John Calvin On the Death Penalty and Adultery

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Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
From John Calvin's commentary on John 8 and the woman caught in adultery:

John 8:11 -

11. Neither do I condemn thee. We are not told that Christ absolutely acquitted the woman, but that he allowed her to go at liberty. Nor is this wonderful, for he did not wish to undertake any thing that did not belong to his office. He bad been sent by the Father to gather the lost sheep, (Matthew 10:6) and, therefore, mindful of his calling, he exhorts the woman to repentance, and comforts her by a promise of grace. They who infer from this that adultery ought not to be punished with death, must, for the same reason, admit that inheritances ought not to be divided, because Christ refused to arbitrate in that matter between two brothers, (Luke 12:13.) Indeed, there will be no crime whatever that shall not be exempted from the penalties of the law, if adultery be not punished; for then the door will be thrown open for any kind of treachery, and for poisoning, and murder, and robbery. Besides, the adulteress, when she bears an unlawful child, not only robs the name of the family, but violently takes away the right of inheritance from the lawful offspring, and conveys it to strangers. But what is worst of all, the wife not only dishonors the husband to whom she had been united, but prostitutes herself to shameful wickedness, and likewise violates the sacred covenant of God, without which no holiness can continue to exist in the world.

---------- Post added at 04:19 PM ---------- Previous post was at 04:08 PM ----------

What is also interesting is Calvin's view of the interpretation that usually is pondered by many exegetes.

Yet the Popish theology is, that in this passage Christ has brought to us the Law of grace, by which adulterers are freed from punishment. And though they endeavor, by every method, to efface from the minds of men the grace of God, such grace as is every where declared to us by the doctrine of the Gospel, yet in this passage alone they preach aloud the Law of grace. Why is this, but that they may pollute, with unbridled lust, almost “Voyla la beau fruict.” which we have reaped from the diabolical system of celibacy, that they who are not permitted to marry a lawful wife can commit fornication without restraint. But let us remember that, while Christ forgives the sins of men, he does not overturn political order, or reverse the sentences and punishments appointed by the laws.

Go, and sin no more. Hence we infer what is the design of the grace of Christ. It is, that the sinner, being reconciled to God, may honor the Author of his salvation by a good and holy life. In short, by the same word of God, when forgiveness is offered to us, we are likewise called to repentance. Besides, though this exhortation looks forward to the future, still it humbles sinners by recalling to remembrance their past life.
I don't believe that the case of the woman taken in adultery is any case against theonomy, but I do not believe modern states, or modern Christian states, are bound to take the lives of adulterers or adulteresses for other reasons.

In a better order of things, there should be some penalty against those who commit adultery and justice for the victim, the wronged party. The wronged party could benefit financially from the adulterers and the adulterers could be flogged or do hard labour under a Christian, common-sense and fair but tough ethos.

The adulterer(s) would also suffer church sanctions if they were members in the Church.

The wronged party would also have the right of divorce or reconciliation.

The more godly a society becomes, the less adultery is socially acceptable, and that also acts as a deterrent.

In a non-Mosaic context, without the corresponding death of animals for other sins, or when capital punishment isn't prescribed, theonomy might be tried out by some Christian government or other during the millennial Silver Age but it would probably be quickly abandoned because it would be seen as incongruous, inappropriate, unecessary in such a flourishing Christian society, and in conflict with the application of church discipline.
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