explicitly says it is. The whole law is summed up in which commands? Think back to OT laws on war. Aside from the laws about purging Canaan, they're actually remarkably defensive and peaceful. Israel was not a violent, warlike nation, or at least they weren't supposed to be. They were supposed to be priests to the world. My point was that the Old Testament law itself does not make charity the central virtue around which the law is built. It is clearly there, and one can retrospectively identify it as the central virtue, as Christ himself does. But it is not made so central in the law's own self-presentation, which never says, "Here are the two great commandments." The New Testament takes up themes already there in the Old, and makes them central, explicit, and clearly cruciform in the way the OT did not. Bradley,Yes, I'm absolutely on the same page as you with this. Utilitarian=bogus. :-)Byron,Ah yes, "attributive"–I really need to go reread "Ways of Judgment." Thanks for both of those links, though. Both absolutely brilliant in their own ways–O'Donovan gives voice to all my concerns far more lucidly and judiciously than I could ever have managed to.

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