Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Justice relating to accidental death and property damage. Part 1

In the next few posts I intend to discuss issues around justice as related to death of people and then property laws. Included are some thoughts I have on some interpretive issues. In my final post I wish to briefly summarise what specifics we can glean from these laws that we may better discern what makes just law.

Exodus 21 and 22 include instructions on livestock for the Israelites. These laws are among the larger construct that was intended for the Israelites as God's chosen people living in an agrarian society. It does not seem that the various laws are necessarily a blueprint for all governments, especially the rules regarding animal sacrifice. Nevertheless the commands the Israelites received at Sinai are a large reservoir of useful teaching that gives us much understanding of the ways of God.

One of the aspects of these livestock laws shows that it is intention that determines justice.

The first passage I wish to look at is human death caused by animals.
“When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. If it gores a man's son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. (Exodus 21:28-32 ESV)
This does not so much belong to laws about livestock but rather the earlier verses which discuss offences requiring death. But it raises some interesting perspectives that are apparent in the subsequent chapter.

The 2 offences are
  1. Ox causing death unexpectedly
  2. Ox causing death when the owner is aware of this risk but neglects to prevent it
If this is unexpected then the owner bears no responsibility. His ox must be killed in line with passages elsewhere demanding the death of people or animals causing the death of humans. Genesis states
But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. (Genesis 9:4–5 ESV)
If the death is related to negligence then the owner bears some responsibility. Earlier in the chapter God mandates capital punishment for murder. But a man must not be executed for unexpected death.
Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die. (Exodus 21:12-14 ESV)
Intentional killing of a person leads to death sentence. Accidental death at the hand of another means no death sentence (though other consequences). Death by oxen is a third (middle) category, death by negligence. If someone dies as a result of behaviour that put them at risk of death, but was not a result of malice then the sentence still is death for the negligent party.

However we note that the sentence can be commuted to a fine if so desired by the victims relatives.
If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him.
Human life is viewed as immensely valuable by God. We must not kill others, but we must not even let our actions be such that they result in the death or others. If we behave in a way that could lead to another man's death but we do not care whether or not that would happen then we ourselves deserve punishment. The substitution of a fine recognises that mercy can be extended when there is no malice; just carelessness, indifference, or negligence.

To qualify for negligence the risk of death must be predictable and the person must be able to reasonably prevent it. In the example of the ox, the ox has gored before therefore further goring is likely, and the owner can keep the ox tied up. It would seem that extremely unlikely events, or events that are not avoidable should be included in accidental death.

The penalties for death of children and slaves are tangential to the above points but need explanation.

The qualification for children means that he cannot escape punishment just because the children are under his care. Children are viewed as the man's property in some sense, but he cannot escape a ransom because of this. He is a steward over his children for God, his negligence still requires punishment.

I am not certain if the qualification for slaves is in the case of an ox known to gore or not known to gore. That is, does the qualification apply offence 1 or offence 2 above? It is less likely to be offence 1 for reasons below. In this situation the ox owner is innocent. If it was situation 2 then the owner bears responsibility and must pay a ransom. The ransom is 30 shekels, the price of a slave. As the slave was the property of another then the situation is similar to the following passage where one ox kills another.
When one man's ox butts another's, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his. (Exodus 21:35-36 ESV)
If there is no blame the involved persons share in the loss. If there is a responsible person he repays the price of the ox in full (and gains a dead ox). The ox owner in the case of the gored slave pays the full cost of a slave which suggests that the passage has offence 2 in mind. Obviously one cannot keep a dead person. The difference with a slave compared to a freeman is that a ransom is an enforced stipulation rather than a possible option, and the amount is fixed, not dictated by relatives of the deceased.

Modern examples would be
  • A swimming pool that is reasonably accessible to infants but inadequately secured.
  • Driving while intoxicated or driving excessively dangerously.
  • Accessible cliffs or drops that are not fenced.
It is not that there is to be no risk to human life ever; nor is that if a tragedy occurs then blame needs to be apportioned to someone; rather it is that predictable and likely causes of death that can reasonably be prevented should be attended to, and disregard of these risks resulting in death is a real offence.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Monday quote

I must say, in one of those acts which condemn mankind, the opprobrium was more often attached to the innocent children rather than to the philandering father. The word ‘bastard’ came to be a swear word, a synonym for a ruthless and heartless grasper, whereas the real swear word should have been attached to the father of the bastard.

John C. Wright

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The principle of intentional vagueness

It is said that Scripture is perspicuous, that the Bible is easy to understand. And it is, in general. Much of the narrative can be comprehended. The poetry is frequently accessible. This is not to say that we find it easy to understand the why of what we read.

I think much of Scripture is perspicuous, at least at the surface level. There is much that is difficult to understand as well. One may need to dig deeper to grasp what is being said and why, and the full depths of Scripture may be indeed difficult to plumb.

As well as this depth, or perhaps part of it, is what I see as a principle of intentional vagueness. There are parts that are difficult to grasp but it seems that, at times, this is intentional.

Some of what is difficult may be due to cultural differences. We don't come to the Bible with underlying suppositions that the authors and immediate hearers did. But there is an indication that God intends for some things not to be immediately apparent. There are several examples of this.

Prophecy at times seems to be this way. Not that prophecy is not specific, but it may discuss an issue with no or little spatial or chronological clues. So Isaiah gives prophecies about the Messiah as a suffering servant and a reigning king. While it may be difficult for the hearers to meld these issues, it does make sense with what we now know about death and resurrection of Jesus, his position currently, and his return to rule.

Jesus also said things that were intentionally difficult to understand. He specifically stated that he spoke in parables
so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.' (Luke 8)
It is not just that there are things that are hard to understand, rather that God intends for them to be hard to understand.

A complaint from infidels is, Why is the Bible not clearer in places. Leaving aside the fact it may be clear to culturally astute persons that pay attention to genre, at times the Bible does lack clarity. The question arises as to why.

I can think of a few reasons.
  1. It creates interest. Leaving something hanging promotes a desire for its resolution. Why did he say that? What did he mean? Surely it can't be thus?
  2. It distinguishes between those who wish to understand and those who do not. Enough information is given for genuine seekers, and the righteous to know and seek more; it leaves out enough information such that the uninterested, the mockers, and the fools can dismiss it.
  3. It allows for prophecy such that those prior to the event struggle to fully grasp what is to happen and those after the event to recognise the amazing accuracy of the fulfilment.
  4. It grows faith. We can and are encouraged to ask questions of Scripture, about what it means. But we will not understand everything. By seeing God's activity clearly in some areas of the Bible and finding him faithful, we can trust him to be faithful in areas we are yet to comprehend. Not that we won't grow in knowledge over time, we will; but we can never fully grasp everything. Vagueness reminds us that we can trust God with incomplete information.

    I don't mean the (false) claim that we should believe Scripture despite it being untrue; that we should have "faith" in things we otherwise "know" are not the case.
The Bible is not just a source of true information. Though it is true, and a worldview based on the Bible is the correct one. But God intends for people to follow him. We see that in the explanations around why Jesus spoke in parables.
Then the disciples came and said to [Jesus], “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,/
and you will indeed see but never perceive./
For this people's heart has grown dull,/
and with their ears they can barely hear,/
and their eyes they have closed,/
lest they should see with their eyes/
and hear with their ears/
and understand with their heart/
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13)
This is a quote from Isaiah 6 where God sends Isaiah to the people. Paul also quotes it to some Jews in Rome who refused to believe the gospel (Acts 28). There seems to be a will by some men to refuse to accept the truth. If they had honest hearts and wanted to be part of the truth then they would turn to Jesus and he would heal them. Yet their hearts (wills) remain impervious to the truth and so Jesus speaks in parables and the secrets of heaven are not revealed to them.

There is enough in the Bible for a believer to study a lifetime and more. There is enough in the Bible (and world) to condemn the unbeliever, yet enough difficulty to allow for the mockers to reject it and instead choose deception.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Teaching children about money

Randy Alcorn gives advice on how to teach your children about money. This is an interesting post in that much of what he talks about is not money management per se (though there is that), but how to get them to think rightly about money. His 10 points cover spending time with your children, teaching them about giving, saying "no" to themselves. I thought this gem was useful.
Take a field trip to a junkyard. How can we teach our children the emptiness of materialism in a memorable way? Take them to a garage sale and show them how things that people spent great amounts of money on are now sold for pennies.

Or, take them to visit a dump or junkyard. Show them all the piles of “treasures” that were formerly Christmas and birthday presents. Point out things costing hundreds of dollars, that children quarreled about, friendships were lost over, honesty was sacrificed for, and marriages broke up over. Show them the remnants of battered dolls, rusted robots, and crashed cars. Let them look at the expensive furniture and electronic gadgets that now lie useless. Point out to them that nearly everything your family owns will one day end up in a junkyard like this.

Then read, or ask them to read, 2 Peter 3:10-14, which says when Christ returns the whole world “will be destroyed by fire” and “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” Ask them the ultimate question: “when all that you owned lies abandoned, broken, burned and useless, what will you have done that will last for eternity?”

What will survive the coming holocaust of things? The answer is, only God, His Word and people. Explain to your children how life should be invested in the eternal. Read to them Matthew 6:19-25, where Jesus says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Tell them “you can’t take it with you,” but according to Jesus, you can send it on ahead!
Worth a read.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Monday quote

But if we accept the duty to love others along with being fully convinced in our own minds, then we are protected against most forms of faddism. This is because fads are not very much fun without the added fun of recruiting for a movement. The substance of the fad is just the raw material. The real attraction lies in supervising people who actually don’t answer to you, which is what Paul prohibits.

Douglas Wilson

Friday, 18 June 2010

Mummy KV55 identified as Akhenaten

Historical inscriptions state that Pharaoh Akhenaten was the son of Amenhotep 3 and the father of Tutankhanem. Akhentaten's wife was the famed Nefertiti, though he also had other wives. A mummy found in 1907 in tomb KV55 has been confirmed by genetic testing as Tutankhamen's father, and the son of Amenhotep 3.
Two years of DNA testing and CAT scans on 16 royal mummies conducted by Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, however, gave the firmest evidence to date that an unidentified mummy — known as KV55, after the number of the tomb where it was found in 1907 in Egypt's Valley of the Kings — is Akhenaten's.

The testing, whose results were announced last month, established that KV55 was the father of King Tut and the son of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, a lineage that matches Akhenaten's, according to inscriptions.
Previous assertions that KV55 is Akhenaten were dismissed based on the supposition that the age of the KV55 mummy at death was too young, but this has since been revised.

Akhenaten ruled during the 18th Dynasty, traditionally dated in the 14th century BC. He promoted worship of Aten the sun-disk in preference to the god Amun. He changed his own name from Amenhotep (4) to Akhenaten, removed the name Amun from several inscriptions and destroyed Amun's temples, and built the city Akhetaten for Aten.

It is claimed by some that Akhenaten was a monotheist, antedating and anticipating Moses. This is incorrect for several reasons: theological and chronological. Though Akhenaten may have been a monotheist of sorts, it appears that he was devoted to Aten in preference to Amun whom he rejected. But he tolerated other deities, all his animosity was directed solely at Amun.

Neither did Akhenaten antedate Moses. Even with traditional Egyptian dating one needs also to hold to a shortened Hebrew chronology placing Moses in the 13th rather than the 15th century BC. Scripturally, 200 years between Moses and David is too short. All the arguments for a late exodus are extra-biblical.

But the traditional dating of Akhenaten is incorrect. Finding synchronisms between Israel and Egypt based on matching individuals rather than spurious dates places the beginning of the 18th pharaonic Dynasty around the time of King Saul. Akhenaten is not mentioned in the Bible by any name. His great-grandfather may have been. Akentaten was the son of Amenhotep 3, son of Thutmose 4, son of Amenhotep 2. Amenhotep 2 is identified as Zerah the Cushite (2 Chronicles 14) by Immanuel Velikovsky and David Down. Zerah attached Judah c. 900 BC which would place Akhenaten some time in the late 9th century BC. The Armana tablets from the time of Amenhotep 3 and Akhenaten are correspondence between Egypt and northern countries. They include correspondence from Samaria (which is erroneously ascribed to Sumer) and Jerusalem.

Picture of Nefertiti bust in Berlin museum.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Monday quote

God established these laws in nature, in the same way as a king establishes laws in his kingdom.

Rene Descartes

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Gapminder: Resource to compare countries

I have recently become aware of an interesting Swedish site called Gapminder. They have aggregated a large amount of statistics and allow you to plot them in a variety of ways. It covers health, income, disease and mortality, and several other parameters.

What I found of interest was their income and life expectancy graphs on Gapminder World. The basic frame is graph with a variety of options.

Life expectancy is on the left. It is a linear scale, though this can switched to a log scale. Income is on the bottom defaulting to a log scale (adjustable to linear). And the country size is plotted according to population. This can be adjusted to a fixed size, or a host of other variable such as aid received, education, energy use.

The year can be adjusted, or you can watch the changes unfold over the last 200 years. Countries can be highlighted for comparison.

And you can track changes of several countries over time.

What is of some interest is that life expectancy increased before income in many of the countries. I also found it interesting to note the slow economic progress or even regress of countries with poor governance compared to reasonably rapid gains in countries where there is rule of law and economic freedom. Compare Zimbabwe to Botswana and note the rise of Singapore and Hong Kong, neither of which have many natural resources, or even land or water.

Of course one is limited to the accuracy of the data, data from some countries is far more accurate than others.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Monday quote

He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

Jim Elliot (1927–1956), paraphrasing Philip Henry (1631–1696)

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Top 10 innovations of the last 50 years

This is a list in rough order of what I consider the top innovations over the last few decades. It is hard to rate these, and people value various technologies differently. I am considering the potential number of people that could use the technology and the significance of its effect on our lifestyle.

It is difficult to identify specific items as many of the innovations are dependant on many smaller ones that compose the larger one. The transistor (1950s) is undoubtedly a major innovation, but predominantly in making other useful gadgets. Likewise light emitting diodes (LED) (1960s), and fibre optic cables (1920s–1960s). Some otherwise notable innovations such as incandescent light bulbs (1880s), aeroplanes (1910s), and satellites (1950s) are older than 50 years. High yield grain varieties (1950s onward), a culmination of several breeding improvements, would be in the top 3 of the last hundred years.

Top 10 innovations of the last 50 years
  1. Personal computer (1970s)
  2. Laser (1960s)
  3. Internet (1970s–1990)
  4. Retail electronic funds transfer (1980s)
  5. Cell phones (1980s)
  6. Optical memory storage (1980s)
  7. Polymerase chain reaction (1980s)
  8. DNA sequencing (late 1970s onwards)
  9. Global positioning system (1970s–1990s)
  10. Magnetic resonance imaging (1970s)
Other contenders include
  1. Flash memory storage (1980s)
  2. Digital cameras (1990s)
  3. Computer assisted tomography (CT scans) (1970s)
Most of these are electronic devices. This is not surprising given that we live in the electronic age. Or rather the information age; 9 of the 10 concern information access—laser excepted. Many major breakthroughs in physics and chemistry are decades, if not centuries old. And most of the major advances in medicine, while occurring in the 20th century, were more than 50 years ago.

What would you include or exclude in your list?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

10 things that annoy me about Calvinists

I wish to discuss several issues that I find frustrating when discussing the Calvinist and Arminian positions with fellow Christians who are Calvinists. Note I said Calvinists and not Calvinism. I disagree with 4 of the 5 points of Calvinism, and even my take on total depravity differs from Calvinism in some specifics; but I am not discussing Calvinist theology here (on the main). Note also that I referred to those whom I discuss Calvinism and Arminianism with, I know several Calvinists that I do not spend time discussing Calvinism with.

The annoyances listed
  1. Some Calvinists don't understand Arminianism
  2. Some Calvinists misrepresent Arminianism
  3. Some Calvinists assume determinism when using reducto absurdum
  4. Some Calvinists approach situations as extremes
  5. Many Calvinists redefine words
  6. Some Calvinists mock the Arminian position
  7. Some Calvinists believe contradictory statements
  8. Some Calvinists equate knowledge with causation
  9. Some Calvinists call faith a work
  10. Many Calvinists read Scripture thru their theology
Not all necessarily practice all 10.

1. Some Calvinists don't understand Arminianism

By this I mean that some Calvinists feel free to jump into a discussion, or offer their opinion on distinctiveness between the systems but they only have a grasp on Calvinism. It is clear from what they do write that they do not understand Arminianism at all. Now having an extensive understanding of Arminianism may not be required, but a basic understanding on what Arminians believe is important. And a greater understanding is required when discussing subtle intricacies of the 2 systems.

I myself have studied neither system in great detail. And my attachment to Arminianism is only because I think it best represents my biblical view. But I know what I believe, and some of what Calvinism claims (for itself), and some of what Arminianism claims.

2. Some Calvinists misrepresent Arminianism

This is related to item #1. By understanding Arminianism I mean what Arminians claim to believe, not what non-Arminians say Arminians believe. If you misconstrue my system then prove the misconstrued system incorrect what have you really done? I never held what you say in the first place. Calvinists are not immune to calling non-Calvinism Arminianism. But non-Calvinism is anything not Calvinist and covers a multitude of beliefs. Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Universalism, and Open Theism are all non-Calvinist, but they are also non-Arminian.

If you wish to claim that Arminianism is logically incoherent and leads to Open Theism (or Universalism, or whatever) then do so, and show how, but don't say that Arminianism teaches Open Theism, it does not.

3. Some Calvinists assume determinism when using reductio ad absurdum

A valid way of demolishing an argument is to assume its premises and show the consequences are nonsensical. The Calvinist can assume the Arminian position for the sake of the argument and show how following these ideas lead to contradiction, or absurdity, or anti-biblical ideas. Frequently what one finds when Calvinists do this is that unstated premises form part of the argument, usually an assumption of determinism. I suspect this is because they find it hard to think in a non-determinist way such is their usual mode of thinking. But determinism is not an Arminian position and has no place in arguments for Arminianism, stated or unstated.

4. Some Calvinists approach situations as extremes

I see this with regard to the Calvinist approach to sovereignty and freewill. I read statements along the lines of: if God does not control every molecule in the universe at all times then he is not in control at all. Or: if men have any freedom to choose how they act, then they can choose anything at all including flying.

Let it be clear that Arminians think that God is in control of the universe, just not in the exhaustive deterministic manner that some Calvinists claim; and that men have some freedom in their thoughts and actions, but not complete freedom to think or do anything.

5. Many Calvinists redefine words

Words like "sovereignty" and "choose" and perseverance" seem to take on meanings dislocated from their usual sense. If English translates Hebrew or Greek words suboptimally then say so, and identify better translations. But words in English have meanings. Use them.

6. Some Calvinists mock the Arminian position

This is unacceptable. The only potential justification for mockery is when used on mockers, specifically those who mock God. Arminianism in terms of its foundational views has a long tradition. While both Arminians and Calvinists claim their view is the biblical one, extra-biblical support is strong for Arminian-like views and a good case can be made for it antedating Calvinist-like views.

If you think Arminianism is wrong, dangerous, or heretical then say so. And a little humour is acceptable. But mockery is not an appropriate expression toward fellow God-fearers.

7. Some Calvinists believe contradictory statements

Granted, there are subtleties in this debate. And perhaps there are aspects that men struggle to comprehend. But logical contradictions are contradictions. That means that we need to examine our arguments closely, are there subtle errors in the argument, or do our premises need minor tweaking. But calling a logical contradiction a mystery does not cut the mustard. Our reasoning ability may be incomplete, but incompleteness does not equate to error. And mystery in the New Testament does not refer to this type of contradictory logic.

8. Some Calvinists equate knowledge with causation

There does not seem to be any reason to think that knowledge of a future action, whether likely or certain, implies causation of such action. This is really not that complicated. Arminianism claims God has such knowledge, but it does not equate that with causation. Of course God can cause things, but future knowledge does not necessarily imply cause.

If the Calvinist wishes to argue that the only way that God could know the future for certain is if he caused every action, then say so. But this is saying that God both knows and directly causes the future. But to argue knowledge is causation is nonsense. Consider the many things people know that will happen in the future that they do not cause.

9. Some Calvinists call faith a work

This is frustrating. Faith and works can have a variety of meanings. Paul and James may talk about them in slightly different ways. But nowhere in the Bible are thoughts, desires, and choices described as works. Works are actions we do. If a person, or an angel, or God offers us something and we accept it, this is not a work. If a Calvinist defines choosing to accept God's offer of salvation a work, thus works based salvation, then I plead guilty.

10. Many Calvinists read Scripture thru their theology

This is to be partly expected. We all do this to a degree with our preconceptions. Though hopefully over time Scripture will transform our thinking to a more biblical perspective. Scripture is supposed to modify our thinking. But if you transform Scriptural passages into Calvinist theology then what you are reading is less likely to challenge your thinking. Read what it says. Deal with the tension. Examine the context. Both Arminians and Calvinists need to do this. But there are times when Calvinists refer to passages and their interpretation seems disconnected with the words on the page; at times even contradictory.


These are all issues I have come across. There may be others I have not remembered to include, and other people may think of more.

It needs to be clear that I do not think that this post disproves Calvinist theology in any way. Further, while it is a complaint against how some Calvinists argue, it need not be seen as a complaint against Calvinists in general. I would not wish to argue as an Arminian in the ways I have identified above, nor would I wish other Arminians to do so. As such it is possible for a Calvinist to agree with much of this post. If I happen to be incorrect about Arminianism, arguments by Calvinists along these lines are not likely to persuade me otherwise.

Discussions may get heated at times but Christians should desire that fellow Christians come to a greater understanding of the truth.


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