Reformed Baptist theologian Wayne Grudem speaks on the Bible and capital punishment.
About Wayne Grudem:
Grudem holds a BA from Harvard University, a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. In 2001, Grudem became Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary. Prior to that, he had taught for 20 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he was chairman of the department of Biblical and Systematic Theology.
Grudem served on the committee overseeing the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, and in 1999 he was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is a co-founder and past president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is the author of, among other books, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, which advocates a Calvinistic soteriology, the verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the body-soul dichotomy in the nature of man, and the complementarian (rather than egalitarian) view of gender equality.
what does it mean that man is made in the image of God?
is CP just about taking revenge?
what does CP say about the value of human life?
does CP apply to animals, too?
could the statements supporting CP be understood as symbolic?
one purpose of CP is to protecting the public
another purpose of CP is to deter further wrongdoing
but the Biblical purpose of CP is to achieve justice by retribution
does the Pope make a good argument against CP?
what is the role of civil government in achieving retribution?
do people in Heaven who are sinless desire God to judge sinners?
should crimes involving property alone be subject to CP?
is the Mosaic law relevant for deciding which crimes are capital today?
should violent crimes where no one dies be subject to CP?
is CP widespread in the world? why or why not?
what are some objections to CP from the Bible?
how do you respond to those objections to CP?
should civil government also turn the other cheek for all crimes?
what is the “whole life ethic” and is it Biblical?
what do academic studies show about the deterrence effect of CP?
how often have innocent people been executed in the USA?
should there be a higher burden of proof for CP convictions?
The Bible is awesome because it gives us knowledge about God’s character. How are we supposed to act in a way that is pleasing to God if we don’t know what he thinks of the issues of the day? We won’t know how we are supposed to act unless we know who God is first. And that’s why when we read the Bible we should be looking to find out the truth about who God is.
Have you ever heard Gary Habermas, Michael Licona or William Lane Craig defend the resurrection of Jesus in a debate by saying that the resurrection is the best explanation for the “minimal facts” about Jesus? The lists of minimal facts that they use are typically agreed to by their opponents during the debates. Minimal facts are the parts of the New Testament that meet a set of strict historical criteria. These are the facts that skeptical historians agree with, totally apart from any religious beliefs.
So what are the criteria that skeptical historians use to derive a list of minimal facts about Jesus?
The other way, more influential in contemporary New Testament scholarship, is to establish specific facts about Jesus without assuming the general reliability of the Gospels. The key here are the so-called “Criteria of Authenticity” which enable us to establish specific sayings or events in Jesus’ life as historical. Scholars involved in the quest of the historical Jesus have enunciated a number of these critieria for detecting historically authentic features of Jesus, such as dissimilarity to Christian teaching, multiple attestation, linguistic semitisms, traces of Palestinian milieu, retention of embarrassing material, coherence with other authentic material, and so forth.
It is somewhat misleading to call these “criteria,” for they aim at stating sufficient, not necessary, conditions of historicity. This is easy to see: suppose a saying is multiply attested and dissimilar but not embarrassing. If embarrassment were a necessary condition of authenticity, then the saying would have to be deemed inauthentic, which is wrong-headed, since its multiple attestation and dissimilarity are sufficient for authenticity. Of course, the criteria are defeasible, meaning that they are not infallible guides to authenticity. They might be better called “Indications of Authenticity” or “Signs of Credibility.”
In point of fact, what the criteria really amount to are statements about the effect of certain types of evidence upon the probability of various sayings or events in Jesus’ life. For some saying or event S and evidence of a certain type E, the criteria would state that, all things being equal, the probability of S given E is greater than the probability of S on our background knowledge alone. So, for example, all else being equal, the probability of some event or saying is greater given its multiple attestation than it would have been without it.
What are some of the factors that might serve the role of E in increasing the probability of some saying or event S? The following are some of the most important:
(1) Historical congruence: S fits in with known historical facts concerning the context in which S is said to have occurred.
(2) Independent, early attestation: S appears in multiple sources which are near to the time at which S is alleged to have occurred and which depend neither upon each other nor a common source.
(3) Embarrassment: S is awkward or counter-productive for the persons who serve as the source of information for S.
(4) Dissimilarity: S is unlike antecedent Jewish thought-forms and/or unlike subsequent Christian thought-forms.
(5) Semitisms: traces in the narrative of Aramaic or Hebrew linguistic forms.
(6) Coherence: S is consistent with already established facts about Jesus.
For a good discussion of these factors see Robert Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” in Gospel PerspectivesI, ed. R. T. France and David Wenham (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1980), pp. 225-63.
Notice that these “criteria” do not presuppose the general reliability of the Gospels. Rather they focus on a particular saying or event and give evidence for thinking that specific element of Jesus’ life to be historical, regardless of the general reliability of the document in which the particular saying or event is reported. These same “criteria” are thus applicable to reports of Jesus found in the apocryphal Gospels, or rabbinical writings, or even the Qur’an. Of course, if the Gospels can be shown to be generally reliable documents, so much the better! But the “criteria” do not depend on any such presupposition. They serve to help spot historical kernels even in the midst of historical chaff. Thus we need not concern ourselves with defending the Gospels’ every claim attributed to Jesus in the gospels; the question will be whether we can establish enough about Jesus to make faith in him reasonable.
And you can see Dr. Craig using these criteria to defend minimal facts in his debates. For example, in his debate with Ehrman, he alludes to the criteria when making his case for the empty tomb.
Here, he uses multiple attestation and the criteria of embarrassment:
Among the reasons which have led most scholars to this conclusion are the following:
1. The empty tomb is also multiply attested by independent, early sources.
Mark’s source didn’t end with the burial, but with the story of the empty tomb, which is tied to the burial story verbally and grammatically. Moreover, Matthew and John have independent sources about the empty tomb; it’s also mentioned in the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles (2.29; 13.36); and it’s implied by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 15.4). Thus, we have again multiple, early, independent attestation of the fact of the empty tomb.
2. The tomb was discovered empty by women.
In patriarchal Jewish society the testimony of women was not highly regarded. In fact, the Jewish historian Josephus says that women weren’t even permitted to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law. Now in light of this fact, how remarkable it is that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. Any later legendary account would certainly have made male disciples like Peter and John discover the empty tomb. The fact that it is women, rather than men, who are the discoverers of the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that they were the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb, and the Gospel writers faithfully record what, for them, was an awkward and embarrassing fact.
There are actually a few more reasons for believing in the empty tomb that he doesn’t go into in the debate, but you can find them in his written work. For example, in his essay on Gerd Ludemann’s “vision” hypothesis. That essay covers the reasons for all four of his minimal facts.
So, if you are going to talk about the resurrection with a skeptic, you don’t want to invoke the Bible as some sort of inerrant/inspired Holy Book. You want to look at it as a historical book, and use historical criteria to get to some facts that critical historians would accept. From that, it’s possible to make a case for the resurrection, which is the guarantee that the words of Jesus are authoritative. Including the words of Jesus where he describes the Bible as a whole as God’s revelation of Himself to his creatures.
Here is the approach I use when talking to non-Christian co-workers:
Explain the criteria that historians use to get their lists of minimal facts
Explain your list of minimal facts
Defend your list of minimal facts using the criteria
Cite skeptics who admit to each of your minimal facts, to show that they are widely accepted
List some parts of the Bible that don’t pass the criteria (e.g. – guard at the tomb, Matthew earthquake)
Explain why those parts don’t pass the criteria, and explain that they are not part of your case
Challenge your opponent to either deny some or all the facts, or propose a naturalistic alternative that explains the facts better than the resurrection
Don’t let your opponent attack any of your minimal facts by attacking other parts of the Bible (e.g. – the number of angels being one or two, etc.)
And remember that there is no good case for the resurrection that does not make heavy use of the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. That passages is universally accepted as early, eyewitness testimony from Paul, and represents the core of early Christian beliefs about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Everyone who takes evidence seriously has to account for that early creed, which passes the historical tests I outlined above.
The best essay on the minimal facts criteria that I’ve read is the one by Robert H. Stein in “Contending with Christianity’s Critics“. It’s a good short essay that goes over all the historical criteria that are used to derive the short list of facts from which we infer the conclusion “God raised Jesus from the dead”. That whole book is really very, very good.
So, when I read the Bible there are things that stand out to be as being of first importance. The priorities are about personal moral character. The overall theme seems to be to deny your personal desires and ambitions and gain control of yourself so that you can devote yourself to following Jesus. The Bible isn’t teaching that we need to implement Marxism as a solution to “inequalities”.
The Bible emphasizes things like controlling your temper, being patient when you must suffer for being a Christian, forgiving others who are penitent about treating you badly, giving to charity, being sober and chaste, either staying unmarried or marrying an opposite sex partner for life, not envying, not stealing, building other people up in the knowledge of God, renewing your mind. There’s no emphasis on disparities or social justice. Everything is about individual choices. Every person is responsible for themselves.
Now, when I go to Twitter and Facebook, I see people who occupy positions of power in Christianity who don’t talk about any of those things. They don’t practice those things themselves as of first importance. They don’t read books about how to practically pursue those things, e.g. – books about evidence countering premarital sex, divorce or same-sex marriage. They don’t talk about those things, they aren’t informed enough to be convincing about those things, they don’t promote those things to non-Christians using evidence.
Let’s take an example: chastity and natural marriage between one man and one woman for life. When you look at the social media of prominent Christians, Christian professors, Christian apologists, Christian celebrities, etc., you aren’t going to see them linking to studies about the premarital sex, hooking up, cohabitation, polyamory, no-fault divorce. Instead, they’re going to be talking about what makes them look virtuous to others. You know – recycling, essential oils, illegal immigration, refugees, girl wash your face, wear a COVID mask, black lives matter, yoga, dog and cat parenting, I support public school teachers, etc. The sum total of their Christian distinctiveness is that they’ve got essential oils and rainbow unicorn mugs in their office that say “just believe”.
There isn’t a single point where their personal morality or public engagement is centered around what the Bible teaches explicitly. The leaders have left the Bible behind for life enhancement and virtue signaling, as required by their new Lords and Saviors in the secular left mainstream news media. And this is not surprising at all when you look at the most popular books in Christian Women’s section of book stores. It’s all Rachel Hollis, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, Jen Hatmaker, Lauren Akins, Priscilla Shirer. The goal is to for the individual to feel good, get social approval and achieve their heart’s desires. Nothing there about promoting what the Bible teaches using reason and evidence to non-Christians. Whatever these people understand Christianity to be, it’s not something that requires that they read non-fiction, behave morally and persuade others with evidence. They’re narcissists, not salt or light.
So what about feminism and the Sexual Revolution? The response of Christian leaders to the new ways of meeting, dating, marrying proposed by radical feminists is enthusiastic celebration. And if delaying marriage for careers and promiscuity result in more abortions and divorces and single motherhood, then don’t blame the choices of women, just blame secular men for not turning into Christians after being given premarital sex. (This is the majority view among conservative pastors – let women have sex with atheists, then blame atheists for not converting into faithful, devoted husbands). It’s just too hard to read actual studies on sex, dating and marriage, and then take a stand against women who have accepted feminism for emotional reasons: “it’s just easier to get along with my teachers and peers if I’m sexually active with no-commitment bad boys”.
The response to the challenges of atheism is to quote Bible words and expect magical conversions due to burning of the bosom. There is no difference between the evangelistic views of Al Mohler and Russell Moore and Mormon leaders. Both camps are firm believers in magic words evangelism, i.e. – fideism. You have to pre-suppose the Bible is true because of a burning sensation when you read it. Since this approach doesn’t work when used on non-Christians, you get this retreat from proclaiming the truth of Christianity to non-Christians. They’ve been doing the same thing over and over for decades, and now they’ve just stopped presenting Christianity as true entirely. Now, they to focus on “wear a mask” and “defund the police” instead, so they can continue to achieve their real goal – communicating their virtue to others.
Regarding Marxism, they keep swallowing every cause trotted out by the left to achieve the left’s end goal of a Marxist utopia. Whether it’s global warming, importing big-government supporting refugees and illegal immigrants, black lives matter Marxism, the housing bubble bailouts, the new trillion student loan bubble, or defund the police, Christian leaders just keep rushing around like lemmings to support any cause that the secular left tells them is good. The Bible does not give them their priorities and definition of good and evil. Instead, they now look to the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC to tell them what they must promote in order to signal their virtue to others. Their religious hobby was always about signaling their virtue to others. When sobriety and chastity got hard, they switched to wear a mask and defund the police.
How should a Bible believing Christian respond to these changes in the priorities of Christian seminary professors, leaders, and woke pastors? Well, I don’t see how you can go to church any more. It’s a waste of time except in rare cases (Wayne Grudem, Voddie Baucham, etc.). I do think that group Bible study, mentoring, and joint activity against feminism, socialism and atheism are still valuable. Definitely reading books together. (Laura and I are reading the new science apologetics book from the Discovery Institute chapter by chapter, and I’m also working through Money, Greed and God with Carla). The church and Christian leaders have nothing useful to say about any of the real problems we are facing. None of their leaders are reading anything that would inform them and strengthen their convictions in the areas that the Bible considers to be central.
So, I guess my conclusion would be this. If you are approaching Christianity like “Jesus was a refugee” and “black lives matter” woke pastors, and thinking that the church / seminary hierarchy is a great place to communicate your personal virtuousness to a large group of people, then keep doing that. But if you’re just interested in championing the viewpoints that the Bible considers of central importance, then get yourself some books about the evidence related to feminism, socialism and atheism and read them. Get yourself an alias and a blog. Write what you learn about. Mentor others one-on-one so they learn how to defend the Bible’s teachings as well. Get involved in politics for the Republican party, which at least has some policies that overlap with our concerns about abortion, religious liberty, self-defense against criminals, etc.
We’re past the point of relying on woke pastors and Christian leaders to know anything about how to defend the Bible. They’re just pissing away the religious liberty that was built by previous generations for their own selfish purposes. Don’t rely on them.
Have you noticed lately that there is a decided lack of atheists who argue against Christianity on factual grounds? Instead of constructing arguments against Christian theism, what I am seeing more and more of is that people try to say that Christianity makes some group feel bad, and therefore Christianity is not worthy of pursuit and engagement.
Here’s how it works. You have a person who has some sinful habit or other that they don’t want to give up, and they notice that people are judging them and saying that what they are doing is wrong. And they feel bad. And they decide to attack Christianity to make the Christians stop judging them. So how do they do it? Do they argue that the concept of God is logically incoherent? No… Do they argue that some instances of evil and suffering are gratuitous? No… Do they argue that the universe is eternal so that it had no Creator? No…
What do they do?
What they do is pick on some statement by a conservative Christian that makes them feel bad, and then claim that they are victims of meanness. And apparently, making someone feel bad is some sort of disproof of Christian theism. Why is that? It’s because we have decided as a culture that the purpose of religion is to make people feel good about themselves and to be “nice” to other people. And by “nice”, we mean not making other people feel bad about the sinfulness of their behavior. So people are making Christianity irrelevant just by assuming that the purpose of life is happiness, and that any religion that makes people unhappy can be dismissed.
Before, people thought about Christianity as something that you investigated, and that was either true or false. People understood that Christianity made claims about the external world that were either true or false. For example, Christianity claims that the universe had a beginning in the finite past. And the people who disagreed with Christianity would try to produce arguments and evidence that the universe was eternal, as with the steady-state theory or the oscillating model of the universe. And people were willing to change their behavior to match what was true, even when it made them feel less happy. But not any more.
Religion today is not about truth
I think somehow, as a society, we have internalized the following beliefs:
God wants me to have happy feelings
the purpose of religion is to give me happy feelings
God’s moral will for me is that I be “nice” to others
being nice to others means accepting whatever they want to do as “good”
accepting whatever anyone does makes them like me
when people like me, I feel happy, which is what God wants
there is no need for me to study God’s existence
God exists when I want to be comforted, and doesn’t exist when I want to sin
there is no need for me to study God’s character
God’s character is pretty much like my character, whatever I want is fine with God
there are no moral rules or obligations from God that apply to me
religions are all the same, I choose the one that makes me feel happy
So you can see that someone who believes things like this can claim to be a Christian, but would actually attack real Christians who hold to the old view of exclusive factual claims and moral judgments. The real Christians are people who have studied these questions, who know that God exists, and what he is like, and accept the Bible’s moral teachings as authoritative. So you could have a famous pastor who defends the Bible’s prohibition on sex before marriage, and have someone feel bad about being judged, and then a bunch of these “the purpose of life is happiness” people will appear and chastise that pastor for making people feel bad. And many of them will claim to be Christians, and attend church, too.
Now notice that this mob of happy-feelings people are not going argue against the pastor using the Bible, because the Bible is pretty clearly against fornication. What they’ll do instead is they’ll pick out some piece of the Bible that seems unfair, like the slaughter of some group of child-sacrificing pagans, and they’ll rail against that Bible passage in order to discredit the Bible’s authority on moral questions. And then the good conservative pastor is made to feel bad because he has broken those unwritten laws – he made someone feel bad using this evil book.
No factual claims about God’s existence were made. No historical arguments were made. No evidence was presented. The mere fact that the Bible is mean to talk about killing the poor Canaanites is used to prove that the Bible has no moral authority at all, on any issue. “It’s mean” entails that it’s false. And you can have people who read the Bible for devotions, who sing in church, and who lead worship, who think that the Bible is false because it’s mean, and it’s mean because it can be used to judge people and make them feel bad.
She tells her children to do as she says and not as she does.
But the words of mother of 14 Joanne Watson – who receives more than £2,000 a month in state handouts – have fallen on deaf ears.
Her 15-year-old daughter Mariah is pregnant, the father has ‘left the scene’, and the youngster is about to start living off benefits.
Mrs Watson, 40, is raising her giant brood alone after parting from her husband John, 46, three years ago, and breaking up with subsequent partner Craig le Sauvage, 35, last year.
Despite this, she has still managed to squirrel away enough cash for a £1,600 breast enhancement and a sunbed. She claims she has always encouraged her daughters to use contraception – but, inevitably, it seems they would rather follow the family tradition.
Mariah’s pregnancy comes after Mrs Watson’s oldest daughter Natasha, 22, got pregnant with her son Branford, now six, when she was 16. Her second eldest daughter Shanice, 19, also got pregnant at 16 with her 22-month-old son Marley.
Mariah says she has no concerns about becoming a teenage mother, as it seems the most natural thing in the world. Initially, she and her child will be supported by the taxpayer.
She is expected to move into a housing complex for single mothers and will receive supplementary benefit and child allowance for her baby.
The youngster, who is due to have a boy, said: ‘I’m not nervous. I’ve been around babies my whole life so I know what to expect and that I can handle it. The father isn’t involved and I don’t want him to be either. I’m really excited and think I will be a great mum.’
Now there are two responses to this from people who profess to be Christians. The first response, my response, is to make a general argument against having sex before marriage, using the latest statistics to show the harm that fatherlessness causes to children, and more evidence besides. My response is not to pick on any one person, but to set moral boundaries, to make moral judgments against the selfishness of parents, and to not celebrate and subsidize anything that will harm innocent children. I don’t want to make anyone person feel bad, I just want to say what the evidence is. However, even a general argument using evidence does make some people feel bad, so I am judged as “mean” for giving my opinion and backing it up with evidence.
But there is another response. This response comes from someone who professes to be a Christian, but they are actually a “God wants me to be happy and to be nice to people so they will like me and then we’ll all be happy” person. They would never dream of judging anyone for anything they do. And they are very angry with me for getting my moral rules out of that horrible Bible, and for using facts and evidence to make people feel bad. They believe in compassion, which is the idea that says that the moral boundaries of the Bible are false, and that we have to celebrate and subsidize any and every variation on the traditional family, regardless of the harm caused, so that the selfish adults don’t feel bad about their destructive choices.
And what do we make of a person who feels that saying “it’s wrong” is mean, because it makes a guilty person feel bad? Well, here is the truth. A person who argues against the Bible based on the happy-feelings model is no friend of God, and no friend of the victims of selfish actions. They may think that they are being a good person by affirming people who make bad decisions, but really it just encourages people to get into trouble.
Were the authors of the gospels of Mark and Luke connected to eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus? Well, it turns out that there are good reasons to think that Mark was linked to the eyewitness Peter, and Luke was linked to Paul, who had a post-mortem appearance of Jesus in 1 Cor 15:8, and who met with Peter and James in Galatians 1 and again in Galatians 2.
There is a list of evidence for Peter’s influence on Mark on the Cold Case Christianity blog.
Here’s my favorite one from the list:
Peter’s Embarrassments Have Been Omitted
There are many details in the Gospel of Mark consistent with Peter’s special input and influence,including omissions related to events involving Peter. How can Mark be a memoir of Peter if, in fact, the book contains so many omissions of events involving Peter specifically? It’s important to evaluate the entire catalogue of omissions pertaining to Peter to understand the answer here. The vast majority of these omissions involve incidents in which Peter did or said something rash or embarrassing. It’s not surprising these details were omitted by the author who wanted to protect Peter’s standing in the Christian community. Mark was quite discreet in his retelling of the narrative (other Gospel writers who were present at the time do, however, provide details of Peters ‘indiscretions’ in their own accounts. See Cold-Case Christianity for a more detailed explanation).
It makes me laugh to imagine Peter looking over Mark’s shoulder and saying “no, don’t put that in it” and “no, don’t tell them I did that”. Funny! But also very good evidence. The rest of Wallace’s list makes it even more clear.
And what about the gospel of Luke? Well, did you know that the author of Luke’s gospel knew Paul? If you read it carefully, you’ll see that Luke switches from describing history from an “I” perspective to describing things from a “we” perspective in the book of Acts (which he also wrote). Who is the “we” he is talking about?
Now who was this author we call Luke? He was clearly not an eyewitness to Jesus’s life. But we discover an important fact about him from the book of Acts. Beginning in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, when Paul reaches Troas in modern-day Turkey, the author suddenly starts using the first-person plural: “we set sail from Troas to Samothrace,” “we remained in Philippi some days,” “as we were going to the place of prayer,” etc. The most obvious explanation is that the author had joined Paul on his evangelistic tour of the Mediterranean cities. In chapter 21 he accompanies Paul back to Palestine and finally to Jerusalem. What this means is that the author of Luke-Acts was in fact in first hand contact with the eyewitnesses of Jesus’s life and ministry in Jerusalem.
[…]There is no avoiding the conclusion that Luke-Acts was written by a traveling companion of Paul who had the opportunity to interview eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life while in Jerusalem. Who were some of these eyewitnesses? Perhaps we can get some clue by subtracting from the Gospel of Luke everything found in the other gospels and seeing what is peculiar to Luke. What you discover is that many of Luke’s peculiar narratives are connected to women who followed Jesus: people like Joanna and Susanna, and significantly, Mary, Jesus’s mother.
Was the author reliable in getting the facts straight? The book of Acts enables us to answer that question decisively. The book of Acts overlaps significantly with secular history of the ancient world, and the historical accuracy of Acts is indisputable.
This has recently been demonstrated anew by Colin Hemer, a classical scholar who turned to New Testament studies, in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out a wealth of historical knowledge, ranging from what would have been common knowledge down to details which only a local person would know. Again and again Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated: from the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands to the peculiar titles of local officials, Luke gets it right.
I know a lot of people (like my Dad) read the Bible devotionally, looking for feelings or trying to “get right with God” so they get blessings. But I think it’s helpful to look at things from an evidential point of view – how am I going to make a case for this? When you look at things from that perspective, the Bible gets a whole lot more interesting. And you can talk about it with non-Christians when you know about these interesting details.