Section 13B... Social Issues/
Capital Punishment

003white  Index To Section 13B   Contemporary Social Issues


Capital Punishment
Since Biblical times, the death penalty has been deemed as a just punishment for capital offenses.

Please Note: Each coloured link within the article will lead you to a related topic on a different page of this site. However while the text is part of the original article, the links are not. The author of this article may or may not agree with the views expressed on those pages, or necessarily anything else on this site..

Also See The Bible And Capital Punishment (below)


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



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.


Social Issues