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Should Death Penalty be Banned?

aymon de albatrus

"Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." (Gen 9:6)

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’" (Mat 5:21)

Every time and every culture has considered crime and penalty differently. At times authorities have considered theft of small trivial things such an evil to deserve death. Another time the authority believed that a serial murderer that tortured and raped children to death has to be treated with care and gentleness. Surely we cannot claim that our culture is the most enlightened, humane and wise. In the future there may be completely different values of judgment and one may feel ashamed when thinking of the liberal view held in our Western World today as its Leftist governments are trying to ban the death penalty. The reason as to why we have such variety of views on the same subjects is because human laws are based on feelings and not on the absolute standards commanded by God.

To us Christians who want to take the Bible seriously, as we should, it is not too difficult to see the Bible’s absolute clear standard concerning the death penalty.

We start from the total Sovereignty of God and who He is. God has created ALL things from nothing, there is nothing that exists that He did not create and He is, therefore, the absolute owner, ruler and disposer of everything that ‘is’. He has every perfect right to dispose of His creation as He pleases: "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created." (Rev 4:11)

This being the case, then no one can stop His hand and say to Him ‘what are you doing’: "And all the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing. And He does according to His will among the army of Heaven, and [among] the inhabitants of the earth. And no one is able to stop His hand or say to Him, What are You doing?" (Dan 4:35)

However, God does care for His creation and knows what is best for it and has given certain rules for it to live the best possible way. Unfortunately with the fall of Adam evil has found his way in human beings who are basically inclined to constant malevolence as Scripture attests: "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen 6:5) So He gave man the 10 Commandment and various punishment, including the death penalty, to deter and restrain man from his evil intention.

But these decadent days there is a cry "death is not a deterrent", well actually it is, but even if it were not, at least that evil has been removed from society and will not do harm any more.

Regarding the capital punishment he gave this: "Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." (Gen 9:6) Notice the words "by man shall his blood be shed" this means that offenders are to be put to death by appointed men (magistrate) to perform this task under His direction. Why I am emphasizing this? Because, some anti death penalty people are using the phrase: "for in the image of God made he man" to say that also the murderers are made in the image of God and therefore cannot be executed, but Scripture commands that this be done under certain circumstances.

Yes! The murderers are made also so, in some sense, but at the same time God’s image in such people has been distorted and darkened by committing such evil crime that they reflect more the "image of the devil" than that of God. We are predestined to be conforming to the image of Jesus (Rom 8:29) and a violent criminal or murderer does not mirror the image of God at all. Besides we have the commands of God, thus this argument is clearly fallacious.

That man is "created in the image of God" also means that we should have the same reaction as God concerning heinous criminal acts. God is angry against who commits murder, and we are to be also. God commands to punish the murderer, and so must we. This reaction is sound, healthy and normal, a reflection of the divine glow that is placed in mankind. In other words, the natural sense of right and wrong that was given to us has its source in Gen 9:6 that can be paraphrased: "One who takes another person’s life, has forfeited his own right to life, because man has the high value God puts on him."

God in Gen 9:5 says that He will demand death for whom sheds the blood (life) of another man demonstrating the high value and love that God places on His creation in His image and a society without the capital punishment denies this love and justice.

The Bible demands the capital punishment as a legitimate form of punishment for some serious crimes and therefore it gives "divine approval" to the death penalty.

The death penalty in the Old Testament is found in:

Abuse of father or mother (Exo 21:15)

Adultery and fornication (Lev 20:10-12, Deu 22:22)

Blasphemy against God (Lev 24:14-16,23)

Breaking the Sabbath (Exo 31:14, Num 15:32-36)

Contempt of court (Deu 17:8-13)

Fortune telling and practicing sorcery (Lev 20:27)

Having intercourse with animals (Exo 22:19)

Homosexuality (Lev 20:13)

A woman found not virgin at marriage (Deu 22:20-21)

Having intercourse with a betrothed woman. (Deu 22:23-24)

Incest (Lev 20:11-12,14,19-21)

Kidnapping (Exo 21:16)

Murder (Gen 9:6, Exo 21:12, Num 35:16-21)

Practicing magic (Exo 22:18)

Rape of someone who is engaged (Deu 22:25)

Religious people who mislead others to fall away (Deu 13:1-5; 18:20)

Speaking a curse over parents (Exo 21:17)

The daughter of a priest practicing prostitution (Lev 21:9)

To bear false testimony at a trial (Deu 19:16,19)

Worshipping idols (Exo 22:20, Lev 20:1-5, Deu 17:2-7).

The manners of execution in the Old Testament were: stoning, burning, sword, spear or arrow (Exo 19:13; 32:27, Lev 20:27; 21:9, Num 25:7-8).

God commands the death penalty as an expression of His holiness and righteousness. When created man breaks His rules, God imposes punishment. God is NOT mean and vicious when He imposes death penalty for crimes such as murder, assault, cursing and sexual sins, but shows that God values mankind and His eternal moral principles very highly. When a person violates or hurts a fellow man by words or acts this is something very serious to the Creator. Such things attract divine punishment by death. (Mat 5:22) Besides, we must always remember that ALL creation is His to dispose as He wills, and whatever He does is always just and holy.

These divine orders give safety and dignity to mankind. It shows us that God cares for us ordinary people, that He wants to protect us from evil things that we humans do to each other. Without order and without punishment we would only be creatures lacking responsibility that could do whatever we wanted to each other without being held responsible for anything. We would then live in a world that did not have any morals or ethics, a veritable jungle of dog-eats-dog. We would be just like animals. (Jer 17:9)

It is the order of things and the punishments that proves to us that God values us humans as something. If we were nothing God would not care for us. But God so loves mankind (Joh 3:16) and therefore the capital punishment exists as a defence, as a confirmation, as recognition of the high dignity and value God places on mankind. The death penalty, more than anything else, confirms that we are moral beings and as a consequence of that we are held responsible for our actions.

Remember that God imposed the death penalty on His own Son so that we may be free of the punishment of death that was the just due to our many sins against His Holiness. Jesus Christ, a perfectly pure and innocent man paid the price as a criminal; for He was imputed our heinous sins so that He may atone them for us. Praise and thank the Lord forever and ever.

In the New Testament we find nothing to prove that Law and Order must be abandoned or revised by the authorities because of the atonement of Jesus. The authority, with the right to punish, was completely accepted in the NT as a divine ordinance (Rom 13:1-7, 1Pe 2:13-14). Both Paul and Peter accepted the authority’s punishing function and role, and so did Jesus for in Mat 5:21-23 not only he quotes the 5th commandment but makes it even stricter.

The fifth commandment has never been considered as meant for the courts or the judicial system. Neither has it been considered aimed at any nation’s armed forces in case of war. This commandment, like the others, is aimed at man as a regular citizen of the society. The meaning of the fifth commandment is that no man is allowed to take the life of another man by his own private action and if it does the Bible say that the man who has taken the life of another must be punished by death by the appointed magistrates.

Only God has the right to take life, as the rightful owner of it, and indeed He takes the life of every one at His appointed time, for every life belongs to Him. But God can and does appoint some men to take the life of another that has committed evil acts, which ultimately are against Him. For example He commanded Saul to exterminate the evil of Amalek, sparing no one "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." (1 Samuel 15:3)

Here God commanded Saul to destroy ALL the Amalekites, including women and babies. Surely, at first sight, and from a "democratic" point of view it would seem impossible that the God of Love would command a ‘horrible’ thing like that. Moreover, He is asking his people to break the Law He gave to them. It looks like incoherence. But, just a minute, here we need understanding and revelation. Who has given the law? God, and thus He can do what He wants with it. To whom was the Law imposed? To men, and they cannot break it, but God is above the Law and thus it is not applicable to Him. The whole universe is God's garden and He can do what He wants with His own (Mat 20:15), but the keepers of the garden (humans) can only do what is commanded of them. So when the magistrates appoint the death penalty; they do not murder, but simply they perform their duty to obey God’s commands.

But see, king Saul, a typical humanist felt he could decide for himself and that he did "know better" than God and kept alive for himself certain things he felt were useful (1 Samuel 15:18,19). BUT Saul did not fully obey God, who commanded him to destroy (kill) utterly the Amalekites, and thus he lost the kingdom (1 Samuel 15:23) and eventually his life too.

Man cannot take wilfully, on his own fancy, the life of another man, but God appoints men (magistrates) to take the life of a man in certain evil circumstances. Just only a few verses down, we find the following command confirming the 5th commandment, not concerning the magistrates as a body of men appointed for the task, but for regular citizens of society: "He that smites a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death." (Exo 21:12)

Some believe that the Bible forbids the death penalty because of the 5th commandment. It would be rather incoherent and absurd that God who commands in the Bible death penalty and who gave Moses the commandments apropos would contradict himself. It would mean that He is a confused god because firstly everywhere in the Old Testament commands the death penalty for a multitude of crimes and then suddenly changes his mind and contradicts Himself. God is not a God of confusion, but of order. (1Co 14:33; Mal 3:6)

The OT and the NT should not be seen as separate entities, but a single book of Scripture, then the reason as to why not much is said on capital punishment in the NT becomes quite obvious for the topic was dealt extensively in the OT part, and both Jesus and the Apostles were well familiar with. Moreover, Jesus confirmed that the Law is applicable fully also in the NT part: "For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Mat 5:18)

Christians and atheist against capital punishment often quote Joh 8:3-11 about the woman caught in adultery as a proof that Jesus had done away with the death penalty. But this is a superficial assessment for there are several valid reasons for Jesus’ behaviour at that time, and He did not abolish the death penalty:

  • The Jews came to him to trick him so they could accuse Him and put Him to death: "This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not." (Joh 8:6) In what way they may accuse him? Well they tried to place Jesus in a ‘no-win’ situation from which He could not escape, because if He had said, "carry out the sentence according to the Law of Moses" they would have accused Him in front of the Romans saying that He had incited them (Jews) to carry out a capital punishment in contravention to Roman laws (Joh 18:31) and thus put to Him death. If instead He had said: "I do not accuse this woman and you cannot put her to death" they would have accused Him of breaking the Law of Moses and thus condemn Him for Biblical heresy and thus put Him to death (as they did later).

  • Jesus did not acquit the woman for He said: "Neither do I give judgment. Go, and sin no more." Jesus did not pardon the woman, but confirmed her sin. [article]

  • Jesus did not come to earth to be a judge, sentencing the woman or anyone else was not His mandate: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (Joh 3:17) Also: "And he said to him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" (Luk 12:14) Jesus himself never put on the robes of the authority and he never walked around and sentenced people to different punishments. If he had behaved like a judge there, then he would have had to, in the name of justice, also sentence others to death. But to sentence sinners to death was not part of Jesus’ mission on earth then, but it will be later.

  • It is not possible to use "If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone" as a dogma within the judicial system. Since neither judges nor jurors are without guilt, trials in themselves would become ridiculous and no sentences could ever be imposed. Jesus did not intend for the words He pronounced here to be part of the judicial system, but he used them to escape the trap the Pharisees tried to put Him in.

  • Christ will judge the people on His appointed day; all adulterers and other "sinners" will receive their just punishment (1Co 6:9-10). Here on earth the courts are to give the verdicts in the natural for the good order of society. On the day of judgement God and Jesus will dispense the eternal verdicts. Had Jesus sentenced the woman he would have passed His judgement before time. The woman had to be let go without judgment or pardon, but one day she will also stand before Jesus as The Judge and receive her just due, noticing that she did not admit her guilt nor she asked for forgiveness.

Incidentally do note that this event of Jesus and the adulteress was not originally part of the gospel of John. Bible translations often put this part within parenthesis or give a note apropos. The text does not appear in the earliest hand-written manuscripts of John. Yet the text is consistent with the general tenor of the Bible that gives the text a place in the gospel.

Other phrases used by the anti-death-penalty people are <"turning the other cheek" or "pay evil with good" or "do not judge or you also will be judged"> or <love your enemy>. Again all these phrases are aimed at individual members of society and not to the judicial system who is performing a useful service of Law and Order to society. Otherwise every single trial that has ever taken place would have been illegal and in contrast with the meaning of the words of Jesus. Such understanding is utopian, unrealistic and a total escape from reason.

Let us make an example along perceived meaning that liberal Christians and atheist give to the above phrases: A little girl has been raped and ravished by a brute, then the judge should ask her to "turn the other cheek" and be raped again by the brute, then the girl should him give a big kiss to "love her enemy", after that the judge should reward the criminal with some cash and a hug to "repay good with evil", on the way out of court the ‘monster’ would see a bunch of these people with placards shouting "do not judge or you also will be judged" very upset at the judicial system because the man had to stand trial. 

Surely it seems an incredible situation, but we are not too far from it; how many times have we heard of robbers that got hurt in robbing a house and taking the proprietor to court because his house was ‘unsafe’ and the judge rewarding the robber by condemning the owner who was robbed!

In Conclusion

Jesus nor of His apostles speak against the death penalty. Jesus was not afraid to break with customs and traditions that were a threat or that would hurt mankind in an unrighteous way. If the death penalty were something so barbaric and evil, Jesus would of course have reacted against it, as He did for other things without mincing words (Mat 23:33). But Jesus and the apostles use parables or words that confirm the capital punishment. And this is totally in line with the rest of the Bible. The line concerning the death penalty begins in Gen 9:6, runs through the Old Testament and continues in the New Testament.

Therefore what should the Christian’s approach on the death penalty be? Firstly, we must remember that it was God that instituted capital punishment in His Holy Word; thus, it would be rather arrogant of us to think that we could institute a higher standard than His or be more kind than He (remember king Saul). God has the highest standard of any being since He is perfect and besides, ALL is His property. He loves to an infinite degree, and He has mercy to an infinite degree, but He also has wrath to an infinite degree, and it is all maintained in a perfect balance. This is a God that we can trust and depend upon: “every [act of] good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom is no change or shadow of turning.” (Jam 1:17)

Then, we must recognize that God has given the government the authority to determine when capital punishment is due according to His commands (Gen 9:6; Rom 13:1-7). It is unbiblical to claim that God opposes the death penalty in all instances. Christians should never rejoice when the death penalty is employed, but at the same time, Christians should not fight against the government’s duty to execute the perpetrators of the most evil of crimes.

We are not superior to God, nor we know better; indeed we are His creatures subject to His Law that we must obey: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecc 12:13)

The abolition of the death penalty is only possible if one abandons the Bible and bases his judgements on human feelings, and these are always against God.