Section 13B... Social Issues/
Capital Punishment


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Capital Punishment

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By Bob Meyer
September 24, 2004

Recently, there has been a renewed call to put an end to the death penalty, culminating in the moratoriums and outright commutations in various jurisdictions. There is a long history of opposition to capital punishment coming from both the religious and secular camps.

The rational seems to be that certain death row inmates are often proven innocent by modern methods of evidence analysis, thus we ought to abolish the death penalty. Consequently, we extrapolate this fact into the assumption that there are likely a given percentage of people on death row who are truly innocent of the crime they were charged with.

We see in the last part of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, that loss of life in criminal justice shall not occur without due process: "...nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

While we may be shocked at the number of people on death row who are potentially innocent, we should ask how statistics themselves show the death penalty itself is cruel and unusual punishment, or whether the problem is really inadequate due process. After all, if the death penalty is cruel or unusual punishment, as is sometime ruled by courts, you would have our founders abolishing in the 8th Amendment, what was established in the 5th. Not a very cogent exegesis of the Constitution, is it? We can hardly say current execution methods are cruel, either.

Certainly there are cases where a criminal was appointed a lousy lawyer, or where a procedural gaff in the trial occurs. But does it justify blanket commutation of a death sentence for, say, a criminal who rapes and murders little girls. Is the problem one where the penalty is unjust, or is it the misappropriation of due process that we ought to blame?

Since biblical times, the death penalty has been deemed as a just punishment for capital offenses. "He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed," (Genesis 9:6). Notice that the scripture tells us that this is a duty delegated to mankind, not exclusively reserved for God. Specifically the state is delegated the duty of bearing the sword against the evil doer (Romans chapter 13), as a derivative sovereign, until the final just judgement of God. There is no vigilantism or vengeance motive in the equation.

The commandment, "Thou shalt not kill", has been a source of great confusion. Most modern translations of the Bible have corrected the Hebrew translation to English rendering, "Thou shalt commit no murder."

The term "an eye for an eye" in the scriptures, is not a directive for authority to seek vigilante vengeance, nor necessarily a mandate to recompense a literal eye-for-eye. This statement represents the biblical principle of Lex Talionis, that is, the crime must be proportional with the punishment. Often times in biblical law, the victim had rights in determining the precise punishment, up to a limit.

There are of course religious objections. Many people observe that Jesus said we ought to forgive. They will point out that in John chapter 8, Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, who should have been stoned. But if you read the passage carefully, you notice that Jesus was objecting to the due process, not the penalty. Where was the male accomplice? Was the accuser, who had to throw the first stone according to Jewish law, blameless (what was it that Jesus wrote in the sand?) of the crime himself? Or anyone in the group for that matter.

How about Jesus on the cross? What a perfect opportunity to address the issue of capital punishment being wrong. The thief who asked for forgiveness admitted he was guilty and worthy of death. Later in the book of Acts 25:11, the apostle Paul declares before Festus, that if he has done anything worthy of death, he refuses not to die. This indicates that decades after the resurrection, Paul still held that the governing authority had the right to execute criminals.

Secularists will want to say that we have evolved to the point of enlightenment, where such barbaric punishments are obsolete. They want a legal system that has no basis in biblical law. Such pronouncements are the result of wishful thinking, hubris and "christophobia" on their part.

If numerous prisoners are found to be not guilty of the crimes they are convicted of, then what really is at issue, is the standard of evidence necessary for a conviction. In biblical times two eyewitnesses are necessary for capital punishment. With today's technology, DNA samples, fingerprints, or video tapes might qualify as a "witness." If a certain number of death row inmates are actually innocent, then we must assume that such could be the case with all crimes that require incarceration. What good is commuting death sentences to these unjustly imprisoned individuals? That is why emphasis should be on the due process that convicted them not on the death penalty.

The death penalty is certainly pro-life to those would-be victims if a convicted killer is released. And in this day of ultra-liberal courts, anything is possible. The death penalty is appropriate punishment for capital crimes, and is also the ultimate form of deterrence: People who are executed can never murder again.

© 2004 Bob Meyer - All Rights Reserved [TOP OF PAGE]



The Bible And Capital Punishment
By David Smitherman
From Expository Files 3.2; February 1996

From time to time, the execution of a convicted killer touches off a flurry of protests, editorials in various print media, and TV and radio talk shows in which the pros and cons (mostly the "cons") of capital punishment are discussed. The message that usually comes from these sources is clear: capital punishment is a barbaric, discriminatory and ineffective method of punishment that needs to be eliminated. Even the Bible is sometimes appealed to in an effort to dissuade the minds of many regarding the state's right to take human life.

It is unfortunate that many who look to God as their ultimate authority in life and to the Bible as the authoritative expression of His will often allow such persuasive speech (Colossians 2:4) to shape their attitudes and conclusions on this highly emotional subject. Intimidation seems to have more impact on some than inspiration. Thus this article will limit itself to a study of various texts from divine revelation with the hope and prayer that men and women who claim their first allegiance is to God will allow heavenly wisdom, rather than earthly, to determine their convictions on this subject. When this is done it should not be difficult to conclude that God's will is now and always has been that those who wantonly take the life of another human being deserve to have their life taken from them by the state.

Genesis 9:5-6---Instructions To Noah
In this first clear reference to "capital punishment" a number of things seem obvious.

    1. There is something special about "man" as opposed to "beasts" and this is the basis for all injunctions in these two verses: "For in the image of God He made man" (NASV).

    2. Because of his unique standing in creation, whoever takes man's life is to forfeit theirs.

    3. This forfeiture of life is not something that God merely suggests---he requires it. Three times in vs. 5 it is said God "will demand an accounting" (NIV) for "the lifeblood" of men whether the life is taken by an animal or another man and the word "shall" in vs. 6 confirms the imperative nature of the language.

That this is a command God intended to be carried out forever seems clear not just by the language in these two verses but also by subsequent statements in both the Old and New Covenants.

    4. Human agency is that through which God works in carrying out this requirement: "also from man, that is from one another, will I demand the soul of man" (Leupold's translation). The particular human agency God had in mind will become clear as we look at the biblical texts dealing with this subject.That this statement to Noah was not something limited to the era immediately after the flood is evident when we consider the following:

The Law Of Moses---God's Will During The Mosaical Period
All during the time the law of Moses was in affect, it can be seen that God intended for the principles of Genesis 9:5-6 to be carried out. Two things seem obvious from a perusal of this law.

    1. There was then (as there is now) a difference between "murder" and "killing". "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex. 20:13) is really "thou shalt not murder." To use the sixth commandment as a prohibition against the taking of human life under whatever circumstances is an egregious misuse of that divine precept. That this is so is apparent when one considers a second point.

    2. Immediately after giving the "thou shalt not kill" precept, the following two chapters list at least ten offenses punishable by death: all forms of murder, 21:12; (Leviticus 24:17; Numbers 35:16-21); striking, cursing parents, 21:15,17; (Deuteronomy 19:19-21); kidnapping, 21:16; slaying an unborn child, 21:23; owner of an animal that kills, 21:29; sorcery 22:18; (Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 13:1-5); bestiality, 22:19; idolater, 22:20; (Leviticus 20:1-5; Deuteronomy 13:6-9; 17:2-7); abducting people for slavery, 21:16; (Deuteronomy 24:7); Sabbath breaking, Exodus 31:14; 35:2; Numbers. 15:32-36.

    3. Additional scriptures give even more reasons for putting one to death: blasphemy, Leviticus 24:14,16, 23; 1 Kings 21:13; adultery, Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; incest, Leviticus 20:11-17; rape, Deuteronomy 22:25; false witnesses, Deuteronomy 19:16-19; homosexuality, Leviticus 20:13; false prophets, Deuteronomy 18:20-22; resisting judgment, Deuteronomy 17:8-13; immorality before marriage but detected afterwards, Deuteronomy 22:13-21; non-Levites coming near or into sacred areas or duties, Numbers 1:51; 3:10,38; 18:7. God's will under the law of Moses didn't just allow but demanded the taking of human life. But what about the new covenant; what, if anything, does Christ say on the subject of the state's right to execute convicted criminals?

John 19:10-11---Jesus And Capital Punishment
In these verses Pilate made two explicit affirmations in the presence of Christ: (a) he had certain power (authority) as a civil magistrate and (b) this authority included the right to pass and carry out a death sentence, vs. 10. In vs. 11, Jesus responded to these statements but didn't indicate that Pilate was in error in regard to either of them. Instead, He concedes the accuracy of Pilate's assertions with the significant observation that this authority was given to him by God. If Jesus was the social activist that some claim and if capital punishment was evil, it seems strange that he didn't rebut the Roman governor's claims. Acknowledging his right to act as an agent of civil government and carry out a death sentence seems highly unlikely and inconsistent if the Lord knew this was not now and had never been His Father's will.

There is one other interesting observation regarding this incident. Pilate was acting as an agent of a Gentile government which indicates that what is legislated in the law of Moses was not peculiar to that era or that group of people but is based upon some eternal principle applicable to all nations for all times, just as Genesis 9:5-6 suggests.

Acts 25:11---Paul Before Festus.
Under circumstances similar to those described in Jo. 19:10-11, Paul stood before the Roman procurator Festus and used his Roman citizenship to avoid being sent back to Jerusalem to a kangaroo court. In making his defense the apostle acknowledged (1) the legitimacy of "Caesar's judgment-seat", i.e., that civil governments have a rightful function in society, vs. 10, and (2) that he was not afraid to die if found guilty as charged. In his use of the phrase "worthy of death" he was in agreement with what would be stated later by Festus, vs. 25, and the other government officials, 26:31, when they, too, used this expression: certain wrong-doers are worthy of having their lives taken from them and civil governments have the right to administer such punishment. Why would Paul, who had the "mind of Christ", 1 Cor. 2:16, speak this way if this form of punishment didn't have God's sanction? That Paul's convictions regarding this matter were consistent can be seen in what he said in the final passages we examine.

Romans 12:19; Romans 13:1-7
Romans 12:19 teaches (1) we are not to avenge or exact justice on our own but rather (2) "give place", i.e., make room for, God's wrath. What is meant by "God's wrath" is explained in the next phrase: "Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord." So evil men experience God's wrath as He takes vengeance on them. But how and when does God do this? Read Romans 13:1-7.

There are "higher powers" ("Caesar's judgment-seat", Acts 25:10) that God has "ordained", vs. 1. Those who arrange themselves in battle (see Vine, p. 958) against their authority are setting themselves against God and shall receive judgment, vs. 2. But when and how does this judgment take place? Vss. 3-4 make it clear: rulers are intended to be a "terror" to evil men and their deeds, vs. 3, because they are ministers of God. Through the ministers of civil government God wields the "sword", the instrument of justice and punishment, and His intention is that it not be "borne" ("a continual or habitual condition," Vine, 93) "in vain" ("to no purpose", Vine, 1193).

Clearly, the "wrath of God" that we are to "give place to" as He takes vengeance is that which is administered at human hands in various forms of civil government as they wield the "sword."

Not only is it clear that the Old Testament sanctioned the death penalty, it is equally obvious that the punishment was to be done in order not to pollute the land, Num. 35:31, 33, and done so swiftly in order to serve as a deterrent: Deuteronomy 19:19-21; Ecc. 8:11. I'm convinced that the "it's not a deterrent" argument could never be seriously made in a society where capital punishment was consistently and swiftly carried out.

Whatever hypothetical or real-life emotional scenarios one might set forth as an argument against capital punishment, the Bible-believer is faced with the realization that this is a practice that had God's approval during every major period of Bible history. One has to work hard and twist language to make the verses examined in this study say anything else.  [TOP OF PAGE]


A Time To Kill - Ecclesiastes 3:3
Wayne Wells

One of the great concerns of many today is the problem of crime. Although some politicians are trying to use people's fear of crime to enable them to establish a more totalitarian government, crime is a very real problem that affects all of us. There is no shortage of suggestions on how we need to deal with criminals. About the only thing everyone agrees on is that many methods used today are not helping.

One suggestion that is gaining more popularity is that we need to "get tough" with criminals. Others claim we need to spend more on rehabilitation. Debate rages over how many more millions we need to spend to solve our crime problems. In the midst of all the debate, one position is rarely heard. Where is the politician or criminologist who will openly say we need to examine the Word of God to find solutions to our problems? God has given us "everything that pertains to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). This includes instruction on  how to treat those who do not do what is right.

In the covenant given through Moses at Sinai, God gave many instructions concerning what to do with law breakers. By the standards of our modern judicial system, the penalties prescribed by God sound harsh. Although they may appear "cruel and unusual" to twentieth century Americans, God promised if Israel would follow His commands, their society would be the best in all the world.

One aspect of God's criminal justice system was the use of the death penalty. Today, many who lead the fight against the death penalty are leaders in churches who claim they believe what the Bible says. Others, who support the death penalty, do not know why they are for it except they have a basic instinct for justice.

The first mention of the death penalty in history was commanded by God to Noah after the Flood. God had just practiced the death penalty on a wicked world, and then commanded the survivors to continue the practice on those who murder. This is also the first time man was told he may kill animals for food. Before this, man was a vegetarian (Genesis 1:29). Now, man may kill animals, but he cannot kill another man. If either he or any animal kills another man, the one who kills must be put to death. This covenant was given to Noah and all of  his descendants, which includes the entire world's population today. Included in this covenant was the promise that God would never destroy the world again and the rainbow was given as a sign of the giving of this covenant. Many have heard of the rainbow being given as a sign that God would never send a worldwide flood again. Do we also remember that the same covenant commands the death penalty for murderers (Genesis 9:1-17)?

 Also See Thou Shalt Not Kill

Many centuries later, God made a covenant with the nation of Israel. Not only did God repeat His desire for murderers to be put to death (Numbers 35:16-33), He also added other crimes to the list that should be punished by death. God commanded Israel that if a man and woman committed adultery, both were to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). Could you imagine our current president signing this into law? There was no debate concerning gays in the Israelite military as long as they followed God's law. In Leviticus 20:13 they were told, "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." Other crimes for which one could be executed included bestiality (Leviticus 20:15-16), rape of a young woman who was engaged (Deuteronomy 22:25), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), witchcraft (Exodus 22:18), offering human sacrifice (Leviticus 20:2-5), hitting or cursing  one's parents (Exodus 21:15-17), disobedience to parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), blasphemy (Leviticus 24:11-23), false prophecy (Deuteronomy 13:1-10), refusal to listen to a priest (Deuteronomy 17:12), sacrifice to false gods (Exodus 22:20), and working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2).

If the Israelites kept God's commands consistently and fairly, it would have made a very safe and peaceful society. Not only would they not have the problem of "repeat offenders" that plagues our society, but the public execution of the criminals would have an effect on others.

In Deuteronomy 13:6-11, God told Israel to even stone members of their own family if any tried to influence them to follow other gods. God said,

    "you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people." The result promised by God would be that "all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you."

In Deuteronomy 17:12-13, when God told Israel to kill anyone who would not listen to the priest, he said that after they put away the evil from Israel, "all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously."

When God commanded that the rebellious son should be stoned in Deuteronomy 21:18-21, He said that after the stoning, "all Israel shall hear and fear."

Although some today claim that strong punishment on the wicked does not deter others from committing crimes, God does not hold to this view. God is the one who created us and understands us better than we understands ourselves. When God says that punishment of the wicked has an effect on others, who are we to argue with God? There is much anguish expressed concerning the behavior of students in the public schools today. Try to imagine the change in behavior if the serious troublemakers were consistently stoned. Harsh penalties have never completely eliminated crime and in this corrupt world, they never will. There will always be those who try to get away with sin. Although all crime cannot be eliminated, it can be drastically reduced!

Part of the problem today comes from the many appeals and the long, drawn out process of our modern court system. This system has not developed a better way of achieving justice, but instead, it creates greater employment opportunities for lawyers. Again, we can see the foolishness of man rejecting the wisdom of God. Ecclesiastes 8:11 tells us, "because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." We can see the truth of this time after time when criminals show no fear of our court system.  When justice is delayed, the hearts of the wicked become even more hardened. Instead of clearly demonstrating  the foolishness of sin, slow justice only emboldens men to sin more.

God warned Israel that if innocent blood was shed, their land would be defiled. The only thing that could be cleansed was for the murderer to be put to death (Numbers 35:31-34).

Although we do not live under the Old Covenant given through Moses, the death penalty is still in effect today. Paul wrote concerning government,  "For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil" (Romans 13:4). [Also See Jesus and The Law]

The sword in this passage is not a mere threat, but a tool to bring wrath on the wicked. When Paul was being tried by Festus, he said,  "For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying..." (Acts 25:11). He was saying that if he had committed some crime worthy of execution, he would willingly accept the punishment he deserved. This apostle of God clearly approved of the government's ability to execute criminals.

What about an individual killing another person today? Are there any circumstances where this would be permissible?  In the Old Covenant, allowance was made for personal defense. God allowed an Israelite to kill while defending his family and property if someone broke into his home at night. Notice how the NIV translation renders Exodus 22:2,  "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed."

Just before He was arrested and crucified, Jesus reminded his disciples how they had previously traveled without carrying any money, clothing or other supplies. Although they had never lacked anything during this phase of their training, He told them,  "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one" (Luke 22:36). Jesus was sending them out into a dangerous world where there were wicked men.  They were to continue to trust in God for their protection, but they must do their part also. The sword would not be just for waving in front of the face of a robber to scare him. Not all robbers scare that easily. 

There is absolutely no authority from God for Christians to fight back when suffering from religious persecution. They are allowed to flee, but they can never resist with physical combat. However, there are wicked men who will attack others regardless of their religious beliefs. If His disciples found themselves being attack by a common criminal, Jesus did not want them to be unable to defend themselves.

God requires men to provide for the needs of their families. 1 Timothy 5:8 tells men, "if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." In this wicked and corrupt world, one of the needs of a family is protection.  If a man is not prepared to defend his family, he is being negligent in his responsibilities before God. Christians must never go looking for a fight, but when it cannot be avoided, we should, as much as in our power, be ready to take a strong stand against the wicked. We are not to be vigilantes nor rebels against the government, but if we are ever in a situation where we must defend our families, then, yes, there is a time to kill. [TOP OF PAGE]


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