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What exactly is the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree? Fruit of the poisonous tree is a legal metaphor in the United States used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally. The logic of the terminology is that if the source of the evidence or evidence itself is tainted, then anything gained from it is tainted as well. If the evidence or evidence itself is tainted, it cannot be used in the court because it is really not reliable evidence, it cannot be trusted.
When we consider this metaphor but apply it to Christianity. What if a teacher within Christianity becomes very popular and for maybe twenty years he expounds what the Word of God means, as he understands it, from the podium and through the publication of many bestselling books, and then it is discovered that he has been having sexual relations with prostitutes in one city after another as his ministry travels? Would we accept the idea that God was using him and that his views on the Word of God were guided by the Holy Spirit?
A suggestive question is one that implies that a certain answer should be given in response. A leading question is a question that prompts or encourages the answer that is wanted. Of course, the one leading could be correct in the path that he is leading the others, or he may very well be wrong. I am certainly leading you, the reader, along here, so by now, you have determined that no, it is impossible for a Christian leader to be guided by Holy Spirit while he is living in sin. Really, now you are committed to that conclusion because it is the only sound, logical, reasonable conclusion of the unbiased mind. Let’s look at the counterexample, the Apostle Paul.
Paul was known as Saul before he became known as the Christian Apostle Paul. He was a young Pharisees, highly educated, and extremely zealous for Judaism. Interpreting the Scriptures badly, he drew the conclusion that Jesus Christ was a fraud and not the long-awaited Messiah. Saul believed that Christianity was an apostate sect that was stealing true followers away from the only true religion, Judaism. For Saul, “a hanged man [who committed a crime worthy of death] is cursed by God.” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) For Saul, it is said of the Messiah that he will set up “a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” (Daniel 2:44)
In this zealous fervor, Saul persecuted Christians, even supporting the execution of Stephen. However, as we know from the book of Acts, Jesus visited Saul on his way to Damascus. Once Saul correctly understood and correctly interpreted the Hebrew Old Testament, he also converted to Christianity and became a missionary for Christ-like no other and truly took the lead in establishing Christianity in the first century. Saul deeply repented for his past behavior and actions, which makes him far different from our next person under discussion.
Because John Calvin never repented for his horrendous behaviors and actions, nor did he ever receive a correct understanding and a correct interpretation, he felt justified in his murdering and having murdered his theological opponents.
Calvin did not come to the correct understanding that the Mosaic Law had been set aside for the law of Christ. Saul, who has great zeal for the Mosaic Law, had this to say, “In his saying, ‘a new covenant,’ he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13, See Who Authored the Book of Hebrews: A Defense for Pauline Authorship) Calvin though did not accept that the Mosaic Law was now obsolete. He rejected all that Paul had to say on this matter. Paul clearly stated, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:24-25) He also said, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4) Paul also stated, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees [the Mosaic Law] against us, which was hostile to us; and he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. having disarmed the rulers and authorities, he made a public display of them openly, triumphing over them by it.” Calvin refused to accept that the Old Testament Laws had been set aside. Therefore, he used the Mosaic Law to guide his actions.
Calvin used Leviticus 24:16 in his efforts to carry out capital punishment for anyone that taught differently than he did. “Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of Jehovah shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” Calvin ignored the section in Matthew where Jesus said about numerous teachings of the Mosaic Law, “You have heard it said,” then he mentions a law, followed by; ‘however, I say to you,’ offering a correct understanding. One such example at Matthew 5:43-44, “’You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'” Even this did not stop Calvin from killing those who believed differently.
Returning to Saul, who was zealous for the Mosaic Law too but after receiving the truth of the matter, he writes Timothy to say, “For a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be kind to all, skillful in teaching, showing restraint when wronged, instructing his opponents with gentleness, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to accurate knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25) John Calvin literally authorized beheadings, death by fire, torture, and murder rather than “instructing his opponents with gentleness.” John Calvin was the radical Islamic ISIS of his day, rather than having the mind of Christ.
Bible Scholar Paul Penley writes,
In 5 years as magistrate of the Geneva “church-city-state,” Calvin oversaw 58 death sentences and the exile of 76 people. He wasn’t the sole decision-maker in those cases, but personal correspondence and city council records betray his extraordinary influence. When Jacques Gruet, a theologian with differing views, placed a letter in Calvin’s pulpit calling him a hypocrite, he was arrested, tortured for a month and beheaded on July 26, 1547. Gruet’s own theological book was later found and burned along with his house while his wife was thrown out into the street to watch.
Michael Servetus, a Spaniard, physician, scientist, and Bible scholar suffered a worse fate. He was Calvin’s longtime friend who resisted the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. However, he angered Calvin by returning a copy of Calvin’s Institutes with critical comments in the margins. The next time Servetus attended Calvin’s Sunday preaching service on a visit, Calvin had him arrested and charged with heresy. The 38 official charges included rejection of the Trinity and infant baptism. Servetus pleaded to be beheaded instead of the more brutal method of burning at the stake, but Calvin and the city council refused the quicker death method.
In October 27, 1553, Calvin’s men used green wood for the fire so Servetus would be slowly baked alive from the feet upward. For 30 minutes he screamed for mercy and prayed to Jesus as the fire worked its way up his body to burn the theology book Calvin had strapped to his chest as a symbol of his heresy. How could such torture be condoned? In November 1552 the Geneva Council declared Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion to be a “holy doctrine which no man might speak against.” Disagreeing with Calvin’s view of God was a violation warranting the death penalty according to the way John Calvin interpreted Leviticus 24:16.
John Calvin followed Augustine’s biblical justification for burning heretics. Augustine excused extreme measures through his interpretation of Jesus’ Great Banquet parable in Luke 14:16-24. When the master could not fill up his banquet in the parable, he commanded his servants in Luke 14:23 “to compel people to come so that my house will be filled.” Augustine and Calvin believed burning heretics would “compel” more people to enter their house of God. Interpreting “compulsion” as a license to kill without consideration for Jesus’ other teaching to “love your enemies” is a major hermeneutical error. Any part of Jesus’ teaching should be interpreted in light of the whole.
John Calvin argued:
“Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church. It is not in vain that he banishes all those human affections which soften our hearts; that he commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brothers, relations, and friends to cease; in a word, that he almost deprives men of their nature in order that nothing may hinder their holy zeal. Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that God is defrauded of his honor, unless the piety that is due to him be preferred to all human duties, and that when his glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories?” —John Calvin, cited in “Calvin’s Defence of the Death Penalty for Heretics” in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Volume VII: Modern Christianity, the Swiss Reformation, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907), 791.
Commenting on this quotation by Calvin, Schaff states, “Calvin’s plea for the right and duty of the Christian magistrate to punish heresy by death, stands or falls with his theocratic theory and the binding authority of the Mosaic code. His arguments are chiefly drawn from the Jewish laws against idolatry and blasphemy, and from the examples of the pious kings of Israel.”
John Calvin had Michael Servetus arrested, tried, and executed by slow-burning for believing differently. Calvin defended his efforts in these words:
“When the papists are so harsh and violent in defense of their superstitions that they rage cruelly to shed innocent blood, are not Christian magistrates shamed to show themselves less ardent in defense of the sure truth?” ?—(The Reformation: The Story of Civilization, Volume VI
John Calvin’s theology is at the foundation of many Christian denominations and it is known as Calvinism. This author is not going to tell any Christian who they should or should not use as the foundation of their theology. Just remember, Calvin died believing these erroneous doctrinal positions and never repented for his gross sins, as he was in biblical ignorance that they were even sins at all. If this were anyone else would you even suggest that John Calvin was moved along by Holy Spirit in his interpreting of the Scriptures? – Matthew 7:21-23.
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