For some misguided believers, executing an abortionist is a case of justified homicide. After all, if we believe that abortion is murder, and we have a duty to defend the innocent, then we have a duty to intervene by any means necessary, up to and including the use of lethal force.
But this line of logic, however appealing, is specious and simple-minded. I've excepted a letter from Gary North to Paul Hill in which Mr. North exposes some of the fallacies of vigilante justice.
I'd add one more thing to his analysis. In Christian ethics, our social obligations are concentric. Paul Hill had his own children to care for. That takes precedence over the welfare of other children. By becoming a father, he had assumed a prior obligation. By becoming an assassin, he abandoned his own family. He was not a hero—much less a martyr, but a deserter.
Murder, Defined Biblically
The sixth commandment reads, "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex. 20:13). The God who mandates this is also the God who ordered the total annihilation of the Canaanites (Deut. 7:16), so this verse cannot legitimately be interpreted as a defense of pacifism.
What is murder, biblically speaking? It is the slaying of a human being by someone who has not been authorized to do so as a covenantal agent.
A member of the military can lawfully kill a designated enemy during wartime. In Old Covenant Israel, the man eligible to serve in God's holy army had to pay blood money to the priesthood at the time of the army's numbering, just prior to battle (Ex. 30:12-16). This was atonement money (v. 16). So fearful is killing, even as a member of God's holy army, that God mandated a special payment. While we no longer are required to pay money to a priest, the implication is clear: killing is a very serious matter.
A man can defend his household against an unauthorized criminal invader (Ex. 22:2-3). He is the head of his household: a covenantal office. This is not self-defense as such; it is the defense of a legitimate sphere of authority, the home, by one charged by God through the civil government to take defensive action. But this right is never said to be universal in the Bible; it is limited to the protection of one's family.
A man can participate in the execution of a criminal convicted of a capital crime. "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you" (Deut. 17:6-7).
In Old Covenant Israel, there was an office called the blood avenger, which was the same as the kinsman-redeemer. This was the man who was nearest of kin. When a man accidentally killed another, he had to flee to a designated city of refuge. If the blood avenger caught the suspect en route, or outside the walls of that city, he was authorized by civil law to execute the suspect (Num. 35). This office no longer exists because cities of refuge were an aspect only of Mosaic Israel.
When a corporate crime was so great that God's negative sanctions threatened the entire nation, the state could authorize corporate executions. The example here is the national sin of the golden calf. The Levites' lawful slaying of the 3,000 men after the golden calf incident removed the corporate threat (Ex. 32:28). But they had specifically been called into action by Moses, the God-inspired head of the civil government. Moses deputized them prior to their judicial action.
Under holy warfare conditions, a Mosaic priest was authorized to kill someone who was committing a moral infraction so great that it would have brought bloodguiltiness on the entire community. The primary example here is Phinehas' execution of the copulating couple during the war with Midian. The visible mark of the displeasure of God was the plague that had broken out immediately prior to Phinehas' action. This plague stopped after he executed the couple (Num. 25:6-14). The same was true of Samuel's execution of Agag: he was a prophet, and it took place under wartime conditions (I Sam. 15:33).
The point is, in each case, the distinguishing mark of the right to execute an enemy of God was the holding of a covenantal office: military, head of household, witness, deputy, or wartime priest or prophet. That is, the authorization to execute a transgressor under the Mosaic covenant was ordained by God and revealed in His law.
The Fundamental Issue
The grim fact of the matter is this: abortion is a universal practice. Estimates today indicate as many as fifty million unborn infants are aborted annually, worldwide. In the United States, something in the range of a million and a half pre-born infants have been legally aborted every year since 1973. But compared to the total number of abortions worldwide, the abortions in the U.S. are a small proportion of the total.
It is not just that there are many abortions being conduced worldwide today; it is that abortions by the millions have been practiced over the history of man. It is such a common practice and has been such a common practice that the original Hippocratic Oath of the classical Greek world included a promise by the would-be physician not to practice abortion. This clause was taken out of the Hippocratic Oath in the United States during the 1970's. The lure of income was too great for the physicians, so they removed that ancient traditional clause from the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath. The point is this: abortion is an ancient practice, and God has allowed it to go on without bringing immediate judgement against those societies in which abortion was practiced. Why should this be?
The main reason why God has tolerated abortion without bringing judgment against societies that practice it is that abortion has been illegal in most societies. In the language of the pro-abortionists, abortion has generally been performed in back alleys. This is where abortion should be performed if they are performed. Back alleys are the perfect place for abortion. They are concealed. They are difficult to seek out, for both buyers of the service and as civil magistrates seeking to suppress them. They are unsafe places, placing murderous mothers under risk. Back alleys are where abortions belong.
The covenantal problem comes when societies legislate to allow abortions to be practiced at a profit on Main Street. The problem comes when abortionists can lawfully advertise in the press for people to come in and buy an abortion. Main Street abortions are what bring a society under the judgment of God. Legalized abortions reveal a deep-seated lawlessness on the part of the community.
The Question of Judicial Representation
The biblical position is that there must always be judicial representation. Adam represented all of mankind before God in the fall. Jesus Christ represented all of mankind as well as His people before God in His death, resurrection, and ascension. There must always be representation. Moses represented the civil magistrates of Israel. Aaron represented the people as the high priest of Israel.
There must always be judicial representation, and it is established biblically through ordination. There are but three covenantal institutions that God recognizes: Church, State, and Family. Each of them is established by a vow taken before God. A self maledictory oath and we say in our marriage vows, "'til death do us part." In the Church, we are baptized, which symbolizes going through the death and resurrection with Jesus Christ. Death is always a possibility for covenant-breaking. This death is announced through excommunication. In the State, we take a vow, or at lease implicitly we do, to uphold the law. We are brought under the sanctions of God if we unlawfully violate an oath of subordination. The point is: there must be, in every covenant, a representative. This representative is ordained to his office.
The father represents his wife and his children before God because he holds high covenantal office to which he has been ordained. The minister represents the congregation because he has been ordained. The civil magistrate represents the covenanted nation because he has been elected or lawfully appointed by those who have been elected. There is no lawful covenantal office without ordination.
What you are talking about in your essay is the equal ultimacy of both the individual and the ordained civil magistrate in fighting crime. This position is utter nonsense biblically. There cannot be equal ultimacy of those two, for one of them has been ordained, and one of them has not. The officer has a covenantal responsibility before God that is unique, but the individual does not. The officer is oath-bound to enforce the law, while the individual is oath-bound to obey it. One of them is at the top of the hierarchy and is invested by God with the power to exercise the sword, while the other is not.
Your problem is a theological one. But you did address a real problem. The problem you addressed is the problem you would not admit. The problem is that the American community agrees with the Supreme Court of the United States. The general American public agrees that abortion should be legal.
Maybe it does not agree that the third-trimester abortions should be legal, but it is not going to throw out of office the civil magistrates who enforce the Supreme Court's ruling. In fact, the Supreme Court has authorized third-trimester abortion and any other kind of abortion, but the public will not fight it. A handful of people have fought it, but the public refuses. The voting public will not vote out of office a man who is pro- abortion. In fact, time and time again, the public re-elects those people to office.
So, the fact of the matter is this: your problem is not that Deuteronomy 21 is not being enforced just because it is an Old Testament law. Your problem is that the basic presupposition of that law is being manifested today. God is eventually going to bring corporate judgment against a society that approves of the slaying of the innocent. This is our problem. It is not some local doctor down in Florida who was practicing abortions. The problem is a majority of the community approved of the doctor in Florida who was practicing the abortions.
I have already said that abortions have been going on for a long time. Abortions have been universal. But God's wrath isn't universal because most societies in the past have had laws against abortion and have tried to stop the abortionists. So, God acknowledged that they were doing the best they could. He did not bring His judgment against those societies because they were at least trying to stop this terrible practice. The problem comes when communities decide that the murder of the innocent is a convenience worth legislating. When societies make abortion legal, God's wrath can be expected. And so I will put it in one phrase. The problem is not abortion as such, the problem is legalized abortion.
If you identify an individual abortionist as a murderer, you are saying that he is guilty of a terrible sin. You are correct: he is guilty of a terrible sin. Nevertheless, the Bible is silent on the systematic practice of abortion. The governing passage in Exodus 21 can be used and should be used to justify laws against abortion, but it does not deliberately talk about self-conscious abortion. It says that when two men are struggling, and one of them strikes a pregnant woman and the child is born, if the child is born dead, he should be executed. From the relatively narrow concept of abortion in this case, we can make legitimate judicial applications. If, as an accident, a woman has her child aborted, and this is a capital crime, then we can legitimately conclude that if it is a self-conscious effort to kill the woman's child, then abortion is still a capital crime. We move from the narrow case law to the broader application. This is the biblical judicial principle of "If this, then how much more that."
I contend that the Christian's focus of legitimate concern regarding the abortion law is the abortion law itself. The focus of God's primary civil concern is not with the practice of abortion as such, but rather with the moral character of the people. He wants to see if they will pass laws against abortion and enforce these laws against abortion. He wants to see if they will legalize abortion. When they legalize abortion, they subject themselves to God's corporate sanctions against bloodguiltiness.
This covenantal concern is not the focus of your concern. It is also not the primary focus of most pro-lifers. They are concerned with stopping individual abortions. The more radical their theology, the more they focus on the deaths of specific infants at the hands of specific abortionists. This is not the focus of the Bible.
I am not saying that abortions are right. I am saying that the practice of abortion as such is not God's primary focus of concern. It is the practice of legalized abortions that is the focus of God's concern and wrath. When abortion is legalized, this testifies to the depraved moral condition of the community. It is the moral condition of the community that concerns God, not the fact that this or that physician is practicing abortions. God can bring judgment in eternity, and will, against those who practice abortion and against the mothers who authorize it. Abortion is a crime in God's eyes. But the focus of God's concern is not with stopping the abortions by his representatives' individual actions. The focus of God's concern is to legislate against abortion and then to have the representative ordained agents, that is, the civil magistrates, take public action against the abortion. God's judicial focus, in other words, is corporate and judicial. This is the focus of God's concern in the question of abortion.
The local question -- whether or not babies are being killed by specific abortionists -- is a secondary matter judicially. In the eyes of God, the primary concern is corporate and judicial. This is what we are supposed to learn from Deuteronomy 21:1-9. This has not been understood well by the pro-life movement. And surely, this was not understood by you.
The problem is the community. The community approves. Let us not mince words: the United States electorate approves of abortion on demand. It will not bring political sanctions against those politicians who remain silent on abortion or who actively promote abortions. The problem is in the hearts of the people. This is our primary covenantal problem.
What can be done about abortion if the primary focus of concern is not abortion but the legalization of abortion? What has to be done is to change the minds of the people. Then, second, what has to be done is to enact laws against abortion, and to pass a constitutional amendment authorizing the law to legislate against abortion. The matter is judicial. The matter is civil-political.
Perfectionism and Unlimited Guilt
There are 50 million abortions conducted each year. Am I responsible to pick up a gun and shoot any abortionist anywhere on earth? Has God ordained me to cleanse the earth of abortionists? Your theology sets no boundaries on the use of violence. National borders have no judicial relevance for those seeking to cleanse by force the world of abortion. Evil is evil, wherever it is practiced. If the lone-gunner for Jesus has been given equality with the civil magistrate in protecting the lives of the unborn, this license cannot end at a national border.
Your theology offers no judicial boundaries. It offers no boundaries on the sense of guilt in the hearts of men. There are unborn babies dying today, all over the world. Where does my responsibility end?
The unbounded perfectionism of your theology leads to intense guilt and the deviant behavior such guilt can produce. I am not guilty for my refusal to kill abortionists. I have not been authorized by God to kill abortionists. Abortionists are not under my God-given authority. They have not invaded an area of responsibility for which I am responsible to the point of being authorized to kill them. But I am guilty if I do nothing politically to reverse the legalization of abortion. That authority has been given to me.