Despite my original post on the Death Penalty being the longest one I’ve written so far there was still a lot of ground I didn’t cover. Mainly this was in an effort to be concise and also because I felt (and still feel) that the original post stands as an argument in its own right. But there have been several objections raised: the main one written by Rachael (link) in the comments section of the Death Penalty post. I urge you to read it because I don’t have space to reproduce here. Without further ado…
“The other day about why he thinks there is biblical evidence to support capital punishment here in the 21st century”
This line is taken from a brief note on Rachael’s blog which you can read here. Now, I have a major issue with this sentence and it’s this: why is the 21st century different? Since Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent resurrection from the dead in about 30AD humanity has been living in the end of the days. That is the time between Jesus’ resurrection and his Second Coming. This means that we still live in a godless, sinful, rebellious and disobedient world which has turned its back on God. 2010AD is no different from 100AD. God’s Holy law has not been changed. Genesis 9 v 5 still stands.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
Has God made man.”
This verse is not part of Mosaic law and has never been overturned! This command still stands today. And Jesus’ command regarding the nature of Old Testament law still stands.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Matthew 5 v 17
We should not make the mistake of naively assuming that the century we live in is somehow ‘superior’ to all the ones gone before. We are not more ‘civilised’. Humanity is still just a sinful as it was and God’s law is still just as applicable as it was. Could Jesus be any more clear? The Law still stands! Jesus came to fulfil the law not abolish it.
The Death Penalty is an extreme view
This argument wasn’t part of Rachael’s but it ties in nicely with what I have just been saying. Historically speaking the death penalty and Christianity were not seen to be contradictory for roughly 1900 years. And it has really only been since the 1950s that there has been a serious move away from the Death Penalty. What does this tell us? Well, the great theologians of the past – Calvin, Luther, etc – fully supported the death penalty. Great times of revival and spiritual light have been and gone and no one ever questioned the validity of it.
It has only been within the last fifty years that Christian began to oppose it. Now, this breaks with a 1900 year history so should be questioned doubly carefully before accepting it. Have the last fifty years been ones of a strong church? No. Has great error crept into the church during the past fifty years? Yes. I know this is a historically argument rather than a Biblical one but we can’t just ignore 1900 years of Christian history and proclaim that these Christians were in some way ‘misguided’. They had the same Bible we have today! Their views are still important. Calvin and Luther never saw anything wrong with the Death Penalty because they saw what the Bible teaches about it.
In your first post you just quoted random Bible verses!
Come now, this is hardly fair; they were hardly random in choice. And anyway to quote another ‘random’ verse:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”
2 Timothy 3 v 16
All of the Bible is God breathed, not just the New Testament, the Old Testament as well. The Bible verses I quoted still stand today. They cannot be ignored, they cannot be proclaimed redundant and they cannot be proclaimed false.
Commands that apply to individuals also apply to authorities
There is a problem this argument runs in to. And the problem is Romans 12. The latter part of Romans 12 is all about love. As Paul writes:
“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” v 21
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” v 17
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay, says the Lord’” v 19
These three verses are a good summary of the arguments I hear against the Death Penalty. You may be wondering why I still believe the Death Penalty considering I have read and agreed with the verses.
Well, Romans 13 goes onto say:
“For he [the ruler] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong do not be afraid for he does not bear the sword in vain. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on wrongdoing.” v4
What shall we say? Did Paul forget what he wrote just a chapter before? Of course not! Paul differentiates between our commands as individual Christians and the commands for rulers and authorities. Notice as well, rulers do God’s bidding as they are God’s servants. The Death Penalty isn’t just man killing another man but God exercising his power of judgement through human authority.
Should punishment be retributive or rehabilitating?
Rachael argues that punishment for crimes (in this case specifically murder) have to be geared towards ‘curing’ the criminal of the criminal urges they possess. That a murderer goes into prison and comes out never to murder again.
But is this a Biblical view on punishment?
In short: no. In fact I would even go as far to say that it is a very dangerous view to hold. Why? Because it suggests that man can cure sin! It suggests that imprisonment can somehow get rid of the sinful desires inside of a murderer’s heart. That the murderer will exit the prison less of a sinner that he was going in. The pride! The arrogance! But as Christians we know that the sinful and wretched heart of a murderer (of all of us!) can only be cured through Christ Jesus. Man cannot rehabilitate sin away. 70% of all criminals go onto reoffend. Although I don’t know the exact murderer re-offend rate it’s bound to be close. Why? Because an act of sin hardens the conscience and makes it easier to commit the same sin again. By committing a murder a person has hardened his conscience and this makes it easier for them to murder again. The Death Penalty then is an act of love towards the rest of society by removing someone who has been known to murder and could easily murder again. Only Jesus can make a man’s heart new, no prison system can
In addition, let us look to the Bible and see how God punishes the wicked we see that he punishes his people (the Israelites) in order to turn them back to him but he punishes the evil nations of the world with retribution in too many example to mention here. Also Mosaic Law is firmly based on retribution – let the severity of punishment be aligned to the severity of the crime.
But Jesus says to love your enemy, etc…
“So he [Jesus] made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle, he scattered the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables.”
John 2 v 15
The New King James Version reads “drove all from the temple area, and the sheep and the oxen.”
In other words Jesus had no problem saying “love your enemies” and whipping those that had broken God’s direct law out of the temple courts. He did not attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ them but directly punished them for their sin. Here Jesus was acting in full authority and power.
We are called to replicate that authority. We are called to be more like Jesus. This does not mean that as individuals we go out and whip people but we should support a strong justice system that seeks to punish the evildoer for his deeds not to cure him because he deserves to be punished and because sin cannot be cured!
We should love justice more than murderers.
The passage from Romans only applied to the Romans
Why? Paul does not say that it only applies to the Roman government. It is a command to all authorities to reward good and punish evil. Saying otherwise would be like saying that the commands for a holy life in Timothy only apply to Timothy. Or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount only applied to the Jews. Paul deals with rulers as a concept not specifically Roman rulers.
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience”
Romans 8 v 3 – 5
When Paul talks of rulers he talks of all rulers from Roman times until the ultimate ruler Christ Jesus returns in power and authority to judge us all. The current Labour Government is an ‘agent of wrath’. A particularly rubbish one but an agent nevertheless. And as such it is called to take up the sword against evil. Paul is talking about a Biblical ruler would do. He sets a standard for all rulers to follow.
As Christians we must submit to authority while they continue to reward good and punish evil with the sword. It is only when they start to reward evil and punish good that we are called to not submit.
The Church needs to minister to those imprisoned
Yes! By all means, in times past then those on death row were given the choice to talk to a minister and it is good to be spreading the glorious salvation of the gospel to those facing eternity. But this does not negate their punishment. They still have to be justly punished for their crimes.
The Death Penalty is combating evil with evil
We know that nothing evil comes from the Lord. Yet in the Old Testament he commands his people on 16 crimes that deserve the penalty of death. Therefore the death penalty cannot be evil. It is justice. We live in a fallen and sinful world; harsh punishments are required to keep evil men in check.
God will punish murder for us
Indeed, God will punish all of us with death. But he uses authorities as his instruments for punishing criminals in this life.
Death is God’s right not ours
True, but once again he delegates part of this power to human authorities as seen throughout the Bible. In the same way that God uses Babylon to punish the Jews for rebelling against him he uses human authorities to punish murderers with death. Mosaic Law shows us this as well – rulers and authorities have every right to use the death penalty to punish murder with death.
Being against the Death Penalty makes Christians stand out
Considering that public opinion today is largely against the death penalty should that actually say ‘makes Christians stand in”?
Condemning someone to death means that they lose out on a chance to be converted
Basically, the argument runs that the longer someone is alive the more chance they have to be converted. If murderers got the death penalty rather than go to prison then they lose 50+ years of their life when they could have been saved.
The only thing I can say is that God is in complete control of who and who is not converted. If a murderer is going to be converted then they will be regardless of the sentence past. Remember, we deal not in human terms of time but in God terms of his sovereignty over all things.
The cornerstone of my argument is Genesis 9 v 5
“Whoever sheds the blood of man
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
Has God made man.”
This sums up a correct Christian, loving, attitude towards crime and punishment. Put a love for justice before our love for the evildoer. For in the same way God loves us all but still sends unbelievers to Hell. (Yet, his love was great enough so as to provide sinners with a way to salvation! Jesus had to take the punishment that God required.) God is holiness and justice and love, all three together, no contradictions and we are called to be like God! We need to submit to this command of the Lord’s. For all things that come from God are good - even the Death Penalty. Love and the Death Penalty are not two opposing views but rather they walk hand in hand under the glorious banner of justice.
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