Frank Turk is not (to say the least) persuaded by my arguments against torture. Generally he thinks I am not Christian in my reasoning.

He gives us two reasons for this.

He thinks I am being cagey about what Paul is saying in Romans 13 about the state. Turk says:

Paul is endorsing the function of government which uses force to oppose those who cannot abide the prescriptions of law. If you want a finer-grain detail than that, I’ll add this: there is no question in my mind (and I hope not in yours either) that Paul’s view of justice is almost wholly-informed by the Mosaic law, which provides the death penalty often as the punishment for crime; insofar as the Roman law mirrors the Mosaic law, Paul would find it both right and just.

I don’t disagree with much of this, though I have my doubts about whether Paul thought that ancient Israeli civil law should be applied to his time or to non-Isrealites.

But let’s not quibble. Paul has a Jewish view of justice and this view is mostly informed by the Jewish Bible (though as a Pharisee this would include more than the Mosaic law). Paul commends the Roman use of the sword (at least in some cases).

Historically all civilized Western men have appreciated Roman justice as an epic improvement on what came before the Romans. We do not, thereby, commend their entire view or practice of justice.

To stretch what Paul said to include everything the Romans did is unsound exegesis. I assume Turk is not doing this. It is, therefore, irrelevant.

We all agree that Paul believed in certain Roman ideals, thought obedience to Rome better than rebellion, and supported at least some uses of the death penalty.

He obviously allows for the death penalty as a just punishment (at least in his day). He also appeals (in Romans 1 and 2) to common moral judgments between cultures.

Turk says:
If we harmonize Rom 1-2 and Rom 13, we get a very easy-to-grasp view of what Paul means: government is, by virtue of its God-ordained role in the world, responsible to use violent means to deter and also to punish men who do not abide by the law.

This is true. I do  not doubt it.

Turk continues:
Are there boundaries for that responsibility? Sure there are — not the least of which are the presuppositions of actual justice and actual relative offense. This is absolutely indicated by the Mosaic law as someone needs to be actually convicted of a crime before a penalty can be leveled against him — even for as little as a slap in the face against him. It is also indicated that death is not the only prescribed punishment in the Mosaic law — restitution and restoration to the offended also is demonstrated heavily, so there’s a scale of offense and a scale of punishment.

I agree with this, but despite my attempts to clarify the boundaries I think Christians must set, Turk still thinks I have been vague.

He makes a sensible demand:
At some point, there ought to be (there actually are) boundary markers to grasp what is at stake here, and how to act if you find yourself to be a Christian who is also the 5-Star General in charge of the Army or the Director of the CIA — or perhaps only the sergeant or agent who has an enemy combatant in custody.

Your discussion so far doesn’t help any of those people. You want to point out that we shouldn’t boil anyone in oil. Really? Why? “Well, imago dei, obviously,” but that’s not half as reasonable or obvious as you should think.

Here is my bright line: we can kill our foes, imprison them, but not torture them.

What is torture?

Torture is intending to inflict permanent psychological or physical harm to a man in order to break his will and get information from him that he does not wish to give us.

Of course, defining terms is hard, but we should not make the Socratic fallacy. We can know a thing without being able to define it in an air tight manner.

International organizations and Christian thinkers have worked hard to give good working definitions of torture . . . and there is broad agreement about what makes a thing torture.

Surely Frank does not believe that if in the Bible people took certain actions to enforce justice, the Bible sanctifies those means of punishment.

I think this would be dubious reasoning which confuses the ends with the means. One could argue that the Bible reports many responses to God’s commands that would not be appropriate to us today.

God may approve the outcome without applauding the means (Edom and Israel comes to mind).

Turk, however, moves on and uses (God help us) the Roman crucifixion of Jesus as a justification for his position. He says:
The punishment Jesus received is the punishment we deserve, judicially. This is an unequivocal truth of the New Testament. So while we may want to call boiling in oil or running people into hungry wild beasts things the Romans did unjustly and without warrant, the Gospel Paul preaches tells us without any question that the just punishment we deserve as sinners looks like what Jesus received at the hands of the Jews and the Romans — a bloody beating, a public humiliation, a painful suffering, and death.

This is an odd argument.

Our sin was against God and it certainly is right that God used the evil Romans to execute His will. That does not justify the Romans or say that their “theory of punishment” (!) was a right one.

God used the Babylonians to punish the Jewish people, but as the prophet Habakkuk learns God is not thereby condoning the Babylonians.

God will use the tools on hand to bring good to the world, but that does not justify the the man who has made himself fit to be such a tool.
You cannot deny that Paul says that this is the punishment we deserve. And in that, in some sense Paul is saying this terrible fact of the punishment we deserve ought to change our minds. The rightly-just threat of punishment ought to have some psychological or emotional effect on us.

Turk’s argument depends on a bad argument.

Suppose Turk is asserting the following:

If A deserves x and B gives A x, that B was right to give A x.

This is absurd on its face.

To give a Victorian example, A may deserve to be kissed and B may kiss A, but B be wrong to give a kiss to A.

In some cases, a person deserves a thing, but only from a particular individual or in a particular way. That is the case with punishment. The state has the right to do something (x) to me, but that does not give you that right.

Sometimes things “work out” in the real world in accidentally happy ways (A gets x) using bad means (B inappropriately gives A x) and we are happy that A has x. We do not thereby condone what B did when we say how happy we are for the new state of affairs.

A trivial example may help:

Suppose I have a painting stolen. I should get it back. Suppose a thief later steals that painting from the first thief thinking the first thief is the rightful owner. Years later (through a providential turn of events for me) this urbane thief becomes my fast friend and thinking to give me a Christmas present gives me (in ignorance) my own painting. His gift is magnificent and it is happy that I have my painting, but he was utterly unjustified in stealing it from the original thief.

His evil deed came to a good end, but we would not want to justify stealing paintings as a result.

In the same we are all thankful for the great good that God brought of Roman barbarism (crucifixion), but we are not thankful for their barbarism, but for the splendid thing that God made of it.

We deserve what Jesus received, but we deserve it from God and not from the state. God never called any state to give any man exactly and totally what he deserves, because men cannot know how far they should go. They lack the ability to know how far a man may be broken, how much torture to apply.

Instead, the state must give a man less than he will get before the judgment seat of God, but enough so that his harm to the community is ended and further sinners are (somewhat) deterred.

God has made no state the final judge and has given no state the right to give a man his total due.

That the Romans went to far and that God used it to exact a costly punishment on Himself for us does not justify them in the slightest.

The Roman cross was a wicked and ugly act in every case.

The cross of Jesus has wood that is sweet and iron that is precious, but only for what God did with an ugly thing. To redeem us, God first redeemed an evil Roman act.

Turk might reply that Paul commends the cross, but that does not mean he commends the Romans for using it. No place in Scripture do we read Paul applauding crucifixion as a punishment.

I may deserve such pain and suffering for my sin (I believe I do), but no state has the right to mete it out.

As a citizen Paul made use of his right to avoid crucifixion and faced death by the sword. Romans could kill without torture and they did if you were well placed.

That distinction is enough to show that Paul’s commending Rome for “bearing the sword” need not be applauding them for also bearing the whip, the nails of a cross, and instruments of torture.

That God can take these wicked acts and make them good is true, but no praise to the wicked Romans that He did.

(I am sorry to have said so much, but I seem the only one on my side! Since I have used up my weekend blogging time on this thread, I will not reply again, but I hope this is not received as disrespect for my worthy intellectual opponents. This has been a fruitful exercise for me, if for nobody else.

Pray for me a sinner!)

Articles by John Mark Reynolds

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