Three Views on Capital Punishment

There are three basic views on capital punishment: reconstructionism, which insists on the death sentence for all serious crimes; rehabilitationism, which would not allow it for any crime; and retributionism, which recommends death for some (capital) crimes. Forms of all three views are held by Christians. (Geisler 1989, 199)

Is the death Penalty God’s Law? The objective of this paper will be to determine if the death penalty, as imposed by modern day countries is biblical. What is the Bible’s point of view?  Undeniably, this is an ethical issue overflowing with passion, for we are talking about a human life, both that of the victim and the offender, the greatest gift from God. Are modern day nations qualified and authorized to determine such issues as life and death? Should Christians support the death penalty of imperfect nations? If not, should they protest and oppose them? Lastly, if neither of those choices is optional, should Christians simply remain neutral over the death penalty?

The issues of capital punishment are not an island within itself, as other issues will be interrelated, such as pacifism and war, abortion, legislating morality, really all areas related to life. If one is going to be consistent as a pro-life person in an absolute sense or stance, she or he could not be a pacifist toward war, and yet support capital punishment, or be for abortion, and yet against capital punishment. However, seldom will you find a person that will be absolute pro-life in all areas that involve the loss of life. It should be said before moving on that a person can be neutral to war, but not a pacifist. If one defends family and friends, she or he knows the moral reasons as to why and can judge accordingly. If they are in a military, they may be called on to take lives for a country that is making the moral decisions as to why. (Nash 2007)

Biblical Evaluation

Many Christians of the last 50-years have felt that the death penalty is not biblical and that Christians should not support it. In fact, a number of Christian groups work toward the abolition of the death penalty. The primary argument against capital punishment (execution as punishment), has been that it is cruel and inhumane. However, some advocates do accept the statistics that seem to show it deters crime if effectively carried out.

Of course, this is written by a Christian for Christians, so the perspective of who is best qualified to determine the matter will be quite obvious, and likely carry little merit with the non-Christian. Of course, for the Christian, Jehovah God is the authority on life, ‘for with you is the source of life of all who live on earth, the Creator of heaven and earth.’ (Ps. 36:9; Isa. 42:5) Therefore, he has the right to enact any laws that affect the life that he produced. Moreover, ‘his thoughts and ways are far superior to ours.’ (Isa. 33:22; 55:8) Of course, it may be difficult for our finite minds to appreciate and understand the laws that he has established. Nevertheless, his rules and regulations that he has laid out within Scripture, are done so with ‘loving-kindness, justice, and mercy to everyone on earth.’—Jer. 9:24.

If we were to consider the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, we would discover that Jehovah God does not approve of all executions that take place therein, but he is not against executing someone as a means of punishment either. In fact, all of humankind has received the death penalty for Adam’s rebellious disobedience to the divine law in the Garden of Eden. (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:17-19; 5:5) Then, there is the execution of every human, with the exception of Noah and his family at the flood in Genesis, as well as the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah. (2 Pet. 2:5, 6) Moreover, Jehovah used human authorities to carry out capital punishment throughout the history of ancient Israel. (Ex. 32:27, 28; Num. 25:1-11) In fact, there are 18 offenses in the Mosaic Law that brought capital punishment. (Nash 2007) Moreover, Jesus and his angelic army are set to bring wicked humankind to an end at Armageddon.—2 Thess. 1:6-9.

Murder, taking the life of a person by a dangerous animal, raping a married woman, adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, breaking the Sabbath, striking one’s parents, rebel children, cursing God, kidnapping, to mention just a few offenses that were punishable by death. First, we must acknowledge that the Israelites were under a theocratic government, meaning they were God-ruled and had a means of getting God’s decision on things by way of the Urim and the Thummim, among other ways to get the direction of the divine will. However, this all came to an end after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the Old Testament, because you never hear of the Urim and the Thummim after that. The issue that we must address as Christians is would we find it acceptable to allow governmental authorities to legislate morality? Would we accept the death penalty for a person that commits adultery, or a person caught in a homosexual act? One way to deal with this would be to separate what God said to Noah after the flood, which applied to humankind as a whole, from what was said to the Israelite nation, and primarily applicable to them. One of the directives of God to Noah was, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Gen 9:6) This does not mean that the Old Testament and the Mosaic Law is not applicable to Christians, as the principles behind it are, as well as our discovering how God feels about things, not to mention, the ability to get to know him and draw close to him as a person by means of that information. Then, there is the prophetic value of the Old Testament as well.

Exodus 19:5-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Now therefore, if you [Natural Jews, Sons of Jacob] will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (See 24:3; 1 Ki 8:53; Ps 135:4)

Matthew 21:43-44 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

43 Therefore I say to you [Natural Jews, Sons of Jacob (vs 23)], the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [Natural Jews, Sons of Jacob (vs 23)] and given to a nation,[1] producing the fruit of it. 44 And the person falling on this stone will be shattered. As for anyone on whom it falls, it will crush him.”

Matthew 23:37-39 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

38 Look, your house is being left to you desolate!

39 For I say to you, from now on you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Tutor Leading to Christ

Galatians 3:19-25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

19 Why, then, the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should arrive to whom the promise had been made; and it was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be!  For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would indeed have been from the law. 22 But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them who believe.

23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor[2] to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (See 1 Pet. 2:9-10)

Jesus came to fulfill the Law, to bring it to a close. The purpose of the Law was that it was a tutor leading to Christ, once Christ was here; we no longer needed the tutor for its intended purpose, the protection of the Israelites and the seed of Genesis 3:15. A tutor in the first century was not the teacher but was a bodyguard that protected the child to and from school, and along the way, he instilled values. The Law served as a protection along the way; it also taught principles. Now, even having said this, one is not saying that the Old Testament is not applicable to the Christian. It is. The Jewish system of things made way to the new system of things, Christianity. If a natural Jew wanted to be right with God, he had to leave the Jewish system and become as Christian. Let us look at Jesus words found at Matthew 9:14-17, which is indicative of Jesus position on the Law.

Matthew 9:14-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast,[3] but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of the bridal chamber[4] are not able to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear becomes worse. 17 Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins. If they do, then the wineskins burst and the wine spills out and the wineskins are ruined. But they do put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Jesus was saying that no one should get the idea that his disciples and the coming Christianity of the first century were going to conform to the old practices of the former Jewish system of things of the last 1,500 years prior to him, such as the ritual of fasting. Jesus did not come to patch up the old and worn-out Jewish system of things that was soon to be nailed to the cross. Christianity was not going to be made to conform to the Judaism that Jesus walked through in his ministry, nor the past Jewish history with its traditions that they had handed down. No, this was not going to be any new patch on an old garment or new wine in an old wineskin.

This is not a shift from Jew to Gentile, but a shift from the Jewish system of things, to the Christian system of things, from a natural Jew to a spiritual Jew. There are two basic positions, and then, there is a less held position. (1) Some see the church as the direct continuation of Israel in the Old Testament. (2) Others, although acknowledging similarities and parallels between the two, view Israel and the church as entirely distinct. These ones also teach that God has a distinct program for Israel and a distinct program for the church. (3) This writer’s position is that the church completely replaced Israel, and if natural Israel wants to be in a good standing with God, they must become a Christian and have an active faith in Christ. They are no longer God’s chosen people.

Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections

Many states have had this within their title for the state department of prison systems. The rehabilitation aspect of the title would suggest that they are there to help the inmate return to a normal life, given the skills to be able to cope and live within society. While we do not have the time to argue whether they do a good job of this, let it be said that they make a valiant effort, but like many government run programs, it is not effective, because about seventy percent of those released from prison return. However, before moving on, we must consider whether the Creator of heaven and earth is in the rehabilitative business as well.

Let us take just one example, the Assyrians, which was the second world power of Bible history from about 780 B.C. E. to about 630 B.C.E. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, with a population that numbered more than 120,000 men, not to mention women and children, was sent the prophet Jonah, who proclaimed a judgment against Nineveh, saying that they were to be destroyed by Jehovah God, because of their evil ways. (Jonah 1:1-2) Why? The historical image left of Assyria’s abuses is one of enormous inhumane and merciless conquering of one territory after another, making even the most notorious modern-day serial killer pale in comparison. They are listed number three out of the five most terrifying civilizations in world history. The great warrior monarch, Ashurnasirpal, refers to his treatment of several disobedient cities this way:

I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes … and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled. … Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers(?), of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts (tree trunks) round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire … Twenty men I captured alive and I immured them in the wall of his palace. … The rest of them [their warriors] I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates. (Luckenbill 1989, 145, 147, 153, 162)

Because of Assyria’s evil ways, Nineveh was given the death penalty, subject for destruction. However, Jehovah has a judgment policy that most are not aware of, but the Jonah’s original audience would have been aware. Judgment by Jehovah God is conditional whether one is going from condemnation to restoration because he has turned from his sin and does what is right, as well makes restitution; or he goes from an approved condition to condemnation, because he turns toward evil with an unrepentant heart.

Jeremiah 18:7-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to tear down, and to destroy it; and if that nation which I have spoken against turns from its evil, I will also feel regret over[5] the calamity that I intended to bring against it.

Ezekiel 18:23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

Ezekiel 33:13-15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 When I say to the righteous one: “You will surely keep living,” and he trusts in his own righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous acts will be remembered, but he will die for the wrong that he has done. 14 “‘And when I say to the wicked one: “You will surely die,” and he turns away from his sin and does what is just and righteous15 and the wicked one returns what was taken in pledge and pays back what was taken by robbery, and he walks in the statutes of life by not doing what is wrong, he will surely keep living. He will not die.

Corrective not Punitive

Further, we find that there are occasions when God’s actions toward a sinner are for the sole purpose of correcting the person, not so much for the purpose of punishing him. Consider a Scriptural example of expulsion. Below is a case of a man in the first century Corinthian Christian congregation, who is committing fornication with his father’s wife. When expelled from the congregation at the direction of the Apostle Paul, and as a result handed over to Satan, this many was again a part of Satan’s world, and alienated from God. His being expelled removed the fleshly component from the Christian congregation and preserved the “spirit,” or principal mindset.

1 Corinthians 5:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

5 you must hand such a man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[6] so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

An understanding of the preposition eijV [eis] can shed some light on this verse. The NIV reads as if there were two equally balanced purposes behind Paul’s command: one punitive and one remedial [corrective]. But the Greek prefaces the first with an eijV [eis] and the second with the conjunction i{na [hina]. eijV [eis] can denote either result or purpose; i{na [hina] far more commonly denotes purpose. Paul’s change of language is likely deliberate to point out that his purpose in discipline is entirely rehabilitative, even if one of the results of his action is temporary exclusion and ostracism of the persistently rebellious sinner. Or in Gordon Fee’s words, “What the grammar suggests, then, is that the ‘destruction of the flesh’ is the anticipated result of the man’s being put back out into Satan’s domain, while the express purpose of the action is his redemption.” (Mounce 2009, 55)

In other words, the punishment’s purpose is to rehabilitate, to correct the person’s thinking, which is in essence, a correction of his behavior. We can also consider the fact that humankind received the death penalty, and out of his great love God chose to offer a sacrifice to cover that sin, giving humans yet another chance. (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 5:12-18) In this, he placed humans in an objective lesson, to learn from the error of his ways? What was the error of his ways that he needs to learn from, was it anywhere near what a serial killer might accomplish, or a mass murderer? Yes, one man, in extension, all of humankind brought about the pain and suffering, old age, and death of untold billions of people. What was God’s greatest tool that he gave to billions of people sitting on death row?

2 Timothy 3:16-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be fully competent, equipped for every good work.

Before moving on, let us revisit what we spoke of earlier: would we find it acceptable to allow governmental authorities to legislate morality? Would we accept the death penalty for a person that commits adultery, or a person caught in a homosexual act? One way to deal with this would be to separate what God said to Noah after the flood, which applied to humankind as a whole, from what was said to the Israelite nation, and primarily applicable to them. One of the directives of God to Noah was, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”―Genesis 9:6.

Thus, another argument might be made that we are under Mosaic Law in that we follow the do’s and don’ts of what might be considered criminal behavior, but Jesus changed the landscape, and now the Christian is not stoned to death, but is removed from the Christian congregation, handed over to Satan, going from life to death spiritually that is. Now, the people must face secular authority for criminal offenses, and the church for moral and criminal ones.

Beyond Repentance

However, there are times that God has chosen to destroy those that were beyond repentance. A Christian can pass from death to life by choosing Christ. However, he can also pass from life to death if he stumbles to the point of spiritual shipwreck. There are times when these ones can be recovered. (Gal 6:1) However, if he rejects the help from spiritual leaders within the congregation because his heart has grown callused, he can go to the point of being beyond repentance. He would come to the point of having no desire to be restored. (Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-29)

Certainly, the same principle would hold true for those in the world, who are beyond rehabilitation. We speak of ‘hardened criminals.’ They are sadistic and have absolutely no remorse for the pain and suffering they cause. Their heart has grown callused, meaning they cannot feel regret for what they do. They passed from the life of this system to death when they stumbled into a life of crime, deviant behavior. Along the way, many have tried to recover these ones, but the help has been rejected until the person has become a hardened criminal, and he is beyond rehabilitation. These are the ones housed in maximum and supermax prisons.

Success of Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections

There is neither the time nor the space to deal with this to the fullest extent. The inadequacies of the prison system are many, and all cannot be covered. The recidivism rate (return rate) of inmates is and has been for 80 years about 70 percent. In other words, seven out of every ten inmates released will offend again, and go back to prison. Generally, each time they are released their crimes escalates in seriousness, because they are becoming more and more hardened with each trip to prison. One of the reasons for the lack of success is the combining of repentant inmates with unrepentant inmates.

For example, the state of Ohio has about forty prisons: one supermax, one maximum and the rest are close (close means just short of max), medium and minimum security prisons, each housing about 2,500 inmates. Every one of these prisons has educational, vocational and rehabilitative programs, which means the money is stretched thin, and ineffective. The best solution is to have 2-3 prisons that are specifically designed to rehabilitate and correct, and sink all of the money into those, with the inmates that are repentant working their way to these places. When you have an inmate taking a rehabilitative program class in a prison with 39 other inmates, and 28 of them are hardened, unrepentant criminals, it is fruitless for the one who is looking to better himself.

Life for a Life

Most countries have classified aggravated or first-degree murder as being worthy of capital punishment. For example, in the state of Ohio, where this writer lives, it must be premeditative, and there must be any one of eight aggravating factors, such as it being committed in the commission of a felony. What does God’s Word say? The most notable would be the tenth commandment, “You shall not murder.” (Deut. 5:17) The apostle John wrote, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15; Rev. 21:8) Many, who are influenced by the United States’ liberal news media, would argue that the execution of a malicious killer is cruel punishment. However, the conservative element of the same country would argue that the willful and purposeful slaughter of an innocent life by the offender is cruel punishment for the victim and his family. Therefore, the anti-death penalty element has their focus on the offender’s well-being, while the pro-death penalty element has their focus on the victim of the offender. At times, there has been a case where a person, who protests out in front of prisons where death row inmates are executed, who has then had a close family member taken from them in some hideous way by a killer, and they then change their position on the cruelty of the death penalty. By and large, those that battle the inappropriateness of the death penalty have never been a victim of a violent crime. However, to be fair, there are those that have had their children end up on death row, and have gone from supporters of the death penalty to ones who oppose it.

As was already stated in the above, the creator of heaven and earth, as well as humankind, stated the following on capital punishment, “your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it … Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Gen. 9:1, 5-6) It was at this stage in human history that the ultimate lawgiver gave human authorities the right to execute those found guilty shedding the blood of man. When a governmental authority executes a person for capital murder, it is, in essence, acting as “God’s servant for your good … For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom. 13:1, 3-4) Of course, this does not give governmental authorities the right to perform vigilantly justice on someone who is believed to have murdered another.

Scripture applicable to the Christian community clearly shows that premeditative murder of another is a capital offense; however, the same Scriptures had exceptions for someone who took another’s life unintentionally. He was given refuge within certain cities at the time. Still, this was only after the leaders of the community ascertained that the murder was not intentional, as it was a case of manslaughter. The Israelite’s did not have jails or prisons, so he or she would not have been imprisoned, but would have been required to live in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest He would also be required to work to benefit himself, as well as the community he lived within.—Num. 35:9-34.

Murder was not the only capital offense for the nation of Israel either. As was already stated, an Israelite could receive the death penalty for criminal negligence and certain wrongful actions that were exceptionally harmful physically, mentally and spiritually. This makes evident that God was far more concerned for the victim of a crime than the offender. If followed as laid out in the Law, this raised the Israelite nature morally above the pagan nations that surrounded them, who saw nothing wrong with such deviant practices as incest, sodomy, and bestiality. (Ex. 21:29; Lev. 18:6-30; 20:10-23) Capital punishment was imposed for gross immoral acts, which kept the nation of Israel pure and clean if obeyed, as well as having a society, whose perverse (and really criminal) behavior, was not allowed to influence others into this ruination.

Is Capital Punishment A Deterrent?

Some would be so bold to state that no punishment ever deters any wrongful actions. Others would argue that the one, who receives capital punishment for aggravated murder, receives justice, but that this is a deterrent for others who may be considering such a crime.

A heinous crime against the state is worthy of capital punishment, such as one who commits treason, a violation of the allegiance owed to his or her own country. Thus, treason against the Creator is worthy of capital punishment. However, in relation to violating one’s allegiance owed to God, it would not be known as treason, but as apostasy. ‘In classical Greek, apostasia is a technical term for political revolt or defection. In LXX it always relates to rebellion against God (Josh. 22:22; 2 Ch. 29:19).’[7]  “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, … you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, … And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.” (Deut. 13:6-11) Two points are to be made here, (1) this is not a revolt against God, because this one no longer wanted to follow him, it is ‘because the Israelite sought to draw others away.’ (2) The penalty of capital punishment for apostasy (treason) was to deter people from committing such an offense. If the Creator Himself knows that appropriate penalties will serve as a deterrent, we should accept that as fact.

There is little doubt that the death penalty will deter the offender who received it from committing murder again. Moreover, if the death penalty deters so small a number of murders each year that are not going to get caught in statistics, say 100 in the United States, and there was no death penalty, who can rationalize this to the innocent victims that would have never been. Then again, if the death penalty is in place, and those 100 lives are saved, it is the lives of the murderers themselves that are lost. Who would you rather live?

Many times, killers kill, again and again, this proves to be the case in the prison system itself, as well as outside of prison. People have been killed for as little as a pack of cigarettes in prison because an inmate failed to pay his bills. Life is very cheap in prison, and life is just as cheap on the streets of our cities. If the recent movie theater massacre in Colorado has not brought home to us, as one many gunned down dozens of people, murdering 12 and injuring 70 others.

The system that is designed to deal with violent criminals is the flaw in the system here in the United States. You have (1) the mismanagement of evidence, (2) the intentional corrupting of evidence, (3) law enforcement and prosecutors blinded by anything outside of what they believe to be true, (4) the poor and minority receiving different levels of defense, (5) as well as the more strict punishments, (6) an overcrowded system that lets dangerous offenders out in just a few years, and (7) most death row inmates do not get executed for 50-20 years because of all the appeals they receive.

Do these flaws within the system make a case for capital punishment unacceptable? Here again, we are back to the morality of whether we should carry out capital punishment. At what level are these corruptions within the system? There is little doubt that the poor receive far less in their defense against such charges. The defense attorney may only receive $6,000 for a murder trial that lasts a week, or $20,000.00 for a capital murder trial that lasts 2-3 weeks, while a wealthy defendant may spend tens of thousands to millions. The criminal justice system in the United States is so overwhelmed; it is literally impossible to meet out just to all. Of all cases that come before a judge, 98 percent of them are plead out to lesser included offenses, because not everyone can go to trial. However, almost all cases of murder go to trial. Even after having said all that, the United States criminal justice system is far fairer than any other country.

death-penalty-graph_capital-punishment

Pro-death Penalty Webpage[8]

The Supreme Court case of Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), brought an end to capital punishment 1972 through 1976. As you can see from the chart, when the death penalty was abolished for five years, the number of murders went up. However, stats are not always reflective of reality. The death penalty is only going to have a real effect on premeditative murder, not crimes of passion. There are other complications as well. With modern science, we are finding more and more people on death row, who are innocent. What the governments of the world do not realize, they are accountable for spilled blood, from the “the Judge of all the earth.” (Gen. 18:25) While life for life is certainly fair justice, it is only fair under such conditions where one can be sure of the guilt.

Does Capital Punishment Devalue Life?

Some would argue that it is just the opposite; ‘the lack of carrying out capital punishment devalues life.’ If we looked at the individual states this way, we could say that Texas values life far more than any other state, because it has executed 483 people since 1976, with only a 109 being executed in Virginia, and Kansas with the least, zero!. We could think of it another way as well if we assess something as being of great value; then, we are willing to pay the ultimate price for it. Both are reasonable.

This is the way the United States sets up its criminal justice system. We attempt to make sure ‘the punishment fits the crime.’ If the person gets a parking ticket, it will be a small fine. If he assaults a person physically, he could receive a few months in the local county jail up to a few years in prison, depending if it is a misdemeanor assault or a felony assault. This so-called ‘like for like’ or punishment fitting the crime applies to capital murder as well. What would be the equal value of a human life? Would it not be “life for life”?—Deuteronomy 19:21, NEB.

The irony is that we humans can appreciate ‘like for like’ on everything, and would fight to no end, so as to not be short changed on our end if the ‘like’ process. However, the moment that human life for life comes into the picture, we pause. Whereas, when it was just a thing being considered, the emphasis (justice) was placed on the victim, who lost their end of the like, but once we move into the human life realm, the emphasis is not placed on the offender, and what is really just, like we do not know. Those who cannot stomach the execution of a human life will close their eyes to the victim, as well as any future victims and the value is then placed on the life of the murderer. They would scream from the courthouse steps, or in front of the prison on execution night, ‘to execute this human, living, being is to cheapen life!’ Now, is that really reasonable? They are not arguing innocence, as this person is guilty of say raping a mother and two daughters, then, beating them within an inch of their lives, before setting the house on fire, burning them to death. Many believe that if you just ‘lock them up and throw away the key,’ all is well. These once are still blinding themselves to the facts of how many inmates and correction officer are killed in a prison setting. In 2002, our of 2.1 million state prison inmates, 1,134 were murdered in prison.―BBC News 2005.

Many would argue that those who fail to exact equal punishment for the crime of taking a life are the ones who are cheapening life. We can get a picture of this imbalance in their thinking when we consider other aspects of when life is at risk. In the case of the death penalty, these ones are pro-life advocates of a few thousand inmates that have savagely taken the life (some murdering multiple people) of another, but these same ones will stand in front of abortion clinics, courthouses, or congress, arguing for the slaughter of an unborn child. Clearly, the preciousness of life only matters for a person who has wantonly taken the life or multiples lives of other(s).

Is Capital Punishment Legalized Murder?

Those part-time pro-life advocates of the murderers suggest that capital punishment is nothing more than “legalized murder.” Let us analyze that thought for a minute. Killing is to cause something living to die, which can be done lawfully or unlawfully. Murder is deliberately taking another person’s life unlawfully. Stealing is taking something unlawfully. If a police officer catches a criminal in an alley, mugging a person, and he takes that person’s gun, is he stealing it? Hardly! It is a lawful taking of the gun. Therefore, when a governmental authority executes (kills) lawfully; it cannot be an unlawful taking of a life, murder. There is a clear distinction between murder and killing.

Again, as mentioned earlier, the law handed down by our Creator after the fall of humankind protected the man who may have accidently taken another person’s life, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. If the judges deemed that they were not intentionally trying to take the life of the other, they were not given the death penalty. However, those convicted of manslaughter in the Bible were punished, which once again shows that we should value life.—Numbers 35:6-32.

Are there Scriptural grounds for the governmental authorities to execute criminals guilty of intentional murder, with exaggerating circumstances? Yes, the Apostle Paul, informed the Christians in the capital of the Roman Empire “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Rom. 13:1, 4) The Apostle Peter makes the same case, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”—1 Peter 2:13-14.

We can evaluate the seriousness of these men, as to just how serious they took the governmental power, by looking to the time when Paul was brought up on false charges, and his life hung in the balance. He stood before Governor Festus on charges that, if found guilty, would have brought the death penalty. Did he argue that the governmental did not have the authority? No, just the opposite, he said, “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death.”—Acts 25:11.

The Effect Capital Punishment on Society

When we lower ‘punishment for the crime of aggravated murder,’ so that it is equal to lesser crimes like robbery, burglary, and so on, the decision to risk getting caught starts to become worthwhile. If you will return to the chart again that deals with the level of murders committed in the United States from 1972 through 1976, you will see that there is a correlation to the value of life. Not the victim’s life, but rather the offender valuing his own life. There is a constant level of murders for 30 years. However, when the abolished the death penalty for five years, the murder rate and other serious crimes almost tripled the 30-year average prior to 1972. Certainly, this alone is not the reason for such a jump, but the correlation is certainly there, between the skyrocket in the murder rate and the abolishment of the death penalty.

If the critics are correct, that capital punishment hardens and dehumanizes a society; it would certainly mean that if removed it should humanize a society. Of course, it could be argued, and rightly so that five years is hardly enough time without something, to see any correlation. However, we could add the statistic that when the United States made Kidnapping a death penalty case in the 1980’s, it all but disappeared as a crime. However, once it was realized that no one was ever really sentenced to death over it, it began to rise yet again.

The only way that we could ever truly see a correlation between the capital punishment and the reduction of crime is if two factors came into play: (1) they sentenced all people who committed that crime to the death penalty, (2) which would be carried our within a month of being sentenced, no exceptions. The problems we face are trial and court errors, as well as corruption. Would a detective be less prone to alter evidence if he knew of such severe consequences, would lab technicians be more careful if they knew of such serious consequences? I have addressed many issues, but the actual purpose of this writing is to establish the moral significance of capital punishment.

[1] Or people

[2] Lit pedagogue; Gr paidagogos. The tutor in Bible times was not the teacher but rather a guardian who led the student to the teacher.

[3] Some mss add much, or often

[4] That is, wedding guests

[5] Lit repent of; .e., I will change my mind concerning; or I will think better of, or I will relent concerning

[6] In this context, “the flesh” is referring to the sinful state of human beings, often described as a power in opposition to the spirit, i.e. mental disposition.

[7] D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 57.

[8] http://www.wesleylowe.com/cp.html