So you think God’s law is negative, harsh, and cruel? Then you haven’t considered what cruelty men engage when they are not bound by it. Witness one Thomas Jefferson—Mr. Wall of Separation himself.
I saw this a while back, and filed it away. Then I saw it pop up again yesterday in a couple conservative blogs. But instead of analyzing it from the perspective of biblical law, conservatives who find this seem to use it just to show liberals that even the “founding fathers” rejected homosexuality in society.
Fine. But they instituted an even worse tyranny in law by departing from biblical law in the process. Let’s acknowledge that, too.
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson and a group of other Virginian legislators drafted a revision of law, certainly in view of independence. In large part, they consulted ancient English Common Law, which was to a large degree based upon biblical law. At other points, however, Jefferson noted that they specifically departed from biblical principle and gave way to “public sentiment.”
This departure is clear in regard to sexual crimes. In regard to sodomy, Jefferson and “public sentiment” apparently called for torture and maiming. Section 14 of “crimes and punishments” proclaims:
Whosoever shall be guilty of rape, [polygamy,] or sodomy with man or woman, shall be punished; if a man, by castration, if a woman, by boring through the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch in diameter at the least.
And you thought theonomy was harsh.
Whatever else could be said about such punishments, Scripture does not mention any penalty for a woman involved in “sodomy”—whatever that means. Maiming as criminal punishment in general is not allowed per biblical law. Such a law is disproportionate and tyrannical. To institute a penalty of boring a minimum 1/2″ hole in the cartilage of her nose is radically cruel.
Despite its modern detractors of all sorts, biblical law is actually a protection to the life, person, and liberties of individuals superior to the unbounded cruelties possible under humanistic codes. Especially when informed by “public sentiment,” there is no limit to the terrors that could be—for the voice of the mob is often close to madness.
But it is a heritage among theologians to decry biblical law and thus open the door to unbelievable nonsense such as Jefferson’s maiming laws. Going all the way back to Calvin (and far beyond), we hear arguments that Mosaic penalties are not required for the express reason that sometimes, penalties harsher and more draconian than Moses are needed! Yes, that is in part what Calvin argued:
The law of God forbids to steal. The punishment appointed for theft in the civil polity of the Jews may be seen in Exodus 22. Very ancient laws of other nations punished theft by exacting the double of what was stolen, while subsequent laws made a distinction between theft manifest and not manifest. Other laws went the length of punishing with exile, or with branding, while others made the punishment capital [for theft!]. Among the Jews, the punishment of the false witness was to “do unto him as he had thought to have done with his brother” (Deut. 19:19). In some countries, the punishment is infamy, in others hanging, in others crucifixion. All laws alike avenge murder with blood, but the kinds of death are different. In some countries, adultery was punished more severely, in others more leniently. Yet we see that amidst this diversity they all tend to the same end. For they all with one mouth declare against those crimes which are condemned by the eternal law of God—viz. murder, theft, adultery, and false witness; though they agree not as to the mode of punishment. This is not necessary, nor even expedient. There may be a country which, if murder were not visited with fearful punishments, would instantly become a prey to robbery and slaughter. There may be an age requiring that the severity of punishments should be increased. . . . One nation might be more prone to a particular vice, were it not most severely repressed.
What we see here is the rejection of biblical standards for punishment, and with Jefferson, the tyranny that can ensue. What may seem to some like leniency and progress opens the door to cruelty, inequity, and vengeance. Men think they can handle crime better than God. Men think they can be more merciful, more just, or wiser than God. And they fail. Next thing you know, the entire society is turned upside down and all justice—even the very institution of marriage—are perverted at their legal root.
Why? Because men abandoned God’s law—which is to say that men abandoned God. Men decided they could play lawgiver, which is to say men decided they could play God. And in the area of crime and punishment, this is a play with deep historical roots. Soon, you have a wall of separation so absolute and unfounded, humanists are unhinged and their cruelty roams the earth with them.
Justice is not defined by the age, the public, the nation, or the sentiment. It is defined by God. Until Christians accept this humanists will rule and tyranny with them. As long as Christians let humanism define crime and punishment, they are cutting off their nose to spite their face—or at least boring a half inch hole in it.