"Are we descending into silliness?" is not a general question, but is specifically aimed at a big problem today in the interpretation of the Bible. I will explain shortly but first I have to set the scene.
I responded to a blog post by a Christian scholar who asked the question, "Are we descending into barbarity?". The post was about the recent account of a man being given a lethal injection who stayed alive for almost two hours and made noises that suggested that he may be suffering. Apparently, there was some experimenting (for lack of a better term) with the drugs. The claim was made that they were trying to actually to make executions less painful. The author did not buy that claim and said that it was 'barbaric'.
To me, this is a specious assertion. The whole purpose of using drugs, instead of other methods, is to minimize suffering not increase it. We have tried different methods of execution and we keep trying to make them more humane. The gas chamber and the electric chair were both invented for this purpose though I would say that we failed with those two things. The simple truth is that there is no pleasant way to kill a healthy person.
One could make the claim, and many have, that a society that has the death penalty is a barbaric society. But if that were the case, then the very foundation of government is 'barbaric'. We see the foundation of government given to Noah after the flood. "Whoever shed the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." (Gen. 9:6) Before Noah's flood there was anarchy, no government. After the flood, government was instituted to curb human evil. There was far more barbarism before the death penalty than there was after.
Anyway, there is a biblical case to be made for the death penalty especially since God gave it to us both before the Law of Moses was given, and in the Law as well. And, no, we are not under the Law; however, grace does not mean lawlessness. Also, there is a Christian case to be made against the death penalty. Christians are on both sides of the issue here.
The blogger in question, though, did not acknowledge that there was a good case to be made against the death penalty. What he said was that he did not think that the scriptures that support the death penalty were consistent with the teaching of Jesus and were to be rejected or questioned on that account. Here is his response to me: "Jesus is the best and highest revelation of God. I begin with him and place a question mark over anything, even in the Bible, that contradicts what I know of God through Jesus."
That speaks volumes to me. I, too, believe that Jesus is the best revelation of God, but to say that you place a question mark (doubt) over anything you deem 'inconsistent' with that makes you a judge of what God has said in His Word. It really tells me more about you than it does about either the Bible or about Jesus.
Jesus confirmed the inspiration and authority of scripture. "The scripture cannot be broken." When Jesus answered his opponents, he quoted scripture. When Jesus resisted Satan's temptations he quoted scripture. His answer to Satan in one instance was "man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God". He was quoting Moses, but there is more for us here. He was saying that we need the whole Bible and not just what the gospels tell us about Jesus. Of course, the blogger would say that only parts of the Bible are inspired, not the whole thing. The question is how does he know what is and what is not?
The issue of the authority of scripture is much more important than the genuine concern about the death penalty. In fact, I did not respond to how he responded to me. (Others did and that is fine.) I knew that we would simply be talking past each another. I accept the scriptures as the inerrant Word of God and he chooses which part of the Bible he wants to believe and disregards the rest. I am happy that he at least takes the words of Jesus seriously. We all should. But he is dead wrong about putting the words of Jesus above the rest of the Bible. Jesus fulfills God's revelation to man, but that does not mean we can disregard the previous revelation. It means that we can understand it better.
I would also argue that without the previous revelation we would not understand Jesus. Without understanding that murder is worthy of death we would not understand why Jesus had to die in our place. It does not bother me that Christians disagree about the death penalty. Both sides have strong arguments on their side. What bothers me is that we seem to be getting a lot of silliness (it is not scholarship) about Jesus vs. the rest of the Bible. In fact, it is beyond silly, it is heresy.