Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Henry Bullinger on Laws Against Anti-Trinitarian Heretics

"Wherefore seeing that in the holy scriptures, in the Trinity the unity of the Deity is plainly and clearly taught, it is meet that we do simply rest therein, and not curiously to search nor lust after any further knowledge in this life, then it which God hath revealed. Wherefore Christian Emperors a thousand years past did very well enact the pain of death against such as should spread abroad any new doctrine as concerning this Article, as reproachful to Godward should teach the contrary.  For God doubtless would not be seen of Moses, & yet is seen in Christ Exo. 33 and 34. 2 Cor. 4. And moreover God hath in his Law decreed, that every one that hath sacrificed unto gods, besides the only God, should be slain, and as blasphemous towards God, should be taken out of the way [Exod. 22; Levit. 24]."

-- Henry Bullinger

Henry Bullinger, Common places of Christian religion, trans. John Stockwood (London, 1572), fols. 35-6.



Drew said...

The Bible doesn't teach the death penalty for heretics.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Bullinger doesn't refer to believing a heretical opinion, but spreading it ("spread abroad any new doctrine as concerning this Article ...). I believe Scripture requires the state to suppress the spreading of damnable heresy per the equity of Deuteronomy 13.

Drew said...

If that were true, then Moses would probably have killed Korah himself instead of letting God do it. Deuteronomy 13 talks about prophets who promote false gods, not just any old heresy. Saying that heretics should be killed reminds me of Catholicism more than anything.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Again, we are not talking about heretics per se, but those who try to seduce others to heresy. Making such acts illegal is not unique to Catholicism, as this has been the position of societies in the Reformation and Puritan eras. This is not the same thing as forced conversions; this is a matter of treason against the Christian social order.

In light of 1 Corinthians 9:9, 10, I see no problem in applying Deuteronomy 13 to analogous situations. According to Deuteronomy 13, enticing others to serve false gods warrants the death penalty because it promotes rebellion against God: "And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage," verse 10. While not all damnable heresies directly promote serving false gods (such as denying justification by faith alone), they too promote rebellion against God. As such, it seems that promoting damnable heresies should likewise be punished with death by the state.

There is also the question of whether Zechariah 13:3 particularly applies the equity of this law against those who promote heresy.

And, even if Deuteronomy 13 only applies to false gods, then this would still apply to those who openly oppose the Trinity, since a non-trinitarian god is not the God of Scripture.