Christianity and the Death Penalty

Straight from the preachers of death penalty! Trust the organized religions to expose themselves!

Although not relevant to the legal application of the death penalty in the United States, religious issues are a significant thread within the moral debate.

Biblical text is most relevant within a theocracy or a secular government which has laws that are consistent with biblical text. The United States does not, of course, fall within either category. This section is included only to counter the false claim that there is no New Testament support for capital punishment.

1) Virtually all religious scholars agree that the correctly translated commandment “Thou shalt not murder” is a prohibition against individual cases of murder. There is no biblical prohibition against the government imposition of the death penalty in deserving cases. Indeed, the government imposition of capital punishment is required for deliberate murder. (Dr. Charles Ryrie, Biblical Answers to Contemporary Issues & The Ryrie Study Bible, Exodus 20:13).

2) ” . . . pronouncements about divine behavior (in the Hebrew Bible) correlated in the judicial context to attitudes toward death as a proper punishment. Quite clearly, the New Testament carries on the earlier mentality.” As Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount, “Obedience will be rewarded with life; disobedience will be punished with destruction. A God who rewards with life and punishes with death is One whose laws provide for death as a judicial punishment.” Dr. Baruch Levine, “Capital Punishment,” p 31, What the Bible Really Says, ed. Smith & Hoffman, 1993.

3) “If no crime deserves the death penalty, then it is hard to see why it was fitting that Christ be put to death for our sins and crucified among thieves. St. Thomas Aquinas quotes a gloss of St. Jerome on Matthew 27: ‘As Christ became accursed of the cross for us, for our salvation He was crucified as a guilty one among the guilty.’ That Christ be put to death as a guilty person, presupposes that death is a fitting punishment for those who are guilty.” Prof. Michael Pakaluk, The Death Penalty: An Opposing Viewpoints Series Book, Greenhaven Press, (hereafter TDP:OVS), 1991

4) “The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, for the representative of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to the Law or the rule of rational justice.” St. Augustine, The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 21. See F.16

5) “The rejection of capital punishment is not to be dignified as a ‘higher Christian way’ that enthrones the ethics of Jesus. The argument that Jesus as the incarnation of divine love cancels the appropriateness of capital punishment in the New Testament era has little to commend it. Nowhere does the Bible repudiate capital punishment for premeditated murder; not only is the death penalty for deliberate killing of a fellow human being permitted, but it is approved and encouraged, and for any government that attaches at least as much value to the life of an innocent victim as to a deliberate murderer, it is ethically imperative.” Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, Twilight Of A Great Civilization, Crossway, 1988, p 70,72. Father Pierre Lachance, O.P. (St, Anne Parish, Fall River, Mass.) fully concurs: “There is no question but that capital punishment was not only allowed but mandated in the Old Testament. In the New Law (New Testament) (St.) Paul recognizes the legitimacy of capital punishment . . .’It is not without purpose that the ruler carries the sword. He is God’s servant, to inflict his avenging wrath upon the wrongdoer Romans 13:4.’ ” (TDP:OVS, 1986, pg. 84)

6) “It is because humans are created in the image of God that capital punishment for premeditated murder was a perpetual obligation. The full range of biblical data weighs in its favor. This is the one crime in the Bible for which no restitution was possible (Numbers 35:31,33). The Noahic covenant recorded in Genesis 9 (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed. “Gen 9:6) antedates Israel and the Mosaic code; it transcends Old Testament Law, per se, and mirrors ethical legislation that is binding for all cultures and eras. The sanctity of human life is rooted in the universal creation ethic and thus retains its force in society. The Christian community is called upon to articulate standards of biblical justice, even when this may be unpopular. Capital justice is part of that non-negotiable standard. Society should execute capital offenders to balance the scales of moral judgement.” From “Capital Punishment: A Personal Statement”, by Charles W. Colson., a former opponent. He is spiritual advisor and friend to numerous death row inmates and the Founder of Prison Fellowship, the largest Christian ministry serving incarcerated prisoners. Ph.703-478-0100.

7) St. Thomas Aquinas finds all biblical interpretations against executions “frivolous”, citing Exodus 22:18, “wrongdoers thou shalt not suffer to live”. Unequivocally, he states,” The civil rulers execute, justly and sinlessly, pestiferous men in order to protect the peace of the state.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 146.)

8) “God, Himself, instituted the death penalty (Genesis 9:6) and Christ regarded capital punishment as a just penalty for murder (Matthew 26:52). God gave to government the legitimate authority to use capital punishment to restrain murder and to punish murderers. Not to inflict the death penalty is a flagrant disregard for God’s divine Law which recognizes the dignity of human life as a product of God’s creation. Life is sacred, and that is why God instituted the death penalty. Consequently, whoever takes innocent human life forfeits his own right to live.” Protestant scholar Rev. Reuben Hahn (Mt. Prospect, Ill.), Human Events, 3/2/85.

9) “The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.

10) The movie Dead Man Walking reveals a perfect example of how just punishment and redemption can work together. Had rapist/murderer Matthew Poncelet not been properly sentenced to death by the civil authority, he would not have met Sister Prejean, he would not have received spiritual instruction, he would not have taken responsibility for his crimes and he would not have reconciled with God. Had Poncelet never been caught or had he only been given a prison sentence, his character makes it VERY clear that those elements would not have come together. Indeed, for the entire film and up until those last moments, prior to his execution, Poncelet was not fully truthful with Sister Prejean. His lying and manipulative nature was fully exposed at that crucial time. It was not at all surprising, then, that it was just prior to his execution that all of the spiritual elements may have come together for his salvation. It was now, or never. Truly, just as St. Aquinas predicted (F.9.), it was his pending execution which finally led to his repentance. For Christians, the most crucial concerns of Dead Man Walking must be and are redemption and eternal salvation. And, for that reason, it may well be, for Christians, the most important pro-death penalty movie ever made.
A real life example of this may be the case of Dennis Gentry, executed April 16, 1997, for the highly premeditated murder of his friend Jimmy Don Ham. During his final statement, Gentry said, “I’d like to thank the Lord for the past 14 years (on death row) to grow as a man and mature enough to accept what’s happening here tonight. To my family, I’m happy. I’m going home to Jesus.” As the lethal drugs began to flow, Gentry cried out, “Sweet Jesus, here I come. Take me home. I’m going that way to see the Lord.” (Michael Gracyk, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, 4/17/97). We cannot know if Gentry or the fictitious Poncelet or the two real murderers from the DMW book really did repent and receive salvation. But, we do know that St. Aquinas advises us that murderers should not be given the benefit of the doubt. We should err on the side of caution and not give murderers the opportunity to harm again. Indeed, as Dr. W.H. Baker confirms in his On Capital Punishment (Moody Press, 1985), biblical text finds that it is a violation of God’s mandate not to execute premeditated murderers – and nowhere does the text contradict this finding.

11) In his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), Pope John Paul II finds that the only time executions can be justified is when they are required “to defend society” and that “as a result of steady improvements . . . in the penal system that such cases are very rare if not practically non existent.” The Pope is in error. Such cases are not at all rare. In this context, “to defend society” means that the execution of the murderer must save future lives. Murderers murder again, often time and time again – in prison, after escape, after release, and, of course, after we fail to capture or incarcerate them. In fact, had the Pope correctly evaluated the penal system, using the “defending society” standard, he would require an increase in executions. We know that some criminals don’t commit murder because of their fear of execution. The incapacitation effect, the individual deterrent effect and the general deterrent effect support that the death penalty does indeed “defend society”. Executions save lives. Therefore, expanding the use of executions is required by a “defending society” standard. However, even though Romans 13:4 and additional writings reveal a “defending society” consideration, such references pale in comparison to the mandate that execution is the required punishment for and atonement for murder, regardless of any consideration “to defend society.” And the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine concur. Therefore, atonement, proper punishment and “defending society” each require an increase in executions. Furthermore, one of the most respected of all popes, Saint Pius V, reaffirmed, in the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), that executions were acts of “paramount obedience to the (fifth/sixth) commandment.” What biblical and theological teachings, developed from 1566 through 1997, provide that the standard for executions should evolve from “paramount obedience” to God’s eternal law to a civil standard reflecting “steady improvements . . . in the penal system?”
Furthermore, if the “defending society” standard is accepted, then the moral concept of justice becomes irrelevant. Capital punishment can be used only as a vehicle to preventing future crimes. The moral/biblical rational – that capital punishment is the just punishment for capital murder – is no longer relevant to the sin/crime of murder. The biblical standards of atonement, expiation, and justice have, necessarily, been thrown away, if “defending society” is the standard. Capital punishment no longer has any connection to the harm done or to the imbalance to be addressed. In fact, the injury suffered by the crime of murder isn’t even relevant. Punishment is to be justified solely upon the ability of that punishment to prevent future murders. Therefore, when considering executions in regard to capital murder cases, a “defending society” standard renders justice irrelevant. With minor revisions, the Evangelium Vitae was the basis for a 1997 amendment to the Universal Catechism of 1992.

12) Christians who speak out against capital punishment in deserving cases ” . . . tend to subordinate the justice of God to the love of God. . . . Peter, by cutting off Malchu’s ear,. . . was most likely trying to kill the soldier (John 18:10)”, prompting ” . . . Christ’s statement that those who kill by the sword are subject to die by the sword (Matthew 26:51-52).” This ” implicitly recognizes the government’s right to exercise the death penalty.” Dr. Carl F.H.Henry, “A Matter of Life and Death”, p 52 Christianity Today, 8/4/95.

13) “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” Pope Pius XII, 9/14/52.

14) Some speculate that God’s mandate for capital punishment is weak, because the requirement for two witnesses in such cases (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6) drastically reduces the application of that sanction. Such speculation is unwarranted. By wrongly isolating the Hebrew ‘ d, “witness”, from its broad biblical context, some interpreters have falsely concluded that two or more “eye”witnesses are required in capital cases and in all criminal cases subject to court judgement (Deuteronomy 19:5). Did God want nearly all criminals, including murderers, to get off, scot-free, if ” . . . (they) had not taken the prudent measure of committing (their) crime where two people did not happen to be watching him?” The biblical record rejects any such conclusion.

The word “witness”, ‘ d, has broad meaning, including, anyone with (1) ” . . . pertinent knowledge concerning the crime, even though he had not actually seen it.”(Lev 5:1), such as motive, opportunity, accomplices, overheard confessions, wiretaps, etc.; (2) physical evidence can also bear witness, also ‘ d (Ex 22:13), such as bloody clothing, murder weapon, DNA, fingerprints, etc.; (3) written documents may serve as evidence and witness (‘ d or ‘ dah, Jos 25:25-27), such as a confession, documents showing motive or implication, etc.; (4) monuments and memorial stones, such as gal-‘ d in Gen 31:46-49, can also bear witness. Indeed, “there is no contravention of biblical principles in allowing such testimony, even though only one actual witness may be found, or none at all.” There is no biblical requirement for two, or any, “eye” witnesses in criminal cases.(Dr. Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties, Zondervan Pub., 143-145, 1982, also see the exceptional writings on John 8:11, 371-373, therein.) According to actual biblical usage, the witness and evidence requirements in capital cases in the U.S. meet or exceed all biblical standards.

15) Paul, in his hearing before Festus, states:”if then I am a wrong doer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die.”Acts 25:11. “Very clearly this constitutes an acknowledgment on the part of the inspired apostle that the state continued to have the power of life and death in the administration of justice, just as it did from the days of Noah (Gen 9:6)”. Ibid., F.14., p. 342.

16) (A) “If you do what is evil, be afraid; for [ the civil government ] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is the minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon those who practice evil.” Romans 13:4. “God has given the state the power of life and death over its subjects in order to maintain order.” Dr. Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (NAS), 1978. (B) Romans 13:4 does not ” . . . directly refer to the infliction of the death penalty; but in the context of first century Rome and against the Old Testament background (Genesis 9:4-6), Paul would clearly include the death penalty in the state’s panalopy of punishments for wrongdoing.” Douglas Moo, The Epistle To the Romans, Erdmans, 1996, pg. 802, footnote 54. (C) “Since the word sword (machaira) has occurred earlier in the letter to indicate death (Romans 8:35) and since it was used of execution (Acts 12:2; Revelation 13:10), it seems clear that Paul means it here as a symbol of capital punishment.” Stott, John, ROMANS, InterVarsity Press, 342, 1994. (D) Specifically, “this word for sword indicates one that was shaped like a sabre and was carried by magistrates to show that they had the power to punish, even to death.” Ryrie Study Bible – Expanded Edition, NAS, Moody Press, 1995, pg. 1810, Romans 13:4, footnote 13:4. (E) “(Jesus) warned Peter that to ‘die by the sword’ is the punishment proper for those who take human life (Matthew 25:26); it should be noted that the sword was meant for execution, not for life imprisonment.” Henry, ibid F. 5, p 71. Also review F. 4, 5 and 25.

17) It is not uncommon for persons of faith to create a god in their own image, to give to that god their values, instead of accepting those values which are inherent to the deity. For example, celebrated opponent Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking) states, in reference to the death penalty, that “I couldn’t worship a god who is less compassionate than I am.”(Progressive, 1/96; bold “I”, JFA). She has, thereby, established her standard of compassion as the basis for God’s being deserving of her devotion. If God’s level of compassion does not rise to the level of her own, God couldn’t receive her worship. Director Tim Robbins (Death Man Walking) follows that same path: “(I) don’t believe in that kind of (g)od (that would support capital punishment and, therefore, would be the kind of god who tortures people into their redemption).” (“Opposing The Death Penalty”, AMERICA, 11/9/96, p 12). Robbins, hereby, establishes his standard for his God’s deserving of his belief. God’s standards do not seem to be relevant. His sophomoric comparison of capital punishment and torture is typical of the ignorance in this debate and such comments reflect no biblical relevancy. Perhaps they should review Matthew 5:17-22 and 15:1-9. Be cautious, for as the ancient rabbis warned, “Do not seek to be more righteous than your creator.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33)

18) One of the most respected of all Quaker biblical scholars is Dr. Gervas A. Carey. A Professor of Bible and past President of George Fox College, Dr. Carey wrote a landmark essay on the death penalty entitled “A Bible Study”. Here is a synopsis of his analysis: ” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” (p. 111-113) Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: “. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” (p. 116). Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.

19) “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” Pope (and Saint) Pius V, “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566). Referring to that Catechism, Catholic scholar Father James Reilly, M.S. notes that “From the time of St. Paul until today this has always been the official teaching of the Catholic Church and only the Holy See or a General Counsel has the authority to change it. The curious thing is that those Catholics who have repeatedly condemned capital punishment and have, often, apparently at least, declared it immoral, never refer to that passage from the Roman Catechism. It may be that they are unaware of it, but such ignorance is, in my opinion, inexcusable.” (Haven Bradford Gow, “Religious Views Support The Death Penalty”, The Death Penalty: Opposing Viewpoints, Greenhaven Press, 1986, p. 82 ).

20) “You have heard the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court’. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca’, shall be guilty before the supreme court and whoever shall say, ‘You fool’, shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.” Jesus, Matthew 5:17-22. Should any explanation be necessary, Jesus is saying that even as execution is the required punishment for murderers, as per the Old Testament, He tells us that those who speak ill of others and have hatred in their heart shall suffer in hell. Not only does Jesus never speak out against the civil authorities just use of execution for murder, He prescribes a much more serious, eternal punishment for those who hate and speak ill of others. And what price does God exact for any and all sin? Death. (Romans 5:12-14)

21) “It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) – the Mosaic Law prescribed death – should be read in its proper context. This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment .”Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking. The sister’s analysis is consistent with virtually all theological scholarship. From here, the sister states that “ . . . more and more I find myself steering away from such futile discussions (of Biblical text). Instead, I try to articulate what I personally believe . . . ” As the long term Chairperson of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the sister has never shied away from any argument, futile or otherwise, which opposed the death penalty. She has abandoned biblical text for only one reason: the text conflicts with her personal beliefs.
It is common for persons to take biblical text out of context and to, thereby, pervert its meaning. Indeed, Sister Prejean rightly cautions: “Many people sift through the Scriptures and select truth according to their own templates.” (Progressive, 1/96). Sadly, Sister Prejean appears to do much worse. The sister now uses that very same biblical text “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” as proof of Jesus’ “unequivocal” rejection of capital punishment as “revenge and unholy retribution”! This appears to be a disgraceful and intentional perversion of biblical text. (see Sister Prejean’s 12/12/96 fundraising letter on behalf of the Saga Of Shame book project for Quixote Center/Equal Justice USA).

22) Pontius Pilate said to Jesus, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.”(John 19:10-11). “Jesus reminds Pilate that the implementation of the death penalty is a divinely entrusted responsibility that is to be justly implemented.” Prof. Carl F.H. Henry, 45th Annual N.A.E. Convention, “Capital Punishment and The Bible”. Jesus confirms that the civil authority has the lawful right to execute Jesus, and others, and that this right has been given to that authority by God.

23) Some churches are now espousing a pro-life continuum, a philosophy whereby the taking of any life, under any circumstances, must be condemned – such as the taking of lives through war, self defense, suicide, abortion and the death penalty. This is an interesting social philosophy which directly conflicts with the Word of God. Catholic biblical scholar Father Richard Roach, S.J. of Marquette and Columbia Universities argues that it is not a contradiction for religious people to oppose abortion and . . . to support capital punishment. “Abortion is absolutely prohibited. It is always evil. No one can ever abort a ‘guilty’ baby, so the act can never be right. This is not the case, however, with either capital punishment or a just and defensive war. It is only murder, along with its subdivisions suicide and abortion, which God’s law absolutely prohibits. The upshot of all this is that trying to put abortion, capital punishment and war in one package makes chaos of Catholic morals and can lead one to misinterpret God’s Law . . . ” Princeton. University scholar Dr. Paul Ramsey fully concurs: “abortion and capital punishment are two different questions. There is no inconsistancy between moral disapproval of unnecessarily killing the innocent and the judicial execution of the guilty.” (Haven Bradford Gow, “Religious Views Support The Death Penalty”, The Death Penalty: Opposing Viewpoints, Greenhaven Press, 1986, p. 81- 82 & 84).

24) “If a man is a danger to the community, threatening it with disintegration by some wrongdoing of his, then his execution for the healing and preservation of the common good is to be commended. Only the public authority, not private persons, may licitly execute malefactors by public judgement. Men shall be sentenced to death for crimes of irreparable harm or which are particularly perverted.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 11; 65-2; 66-6.

25) “If by arming the magistrate, the Lord has also committed him the use of the sword, then, whenever he punishes the guilty by death, he is obeying God’s commands by exercising His vengeance. Those, therefore, who consider it is wrong to shed the blood of the guilty are contending against God.” John Calvin, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians”, in Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. Ross McKenzie(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960) p.283. see D.16

26) “The opposition to capital punishment is not based on Scripture but on a vague philosophical idea that the taking of a life is wrong, under every circumstance, and fails to distinguish adequately between killing and murder, between punishment and crime. The argument that capital punishment rules out the possibility of repentance for crime is unrealistic. If a wanton killer does not repent when the sentence of death is upon him, he certainly will not repent if he has 20-50 years of life imprisonment. The sentence of death on a killer is more redemptive than the tendency to excuse his crime as no worse than grand larceny. Mercy always infers a tacit recognition that justice and rightness are to be expected. The Holy God does not show mercy contrary to his righteousness but in harmony with it. That is why the awful Cross was necessary and a righteous Christ had to hang on it. That is why God’s redemption is always conditioned by one’s heart attitude. The Church and individual Christians should be active in their witness to the Gospel of love and forgiveness; but meanwhile wherever and whenever God’s love and mercy are rejected, as in crime, natural law and order must prevail, not as extraneous to redemption but as part of the whole scope of God’s dealings with man. No matter how often a jury recommends mercy, the law of capital punishment must stand as the silent but powerful witness to the sacredness of God-given life. Active justice must be administered when the sacredness of life is violated. Life is sacred, and he who violates the sacredness of life through murder must pay the supreme penalty. It is significant that when Jesus voluntarily went the way of the Cross He chose the capital punishment of His day as His instrument to save the world. And when He gave redemption to the repentant thief He did not save Him from capital punishment but gave him paradise instead. We see again that mercy and forgiveness are something different from being excused from wrongdoing. Synopsis of Dr. Jacob J. Vellenga’s “Is Capital Punishment Wrong”, p. 63-72, Essays on the Death Penalty, ed. T. Robert Ingram, Houston, 1963, 1992. Dr. Vallenga is former Associate Executive of the United Presbyterian Church (USA).

27) The leadership councils of some Christian denominations in the U.S. have released statements in opposition to the death penalty. These statements reflect social positions that have questionable biblical foundation and, often, they reflect positions which selectively only discuss the mercy of God and improperly avoid the justice of God. For example, some believe that it would be hypocritical for Christians to support capital punishment, because that would suggest that some peoples’ sins are not forgivable. They argue that capital punishment conflicts with Jesus’ teachings – that, if we are not willing to forgive, then we place ourselves outside of God’s forgiveness. Such pronouncements are hardly convincing and are biblically inaccurate. All death row inmates, no matter how vile and numerous their misdeeds, are subject to the forgiveness of men and of God and, more importantly, they are subject to redemption and eternal salvation. Indeed, God compels us, individually, to forgive those who have harmed us. This, in no way, conflicts with thebiblical mandate that the government authority impose the death penalty in deserving cases. Social positions cannot and do not replace biblical instruction. Furthermore, the murder victim is hardly capable of forgiving the murderer. The biblical requirement to forgive those who injure us is an individual requirement. Therefore, no one, other than God, has the moral authority to forgive the crime of murder.

28) “While the thief on the cross found pardon in the sight of God – ‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise’ – that pardon did not extend to eliminating the consequences of his crime – ‘We are being justly punished, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds.’ (Luke 23:39-43)”. Neither God nor Jesus nor the Holy Spirit nor the prophets nor the apostles ever spoke out against the civil authorities use of executions in deserving cases – not even at the very time of Jesus’ own execution when He pardoned the sins of the thief, who was being crucified along side Him. Indeed, quite the opposite. Their biblical support for capital punishment is consistent and overwhelming. Furthermore, Jesus never confuses the requirements of civil justice with those of either eternal justice or personal relations. Charles Colson accurately recognizes this fact in stating that” it leads to a perversion of legal justice to confuse the sphere of private relations with that of civil law.” All quotations from Charles Colson’s “Capital Punishment: A Personal Statement”. See D.6. Continuing this thread, Protestant scholar and journalist Rev. G. Aiken Taylor states, ”Most Christians tend to confuse the Christian personal ethic with the requirements of social order. In other words, we tend to apply what the Bible teaches us about how we – personally – should behave toward our neighbors with what the Bible teaches about how to preserve order in society. And there is a big difference. Capital punishment is specifically enjoined in the Bible. ’Who ever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’(Genesis 9-6). This command is fully agreeable to the Sixth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ (Exodus 20:13), because the two appear in the same context. Exactly 25 verses after saying ‘Thou shalt not kill’, the Law says, ‘He that smiteth a man so that he may die, shall be surely put to death’ (Ex 21:12).” See also Leviticus 24:17 and Numbers 35:30-31.(TDP:OVS, pg. 84,1986) Biblical teachings regarding personal conduct, civil government and eternal judgement and relations are often taken out of context, thereby replacing one duty or instruction improperly with another.

29) In addition to the required punishment for murder and the deterrence standards, both Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas find that executing murderers is also an act of charity and mercy. Saint Augustine confirms that ” . . . inflicting capital punishment . . . protects those who are undergoing capital punishment from the harm they may suffer . . . through increased sinning which might continue if their life went on.” (On the Lord’s Sermon, 1.20.63-64.) Saint Thomas Aquinas finds that ” . . . the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprived of the power to sin anymore.” (Summa Theologica, II-II, 25, 6 ad 2.)

30) God, through the power and justice of the Holy Spirit, executed both Ananias and his wife, Saphira. Their crime? Lying to the Holy Spirit – to God – through Peter. Acts 5:1-11. By executing two such devoted Christians for lying to Him, does the Holy Spirit show confirmation of His support for His divinely instituted civil punishment of execution for premeditated murder or does it show His rejection of capital punishment? And read all of Revelation.

31) There are two passages in Luke which speak directly to Jesus’ position on capital punishment. In 20:14-16, Jesus states: “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others”. Jesus is stating that the proper punishment for murder is death. In 19:27, “Christ pronounced this judgement on those who rebelled against their king: ‘But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here, and slay them in my presence’(NASB). Thus, it is very clear that neither Christ nor His apostles intended to abrogate the God-given responsibility of the government (under Old Testament law) to protect its citizens and enforce justice by capital punishment.” ibid, D.14., pg. 342. In the 19:27 parable “their king” is Jesus.

32) The Bible clearly asserts, from beginning to end, without any reservation, that righteous judgement includes the execution of a murderer. In the case of murder, the biblical materials offer the clearest and most sustained justification for the death penalty. The purpose of capital punishment is justice – deterrence is irrelevant. A person who takes a human life, without proper sanction, forfeits any right to life – no alternative is allowed and the community must not be swayed by values to the contrary.

Listen carefully to the Bible as the Word of God rather than seek to improve upon it by means of human values. However meritorious mercy may be, however abundantly evident it may be in God’s own dealings, murder was an offense for which mercy and pity were not allowed and for which monetary compensation was strictly forbidden. The sentence is set by God’s torah and a judge cannot have discretion in this matter. Murder is something utterly on its own, nothing can be compared to it.

It should not be overlooked, in seeking to discover “the mind of Jesus Christ” on the issue of murder and its punishments, that He goes beyond torah to the statement that even verbal abuse makes one deserving of “the hell of fire”. Far from releasing believers from prior law, Jesus was a “hard liner” who made things even tougher, stating that He has come not “to abolish the law and the prophets . . . but to fulfill them.”, offering even stronger interpretations than in the original (Matthew 5:17-22). Indeed, Jesus admonishes the Pharisees not to misuse torah for their own ends, but to honor God and torah. And of all the text in the Bible, which one does Jesus select to emphasize that crucial point? “HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, LET HIM BE PUT TO DEATH”(Matthew 15:1-9).

All interpretations, contrary to the biblical support of capital punishment, are false. Interpreters ought to listen to the Bible’s own agenda, rather than to squeeze from it implications for their own agenda. As the ancient rabbis taught, “Do not seek to be more righteous than your Creator.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33.). Synopsis of Professor Lloyd R. Bailey’s book Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says, Abingdon Press, 1987. This is the definitive work on this subject. It is mandatory reading for those who wish to undertake a thorough and accurate look at this often misused and misunderstood area of concern and debate.

Conclusion: Throughout the Hebrew Testament and the New Testament, there is overwhelming biblical support for the divinely instituted punishment of death in cases of murder, such punishment to be carried out by the governing authority. There appears to be no biblical text which withdraws or condemns the punishment or that authority. Indeed, all evidence is quite to the contrary.

Opponents and advocates of capital punishment often make fundamental errors in citing biblical text. Those errors are usually found within the following categories:

(1) Confusing the obligations of individuals with those of the government. Example: Matthew 5:38-39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Strangely, opponents cite this as proof of Jesus’ abandonment of capital punishment. If one were to assume that this text referenced the actions of the governing authority and not individual obligations, then one would clearly find that government could not enforce any law which sought to protect the lives and property of its law abiding citizens. There is no reference to capital punishment in the text. Therefore, all wrongdoers, be that robbers, rapists or murderers could act repeatedly, with impunity, if the text was an obligation on the governing authority. This text is directed at individuals and has no application to the governing authority or its right and duty to execute. ( Carey, ibid F.18, pg. 122)

(2) Isolating specific biblical text from the broader context of the discussion. Example: Ezekiel 33:11: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” Let’s review Dr. Bailey’s analysis: “To some readers, that may be seem clear enough! God not only takes no “pleasure” in the death (execution?) of the wicked (criminal?), but prefers that they “turn back” (be rehabilitated?). Such understanding might indeed be justified if one could read the Bible atomistically, that is, one verse at a time, with the understanding that the verse has a self contained eternal truth. However, if the prophet is speaking to a specific audience about a particular problem, and if his response covers several verses (or even a chapter), then the modern interpreter must hear him out and look for the central idea. That is, what a verse says may not be what the context (and thus the prophet) means. . . .the words are addressed to the ‘house of Israel’ (specifically the Judean exiles of Babylonia), in response to their lament. (And) Who are the wicked? The exiles whose betrayal of the covenant has led to exile. What is meant by their “death”? Both their political situation (“we waste away”) and their dwindling faith in the ancient concept of election. God takes no “pleasure” in the death of the wicked (i.e., does not see it as necessary that the exiles have this attitude and forever remain in Babylonia). The Deity desires repentance, change of priorities, renewal of ancient values, life as it was intended by this community {“turn back”} . . . and return to the promised land. Thus, the text is not concerned with the fate of anyone who has been sentenced to death by the judiciary (or even per se with individuals who face death), and it does not therefore suggest what the religious persons response should be in that case.” Bailey, ibid F.31,pg. 42-43. “It is a faulty exegesis to take a verse of Scripture out of context and interpret it without regard to its qualifying words.”See Vallenga, ibid F.26, pg. 65.

(3) Believing that Christ abandoned the Law of the Hebrew Testament and instituted a new ethic in the New Testament, based solely on mercy. There are 20 chapters, within the 28 chapters of Matthew, which discuss destruction, hell, unquenchable fire, and/or differing forms of punishment and exclusion by God (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 8:12; 11:23-24; 12:30-32; 13:41-42, 49-50; 18:8-9; 22:2-14; 23:33, 25:40-46) and/or honor the Law of the Hebrew Testament (see specific references Matthew 5 and 15). “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Ephesians 5:5. “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-9. And so it is throughout the New Testament. See also Mark 3:29; Luke 13:24-28; John 5:24-29, 15:6; 2 Peter 2:4-9; Jude 1:5-15: Revelation 13:10. NAS, 1978

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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