January 16th, 2018 / By: Mark Coppenger / comments
This past summer, I was traveling through southern Pennsylvania toward the East Coast, and no officials sought to shoot or hang me. But this was not always so for travelers along that route. For during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, those heading this direction could find themselves standing on the gallows or before a firing squad to be executed as deserters. Tough measures for tough times, with matters of great consequence in the balance – the establishment and preservation of our nation with its admirable Constitution.
Similarly, a great many Americans today are engaging in illicit sex and abusing the institution of marriage without paying any civil penalties, but there was a time and place when you couldn’t get away with this, a wartime, if you will – both revolutionary and civil – when the most fundamental and life-giving institution on earth – Judeo-Christian marriage and the family – was being introduced to mankind. This key to human flourishing was established by God in the opening chapters of Genesis. It predated civil government, academia, the military, business, industry, the arts, international alliances, and voluntary associations . . . including the church.
God knew that it you ignored or damaged this foundation – and encouraged others to join you in this mad enterprise – whatever society you might build would be doomed to collapse. So he established severe sanctions to make the point and to shock the populace into respecting sound sexual, marital and familial relations. If his people, the ancient Jews, didn’t get it right and pass along his standards through word and example, then what hope was there for the rest of us?
We might say he strung “barbed wire” around this institution, discouraging both deserters and marauders, and though the penalties were peculiar to those “revolutionary” days, the underlying value system stands, despite the contempt in which it’s held today. That being said, let’s take a quick look at the Lord’s fencing designed to address a range of threats:
- Adultery. Leviticus 20:10 says that both parties “must be put to death.”
- Pre-marital promiscuity. Deuteronomy 22:20-21 says that a newlywed should be stoned to death upon evidence of premarital promiscuity.
- Homosexuality. Leviticus calls this “detestable” (18:22) and worthy of death (20:13).
- Bestiality. Leviticus 18:23 calls this “a perversion.” Leviticus 20:15-16 says that both the human and the animal involved must be put to death.
- Incest. Leviticus 18:6 prohibits sex with close relatives. The participants are “cursed” (Deut. 27:22). Leviticus 20:17 says the parties “must be cut off before the eyes of their people.”
- Abuse of parents. The Fifth Commandment requires children to honor their parents, upon pain of early death. Leviticus 20:9 demands execution of sons and daughters who curse their parents. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 extends the penalty to disobedient, rebellious sons.
- Abuse of children. In Leviticus 18:21, God condemns child sacrifice. In Leviticus 19:29, He forbids the degradation of one’s daughter through prostitution.
- Divorce. Malachi 2:16 teaches that “God hates divorce.” Leviticus 21:14 teaches that the High Priest must not marry a divorced woman.
- Abuse of newlyweds. A newlywed man must not be sent to war. “For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (Deut. 24:5).
Again, these aren’t meant as surefire templates for framing civil law today, and some of them can strike the ear with a terrifying strangeness. But today, we find ourselves with another kind of terrifying strangeness, as one unfolding case after another reveals the degradation of a society increasingly indifferent to the standards that God gave and imposed upon the ancient Hebrews. A good many kings and princes of the news media/entertainment industry and government have espoused and practiced immorality, and they’ve both enabled and celebrated the fools who’ve torn down God’s fencing.
It’s reported that a lady asked Ben Franklin, as he left the concluding session of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” to which Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
And what have we had? A society with a measure of soundness, because it was grounded in a Judeo-Christian view of sexuality, marriage, and the family. But it’s arguably doubtful that we can keep it.
Mark T. Coppenger is Professor of Christian Philosophy and Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a contributor to the New King James Version Unapologetic Study Bible, just released from Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins Christian Publishing.