Friday, December 30, 2005


The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament. Some Christians hate the law. They say that we live under grace, not law. However, those making this statement should be clear what parts of the Torah are no longer relevant. Jesus had a fairly serious warning for those who reject the Torah.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:17-19).

The Torah covers a variety of topics. We need to be clear about which parts have been fulfilled, and which parts remain in force.

  • creation
  • history
  • civil laws,
  • sacrifices,
  • tabernacle design,
  • covenants,
  • infection control and hygiene,
  • genealogies,
  • blessings and curses,
  • rules for priesthood
  • land distribution
Creation and history still stand. In fact Christians get quite excited about the creation, so this part of the Torah has not been set aside.

The tabernacle and the sacrifices have been fulfilled by Jesus death on the cross. They sacrifices never did provide salvation from sin, but needed to be accompanied by faith to be effective. The tabernacle has been replaced by the body of Christ becoming the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The genealogies remain, but are not so relevant for the gentiles. The Aaronic priesthood has been replaced by the priesthood of all believers. We are all priests and kings.

The civil laws have not been fulfilled or set aside by Jesus. Modern society contains sinful people, so civil laws are still needed. The only issue is how we implement them. The answer is godly judges.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Turning a Cheek to the Law

Many Christians are confused about the realtion ship between the law and the Sermon on the Mount. These two principle have very different purposes. The former is not cancelled by the latter.

The law is the minimum requirement for the functioning of a society. If theft, murder and false witness are not controlled, society will fall apart.
Turning the other check is a higher standard for those who choose to follow Jesus.

The big difference is that the law can be enforced. Judges can use coercion to restore something that was stolen, to punish murderers and to correct those who bear false witness. Turning the other cheek is voluntary. We cannot force another person to love someone who hurts him. Turning the other cheek must be motivated by love.

The law applies to everyone, whether they love God or hate him. It can be imposed on non-Christians. Turning the other cheek is only for the body of Christ. Sacrificial love marks us off from the rest of the world.

Turning the other cheek should not be made into a law. The time may come when the whole world follows Jesus. In that day, turning the other cheek will be a universal practice, but the law should remain, in case there is a falling away.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Prophet, Priest and King

The priesthood was a temporary ministry. It could not buy perfect salvation, but pointed to Jesus, the great High Priest. His perfect sacrifice completed that aspect of the priestly role. He still intercedes for us in heaven. We are all priests with perfect access to the heavenly temple. The consequence is the priesthood of all believers.

He has made us kings and priests to His God and Father (Rev 1:6).
The Jewish kings were not an ideal solution, but pointed to Jesus the perfect king. He defeated Satan the ruler of the earth and now sits on the heavenly throne in heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords. We are seated with him in faith, so we are also kings. This is the doctrine of the kingship of all believers. We do not need Jesus to come back as a king, any more than we need a high priest on earth. He can rule from heaven, so he does not need to return to earth.
He has made us kings and priests to His God and Father (Rev 1:6).
Moses and Elijah were prophets who revealed God’s will. Their ministry was imperfect, but pointed to Jesus the ultimate prophet. He revealed God perfectly to us. The Holy Spirit was poured out so everyone can hear God speak and many can prophesy. This is the prophethood of all believers.
I will pour out my Spirit and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:18)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Shopping Shutdown

On the Friday before Christmas, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, EFTPOS terminals across New Zealand shut down. Paymark EFTPOS, which accounts for 80% of all electronic transactions, said that the outage was caused by a hardware failure at around 12:50 pm. This failure caused performance to degrade to the point where the system had to be rebooted. The system was not restarted until about 3 pm.

The outage frustrated Christmas shoppers. Lengthening queues of last-minute shoppers faced manual "zip-zap" card machines and long lines at cash machines. Many had to leave their purchases behind.

The Retailers' Association Spokesperson, Barry Hellberg said that EFTPOS network failures are uncommon, so it is just bad luck it happened so close to Christmas.

I do not believe in luck. Nothing in God's universe happens by chance. Everything has meaning, so what was the meaning of this system crash, which no one forsaw, which no one could prevent and which disrupted out Christmas spend..

Maybe this was a warning event for New Zealand.

Or maybe God was trying to save us from ourselves. Maybe he was saying, Threshing the plastic will not add an ounce to the joy of Christmas. If you understood that Jesus was God come to earth, you would have abundant joy. This gift is freely available, even when EFTPOS is down.

Christmas Goat

My daughter Christine has the gift of giving. She gave me a goat for Christmas.

She donated money to Tearfund to buy a goat for a family in Afghanistan.

My goat is the one with the big horns.

I am looking forward to getting a letter every year to telling me what it is doing at school.

A great gift!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Loyal Reader

One of my most loyal readers lives in Czechoslavaokia.
Thank you for your support
I have sent you a free copy of my book Being Church Where We Live.

Ransom Payment

If the criminal cannot afford the required ransom, they could borrow the ransom from their family or someone in their community. They would need to sell themselves as a “bonded employee” to a person who can pay the ransom. To get the loan, a criminal would have to demonstrate repentance, which would be good for society.

The ransom is an instrument of mercy, but it is not an easy option. The seven-year limit for charity loans does not apply to someone borrowing to pay a ransom in lieu of a death penalty, so the murderer still be getting a life sentence. The difference is that but they could pay for their crime while living at home and working for the person who paid their ransom. They would not be able to travel away from their place of work, but at least they would not be locked up. This is more merciful than the modern practice of imprisoning people for life.

This will be my last post on this topic for a while. I will go on to something more cheerful for now, and come back to this topic in the new year.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ransom Principle

An important aspect of biblical mercy is the ransom principle. A person sentenced to death can pay a ransom to have their sentence commuted. The law allows a convicted criminal to pay a ransom to the victim’s family as an alternative to the death penalty (Num 35:31). In many cases the victims of the crime will prefer a ransom, as they would benefit economically, whereas the criminal’s death would bring them no benefit.

The court would decide the value of the ransom in agreement with the victims of the crime (or their family). The value of the ransom should approximate the discounted value of the victim’s future earnings. Likewise, an aggrieved wife should be given the discounted value of the income that her adulterous husband would have provided her during the rest of his working life. Some criminals would want to die, but most would prefer to make restitution to the family of their victim.

Evil men who are a risk to society would not be allowed to pay a ransom for their freedom.

Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death (Num 35:31).
A ransom must not be accepted for a serious murder that “deserves death”. This confirms the view that some murders are so awful that the murderer “deserves to die”, but a ransom is sufficient for less horrendous murder and relationship crimes like incest, adultery or homosexual activity.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Relationship Crimes

In addition to murder, the law also requires the death penalty for adultery, bestiality and homosexual activity. However, the hardness of heart principle described above means that the death penalty should only be enforced in a society where the majority of people are Christians. In a Christian society adultery and homosexual activity should be very rare, so this penalty would seldom be enforced for these crimes. Public disapproval would mean that they almost never occur in public, so the required three independent witnesses would not be available. The death penalty is specified for these crimes to remind us of the strength of God’s disapproval for them, but it should never need to be enforced.

God hates adultery, bestiality and homosexual activity. We were created in the image of God, so a man and a woman “becoming one flesh” is the best representation of the image of God. From this it follows that adultery and homosexual activity are an insult to the image of God. Just as he hates divorce because it mars his image, he hates homosexual activity for the same reason. He also hates the effect that they have on families and the structure of society. They are a form of treason against the Kingdom of God. The death penalty reminds us of the seriousness of these sins, but God’s mercy prevents it from being applied.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


The law distinguishes between murder and manslaughter. The death penalty only applies where the murder is planned in advance. If the death is accidental, God has allowed it to happen (Ex 21:13). Murder has not occurred, so the death penalty is not required. Num 35 16-24; Deut 19:4-7 give some examples.

Many Christians feel uneasy about the death penalty, believing it is cruel and harsh. However, we should be careful about standing in judgement on God’s word. If he says that some murders are serious enough to require the death penalty, we should be careful about saying he is wrong. When men and women decide what is good and evil, they have taken the place of God. Before rejecting the death penalty, we should understand the way it should be applied. This is quite different from modern practices. I will explain this in the next few posts.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Murder in Hebrew

Some examples of murder are given in Numbers 35:16-18:

If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.
Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone
so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.
Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.
The English translation does not really capture the intensity of these words.
The Hebrew text uses less words, but they are often repeated for emphasis.
Hit with Iron, die die, murderer murderer, die die.
Hit with Stone, die die, murderer murderer, die die.
Wood in hand, die die, murderer murderer, die die.
The symetry between the punishment and the crime is obvious.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Penalty for Murder

The biblical penalty for murder is death. Some crimes to be so serious, that death is the only just penalty.

Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death (Ex 21:12-14).
Intentionally and deliberately killing another person is such a serious crime that the death penalty is required by the law. We were created in the image of God, so killing a person is like striking at the image of God. The family of the murdered man who is robbed of all the income he would have earned during the rest of his life, so murder is a very costly crime.

The death penalty provides a strong deterrent for murder, but this is not its primary purpose. The basic reason for the death penalty is that justice requires it. A human life is so valuable that deliberately destroying a life deserves the ultimate sanction. Justice requires that a penalty for a crime is equal to the crime.

Over the next few posts, I will look at why the death penalty should be rare.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sermon on the Mount

Jesus also dealt with this issue in the Sermon on the Mount. In his time, the “eye for and eye” principle was being used as an excuse for personal revenge. Jesus made a twofold response. First he reminded the people that the common understanding was different from what God had said. The popular meaning was a distortion of God’s words to Moses (Mark 5:38). Secondly, Jesus raised the standard required for his disciples. He reminded them that the common saying that you should “love your neighbour and hate your enemy” was also twisting God’s standards (Mark 5:43, Lev 19:18). We must bless those who harm us.

“An eye for an eye” is not a rule for personal behaviour, but a principle to be applied in a court of law. If someone gives me a black eye, I should not immediately hit him back, but should “turn the other cheek”. However, if a person is assaulted and loses their eye, they are entitled to compensation for that loss. The court should use the principle of an “eye for an eye” to determine the amount of economic compensation that the violent person should pay to the person that injured them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Deciding Compensation

Courts will decide compensation to be paid, by determining the economic value of an eye. It would try to assess the value of the income and enjoyment lost through the lack of an eye. This is a bit like the lump-sum compensation provided by some accident insurance schemes, where the loss of an arm was worth more than the loss of an eye. An “eye for an eye” means that a person who loses an eye will receive compensation for the loss of any eye. If the victim loses the use of their leg, the criminal will have to pay compensation for the loss of that limb.

Most English translations put the word “but” at the beginning of Exodus 21:23 to make it sound like a different principle from what precedes it, but there is no “but” in the original Hebrew. The verse refers to financial compensation. Using it to justify harsh physical revenge is only possible if Moses’ words are taken out of context.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Eye for an Eye

The expression “an eye for an eye” is well known, but it is totally misunderstood. Almost everyone assumes that the law requires physical vengeance for personal injuries. Even Christians assume that the Old Testament literally requires “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, because they have never bothered to check what the law actually requires. An examination of Exodus 21:23-25 shows that it purpose is almost totally opposite to this popular view.

If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise (Ex 21:22-25).
The passage specifies financial compensation for the loss of the baby and not physical vengeance. The context is a situation where two men fighting have hit a pregnant woman and she gives premature birth. The mother is entitled to the financial compensation demanded by her husband and approved by the court. “An eye for an eye” is nothing more than a principle for deciding the value of the economic restitution a criminal should make to their victim of an assault.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Restitution for Assault

The restitution principle also applies to assault. The person who assaults another must pay compensation to his victim for any injuries or damage to property caused by the assault. A practical example is given in the following verses.

If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible, if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed (Ex 21:18-19).
The person who assaults another must compensate his victim for any income lost as a result of the crime. If the violent man refuses to pay, the victim could also claim the cost of obtaining compensation. The fairness of this solution contrasts dramatically with our modern system, where victims of assault get very little help and if they try to get financial compensation most of the benefit goes to their lawyers.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

State Slavery

Bonded employment is a new concept for many Christians, but it is very similar to modern social welfare systems. The state gives poor people sufficient money for food and shelter, but in return it takes control over its beneficiaries and puts limits on their lives. It can make them go to work, and if they earn more than a certain amount, it can take it off them. This is a form of “state slavery”.

Under the biblical system of justice, convicted thieves will face a similar lack of freedom, but they will be bonded to relatives or people from their local community who know them, rather than an impersonal government department.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Length of Bond

Strict rules would apply to the treatment of “bonded employees”. If they are mistreated, they could go before a judge and claim their freedom as compensation (Ex 21:26,27; Deut 15:12-18).

The length of the bond would depend on the amount stolen and the size of the restitution. If the items stolen were valuable, the restitution might be quite a large amount, so the criminal might lose their freedom for several years. The thief would be giving the lender a mortgage over their life. The bible teaches that “a borrower is a slave of the lender” (Prov 22:7), so the penalty for theft will be a slave-like life.

The length of the bond would also depend on productive capacity of the criminal. Unlike a charity loan to someone who falls into poverty, the debt would not be cancelled after seven years (Ex 21:2), so a thief with a bad attitude might be under bond for a long time.

The thief would have an incentive to work hard and increase his skills. By becoming more productive to his employer, he might be able negotiate an earlier release from the bond. Developing good work habits and increasing his earning power would make the thief less likely to offend in the future.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bonded Employment

For the biblical system of restitution to function effectively, a process will be needed for people who cannot afford to pay the required restitution. If poor people are not required to make restitution, they could commit crime with impunity. The biblical solution to the problem of the poor thief is the “restitution loan”. If the convicted thief owns property, they would probably need to sell some of it to make restitution. If the person does not own property, they would have to find someone, hopefully a family member or neighbour, to lend the money to make restitution.

In exchange for this loan, the criminal would become a “bonded employee” of the lender. While under the bond, the criminal would be provided money to cover food and shelter, but the rest of their earnings would go towards repaying the loan (Ex 22:3). The bonded employee would be under travel restrictions and would not be able to travel far from their place of work. An electronic tracking device may be needed to ensure that they do not escape to avoid payment. The criminal would probably have to promise good behaviour to the person making the loan. This should assist with the rehabilitation of the criminal.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

State Monopoly

God’s law gives judges responsibility for punishing crime. The modern state has rebelled against God’s law. It has demanded a monopoly over justice, but refuses to provide justice for its citizens. Taxpayer money is spent on a variety of causes that buy popularity, but justice is neglected. The police refuse to investigate many thefts, because the amount stolen is too small. The state knows what is should do, but refuses to do it. It knows what is should not do, and does that (shades of Romans 7:21-24). Biblical law gives citizens control over justice.

Petty crime is a serious problem in many societies, because most police forces do not have the resources to investigate minor crimes. The problem with this is that most criminals start off small when they are young, and then move on to more serious crimes as they get away with it. Petty crime needs to be “nipped in the bud” to prevent an escalating cycle of crime. The biblical restitution model provides a good solution to this problem. Young people convicted of petty theft could have a compulsory automatic payment attached to their bank account for the fourfold restitution. They would quickly learn that crime does not pay.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


The compensation a victim of crimes receives should be sufficient to pay for the cost of tracking down the criminal. This gives power to the victim. In the modern system, the victim of theft has to rely on the police to track down the criminal. If theft is not a priority for the police, nothing will happen. Under the Old Testament system, the victim can pay someone to track down the criminal knowing that his compensation will pay the cost. The victim can decide what action should be taken.

People with detective skills could track down criminals on the condition that they only get paid if they get a conviction. Provided they get a conviction for about half of the crimes they investigate, they will be able to recover their costs from their clients.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Restitution for Capital Goods

An ox gets fivefold restitution because it can be used to pull a heavy load. It is a capital good that can be used to produce a stream of income into the future, so is more valuable to its owner than a sheep. Stealing an ox makes the owner less productive for the lifetime of the oxen. Using a modern example, the theft of a carpenters tools (his capital goods) costs him more than the theft of something he has made. This is why additional restitution is required. Biblical law requires fivefold restitution for the any capital goods that are stolen.

This restitution principle is very different from the modern system of fines and imprisonment. All fines get paid to the state, so the victim gets nothing. If the criminal is sent to prison, innocent citizens pay the cost and the victim still misses out, which is very unfair. In the biblical system, the victims gets compensated for their loss.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


The basic principle in the Old Testament Law is that a person who is convicted of a crime must make restitution to the victim of their crime. For example, the penalty for theft is four or fivefold restitution to the victim.

If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep (Ex 22:1).
The thief must pay his victim four times the value of what he has sold. The compensation beyond the value of what was stolen makes up for the cost of tracking down the thief. It also acts as a deterrent against theft. A thief will not get caught every time, so if he only had to pay back what was stolen, he might decide to risk the crime, knowing that when if he gets caught, he can just give back the stolen goods. The fourfold repayment severely reduces the economic benefits of theft.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Penalties for Crime

The Bible specifies the penalties that judges must apply for each crime. These penalties are still relevant in the modern world. The most surprising thing is that there are not prisons are not mentioned.

Prisons have no place in God’s justice system. There are no prisons in biblical, law so it is not surprising that prisons do not work. They put criminals together in one place and cut them off from the rest of society for long periods of time. Prisoners will hate society and learn more about crime, so they are unlikely to be reformed.

The Old Testament allows a person to be held in custody while waiting for their trial, but this should be only for a brief time.

They put him in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them (Lev 24:12, see also Num 15:34).
In most cases keeping a person in his home should be sufficient. Justice should be administered quickly, so long periods in custody should be unnecessary. There is no biblical basis for locking people up as a punishment for crime.

Innocent Witnesses

An additional principle is that the witnesses must not have committed the crime with which they are charging the accused. This is what happened to the “woman taken in adultery” (John 8:3-11). The men accusing her, turned and walked away, because they knew they were guilty of the same sin.

But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7).
I suspect that a group of men would find it hard to enter a house to catch a woman in the act of adultery and then make her stand in front of them, without falling into lust along the way. Lust was the same as adultery to Jesus (Matt 5:28). Lust is not a crime, because it is hidden from witnesses in the mind, but it is sufficient to disqualify a witness to adultery.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Independent Witnesses

A key principle in the Law is that a person can only be convicted of a crime on the evidence of at least two independent witnesses.

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offence he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).
This prevents one person making false charges against another. There must be another person to corroborate their evidence. For serious crimes there must be at least three witnesses. A person can only be convicted if there is strong evidence from three people who actually witnessed the crime. Hearsay is not sufficient. The requirement for two or three witnesses imposes a high standard for convicting a person of a crime.