Should idolatry or adultery be recriminalised?


Western societies generally pride themselves on their tolerance and freedom. In matters of race and culture, there is much to commend this breadth of spirit, and Christian churches as well as being dismal stalwarts of racism have from their inception (Acts 13.1) also been pioneers of this proper pluralism. However it may be questioned whether all forms of tolerance are right or healthy. HIV is a virus that promotes tolerance in the body with fatal effects on its immune defence. We don't tolerate unsafe driving practices, defective airplane designs, or dangerously stored food, so why does our solicitous care end with the carnal and the temporary, and why are we negligently reckless when it comes to the spiritual? If we care about our children and citizenss physical health, why are we so reckless about habits and practices that we know very well will take them to Hell?

    HIV invading a host cell (wiki)

Two common arguments arise at this point. The first is practicality, can you really jail more than half the adult population for adultery? Indeed this was Cromwell's problem and it shortly became the Puritans' in early America. Law is at best a weak restraint on sin.

The second is where is the mandate for Christians to press for such laws? Like the Lord, we are concerned for mercy and repentance not for punishment per se, we'd much rather see Magdalene restored with tears, than lashed like another poor Afghan victim of the Taliban. We also know that many of our church members fully deserve to be under such a penalty, indeed it is of the Lord's sheer mercies that all of us are not consumed in Hell (Lament. 3.22).  Often with dear martyr Robert Bradford, when astonished at the latest depravity we mutter under our breaths, 'there but for the grace of God, go I'. Similarly there's the allied question of whether there is any propriety to Gentile Christians applying the theocratic laws which were given to Moses for the State of Israel in its infancy.

These are both legitimate objections, and I don't propose to address them now. Nevertheless, there is a basic question should idolatry or adultery be punished by law in a healthy society? Should Christians have a view on this? Is there a Christian view?

First a question of definition, idolatry is not simply any worship we don't agree with but a violation of the second (yes second, not first) commandment. It is a physical expression of worship to a visible manifestation or representation of Deity. This does not include Judaism, or many so-called Christian sects, like the Jehovah's Witnesses or other Arians, for there is no visible form to which they offer worship. However it most certainly does include Roman Catholicism, most branches of so called 'Orthodox' Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and of course Hinduism along with many other faiths. This kind of religious adoration will be universal in the last days, (Rev.13.12-15) as it was in Shadrach's Babylon (Dan.3.8-18). Adultery is any form of voluntary extra-marital sexual intercourse, (holy matrimony being lawfully entered into according to the creation ordinance by any consenting single man and single woman only) and includes other sexual perversions.

Second a basic question, what is the law of the land for? Is it primarily for our public or private good? This is the chief and only thought of secular law makers, but Divine Law is an expression of our love for God and His for us, remove the Law and we cannot see His love or care in any focussed or specific personal way. Civil law is a faint reflection of Divine Law.

Our response to those who challenge any such suggestion of legislation is based on the dear Patriarch Job.

It was Job, who centuries before Sinai or the Levitical covenant that shields and enshrined the Law, wrote these most trenchant and relevant commands.

 ' I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?
  For what portion of God is there from above? and what inheritance of the Almighty from on high?
  Is not destruction to the wicked? and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity?
  Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps?' (Job.31.1-3)

 ' If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbour’s door;
  Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her.
  For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges.
  For it is a fire that consumeth to destruction, and would root out all mine increase.'

The word for 'iniquity to be punished' is עָו‍ֹן פְּלִילִים  and as the AV indicates strongly indicates a crime worthy of punishment by the civil magistrate. The word means, ' calling for judgment, judicial, assessable, criminal'.

The same is indicated of the worship of the visible,

'If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness;
And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand:
This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above.'  (

The expression defining a civil crime, 'an iniquity to be punished by the judge'' is עָו‍ֹן פְּלִילִים, is the same. Job would look at our benighted and decadent societies with amazement and shame. How could such technologically advanced societies be so willfully ignorant of their Creator and Designer, their own good, of wisdom and discernment and the safety of their prosperity? 'Spoilt dwarves, blind guides and moral cripples', he might well sigh, as he heard our pedagogues and social architects pedalling their poisons on our children.

Secular judges and legislators may shudder and tremble at these Divine requirements, but it is they that must first give account for the failure to implement them. Desalinated Christians and church leaders must also give account for having conceded to the docetic vogue of our evil age and having failed to voice them, for with us the judgement of God shall surely begin (1 Pet. 4.17).

 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.
 Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
(Psalm 2.10-12)

  (Wiki commons)


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