Judgment

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NO, SENATOR PACQUIAO, the Bible does not endorse the death penalty.

Since you often quote from scripture, let’s talk scripture. I’m sure we will understand each other.

Yes, the Old Testament provided for capital punishment in extreme cases, and so you will find verses allowing for the stoning to death of adulterers and murderers and rebels and blasphemers. However, we no longer live in Old Testament times. As someone who attempts to teach the Word, you should know the hermeneutical principle that the portions of the old covenant which are not affirmed in the New Testament are not now binding upon Christians.*

The passages that mention the death penalty involve historico-cultural contexts that should be considered in interpretation. They must also be read against other texts that shed light on God’s will on this issue. We who teach the sacred word are mandated to “declare the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). So, we must look at verses like Ezekiel 33:1, which says:

As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die? 

Or James 4:12, which says:

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Or Romans 12:19, which says,

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Or Matthew 5:21-22, where Jesus Himself modified the command on murder:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

If we do not study these particulars, we come to a literal, even legalistic conclusion that ignores the “whole counsel of God.” This is highly irresponsible, and betrays the biblical message.

You said in your recent interview on Unang Balita“Opo, totoo ‘yan (na inosente si Jesus Christ). In fact, it happened that way para tayo ay may kaligtasan. Ang ibig ko lang sabihin, noon pa man ay may batas na ng parusang kamatayan ang government. Nagkataon lang na inosente si Jesus Christ.”

First of all, you should know that the death of Christ was not an accident of history, and that in fact His deliberate incarnation, passion and resurrection completely fulfilled God’s redemptive purpose. Secondly, the incidental fact that the Romans meted out capital punishment does not in any way mean that the Bible espouses it. Or that we should.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible pours forth life. Jesus died that we should experience life in abundance (John 10:10). As the ultimate goal and gift of God, we are promised eternal life (John 3:16). Thus we as Christ’s followers should militate for life and do our utmost to protect it, In God’s view, there is always hope for those who submit to Him.

The grace of God provides for repentance; indeed, the scriptures attest that transformation is possible. We are mandated to share this good news with the world and not gleefully consign to death those who fail this government’s standards. This (and any) government only derives its authority from God and does not take God’s place, though Duterte and his minions often sound like they have assumed divinity.

We humans are imperfect arbiters of morality and guilt. “For everyone has sinned;” the apostle Paul observed, “we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23). Though we may hastily adjudge and condemn others, we might one day find ourselves in the dock, desiring fairness and the latitude of a second chance. The laws must be framed in the light of God’s justice, true – but also with His grace! – and not with the literal legalism of the pharisee. Those who call themselves Christians in the legislature should understand this, and more so, those among them who undertake to preach God’s word.

You are a Christian, a teacher of scripture, and a lawmaker, Mr. Pacquiao. This is your opportunity to apply the whole counsel of God responsibly, a chance to serve your God and your country. Be careful how you judge, sir, “for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2). You know this.

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

James 3:1

*While Christians are no longer under the OT law, we should understand our relationship with it. Fee and Stuart in Ch. 9 of “How to Read The Bible For All Its Worth” give six guidelines:
(1) The OT law is a covenant that brings blessings or curses.
(2) The OT is not our testament.
(3) Two kinds of old-covenant stipulations, Israelite civil laws and ritual laws, have clearly not been renewed in the new covenant.
(4) Part of the old covenant (such as some aspects of the OT ethical laws) is renewed in the new covenant (e.g., the two chief laws of loving God and loving your neighbor).
(5) All of the OT law is still the Word of God for us even though it is not still the command of God to us.
(6) Only that which is explicitly renewed from OT law can be considered part of the NT “law of Christ”.

from Douglas Stuart and Gordon D. Fee, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Chapter 9: The Law(s): Covenant Stipulations for Israel (Grand Rapids: ZONDERVAN, © 1981, 1993, 2003, 2014)

 

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