Biblical Quotes and the Death Penalty
Special Note and Commentary
This was the letter as I received it, the first paragraph was copied from my own web page. The rest is the writers own. I wrote him back but never heard from him again.
Because he references a web site I went to the site and made it part of this case.
The argument: It is cheaper to kill them than to imprison them for life: Some time last year I read that the average cost for an inmate was averaging about 25,000 dollars a year. The average cost of a case that results in an execution of a prisoner ranges from 2 million dollars. In other words putting some one to death is equivalent of 80 years of prison life. So it is not cheaper, certainly on a per capita basis, with the current system.
Of course its not cheaper. Why? Because someone of death row gets multiple appeals. These add up, lawyer fees, a judge's time, social service fees, court costs, transportation of inmate, etc.
I don't know how old this web site is that you wrote this one, I just happen to stumble upon it. I suggest you check out:
for a good reason why the death penalty is a good deterrent. Maybe it won't stop other murders in the short-term, but it would certainly stop the individual put to death.
The Referenced Webstite mentioned, a goodly number of arguments:
I went to the site you suggested. You suggest that sure and swift punishment would make the death penalty a deterrent. The site you suggested compares Singapore with Los Angeles, or implies a comparison between Saudi Arabia's death penalty and ours.
Just because Singapore and Los Angeles are the same size belies the myriad of other differences, ethnic, religious, cultural, moral, and others. One outstanding cultural difference is that of the public's attitude toward guns, justice, and revenge. In America gun ownership is nearly sacred, many people own them and, because of a "cowboy" mentality that backs up our culture's valuation of the individualist and his or her right to seek out justice we have a lot of gun violence. Singapore does not encourage gun ownership, its laws and legal systems hold fairly strict control over such items. That item alone demonstrates the futility of comparing two equally large populations, with widely differing attitudes, mores, morals, problems, and cultures.
Comparing Saudi Arabia with America fails for the same reason. We are a diverse nation, we have various religions, a "wild west, the individual is OK" kind of attitude that shows up in almost every aspect of life from our penchant for autos over mass transit, to our canonizing persons who demonstrate courage against great odds, cheering for the underdog, and gambling - just to name a few cultural aspects that cause a great difference between the Saudi's and Americans. Saudi's do not drink, we have a severe alcohol problem, not to mention a lot of drug users and the like. Our populations are too different to say that their use of a death penalty is a reason why so few persons kill others. One thing the Saudi's have that is quite important in this regard, and that is the embodied concept of family honor and family name. Shame is a powerful tool the society uses and this is a deterrent as well. In the US. the family of a convicted killer, if it is particularly weird or gross, can make a good deal of money out of the book rights or movie rights, although this is changing.
You and the site both emphasize swift and sure punishment. Well statistics recently published in national newspapers suggest that even with our system of seemingly endless court proceedings with witnesses and the like, we still manage to put to death a significant portion of persons who, while repulsive and guilty, perhaps, of other things, did not commit the crime for which they pay the ultimate price. How can you support a system that allows that? How can you say that other countries which do not investigate the nth degree as we do are actually killing the persons responsible for the murder? These two questions are not provided for by you or the site you suggested.
for a good reason why the death penalty is a good deterrent. Maybe it won't stop other murders in the short-term, but it would certainly stop the individual put to death.
In this you say: "maybe it won't stop other murderers". Well, dear heart, that is the definition of deterrent. If the death penalty does not stop future murderers then it is not a deterrent. It certainly wouldn't deter murderers if the wrong person is executed while the real person lives a free existence, and profits thereby. Think about that.
As to the Biblical quotes offered in the site, several of those offered as a Biblical opposition to the death penalty do not actually do so, while some of the others offered in defense of it actually, when looked at closely, are in opposition to it.
I want to say that I am not in opposition to Capital Punishment for any one reason. The arguments as presented were collected during an email debate with a proponent of CP. The page was put up a couple of years ago and every once in a while I add to it.
I have copied out the web page's contents so that I can study them. I am getting a number of requests for information about the death penalty and this information will assist me in constructing arguments. I will, just so you know, use only the information on the page, as presented, as may be quoted in full context, to support the position I have taken.
We may disagree but we can still find a way to find a solution to this perplexing problem.
Thank you Dan
This is the text of the web site that the letter writer made reference to . I have taken the text and responded to it, sometimes on a point by point basis.
This was what was on the web page http://www.theologyonline.com/DEATH.HTML
I have copied out the text and responded item by item so you can see the unpersuasive nature of their positions, opinions or information. They begin with a section titled God and the Death Penalty, and present arguments that intend support for the death penalty.
This is followed by a section titled Biblical Arguments, which lists biblical quotations concerning the death penalty, and the final, and longest, section includes a meandering sally into unreason and concludes with a bewildering barrage of biblical quotations some of which make some kind of sense, others which seem, relative to the arguments, senseless and a few can be dismissed as irrelevant. In the last section I treat with those that seem to make the most sense in terms of the argument at hand, while ignoring those which do not apply.
My commentary is in blue, any segment in red is from the web site
God and the Death Penalty
Jeffrey Dahlmer raped, killed and ate parts of at least thirteen men. As punishment, the government was planning to feed, clothe, educate, medicate, entertain, and legally represent him for the rest of his life. Families of his victims would pay taxes, in part, to keep Dahlmer comfortable, warm in winter and cool in summer. That type of punishment should scare the dickens out of other mass murderers. Interrupting the governments plans for Dahlmer however, an inmate beat the cannibal to death in prison.
Apparently it is applaud able what the inmate who did the beating? That is what is strongly implied here. Instead of a "free ride" he is killed horribly. So your solution to some one killing a loved one of yours is to kill that person? Whose family would be justified in killing you? Prompting one of your relatives to "go after" one of "them"?
Sounds like a wonderful system to me.
Some oppose the death penalty on practical grounds, arguing that it is not a deterrent. However, in the late sixties, when there were an average of 6,000 murders a year, the United States Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional in the way it was administered. Six years later, when it was re-instituted in the early seventies the number of average annual murders had jumped to nearly 16,000 victims per year.
The point of this is what? That the homicide rate has gone up? It implies that in a short space of time, six years, that the homicide rate tripled, because the threat of capital punishment was removed from the criminals worry list. So, since the murder rate has continued to go up since the reinstatement of capital punishment does that prove that capital punishment still works? Not! The fact is that for the vast majority of criminals rightly convicted of murder all they have to worry about is how long it will be before they go out. Capital punishment has not been applied to all who would, perhaps in ancient times suffered it, meaning now a days, a convicted killer is seldom put to death.
In countries like Saudi Arabia, which enforce a swift and certain death penalty, violent crime is rare. Singapore and Los Angeles have equivalent populations, yet in one year Singapore had 58 murders (most followed by swift execution) while Los Angeles had 1,063. Criminal sub-cultures like the Mafia show that the death penalty is a powerful deterrent even among career criminals, since few will ever double-cross their superiors, fearing the repercussions.
See the arguments above in the previous letter, paragraph three, relating a comparison between Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong with the United States and Los Angeles, respectively.
Others oppose the death penalty on moral grounds. The "morality" arguments of atheists are not persuasive because if there is no God, then there is no absolute morality, only arbitrary and subjective opinion. The anti-death-penalty morality arguments of some Christians, on the other hand, are persuasive to many. They base their arguments on statements made by Jesus Christ and therefore many listen attentively.
Atheists can have morals. In the popular mind an atheist is a person that does not believe in the existence of God, that does not mean they do not hold to such things as honesty, truthfulness, fidelity and so forth. A person can be moral and an atheist at the same time. Truthfulness, honesty, integrity, being a model for others, maintaining the classical virtues.
These "moral" opponents of the death penalty often intimidate good people into shying away from execution. Many Christians claim society should forgive criminals and instruct them to "go and sin no more." Ideas have consequences and the popularity of this idea parallels a huge sustained crime epidemic.
A "huge sustained crime epidemic" is that what you mean when the FBI, and a large number of state and local agencies are reporting declines in violent crime? The 90's have been a decade of progress. So the information here is way off base. Inaccurate.
And one more point, if this nationwide decline is consistent, even between states that do and do not have the death penalty, then what does that have to say for its effectiveness on crime? Absolutely nothing, that is what.
There is a right way to deter criminals and to end the crime epidemic. That deterrence, however, does not lie in telling Dahlmer to "go and eat no more." "And will you profane Me among My people...killing people who should not die, and keeping people alive who should not live...?" Ezek. 13:19
I agree with this quote, but I have to ask you does it apply to the government when the government executes an innocent victim, which has happened. What do you do with businesses and corporations that marketed, knowingly, a dangerous and addictive substance, cigarettes? What does this quote mean for them? I just ask these so that you have something to think about when you talk about keeping alive people who should not live.
Biblical arguments against execution consist primarily of six arguments:
First, Jesus said:
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you... whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." Mat. 5:38-39
Second, Jesus forgave the woman "caught in adultery, in the very act." To those arguing that she should be put to death, Jesus said:
*"He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." John 8:7
Third, Jesus taught believers to forgive:
*"But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Mat. 6:15
Fourth, the New Testament teaches Christians not to judge:
*"Judge not, that you be not judged." Mat. 7:1
Fifth, Paul taught believers to:
*"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse... Repay no one evil for evil... do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I Will repay," says the Lord." Rom. 12:14, 17, 19
Sixth, the Ten Commandments teach "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex. 20:13).
The first quote has more to do with revenge and breaking the cycle of hate. The second has nothing whatever to do with a murderer being brought to justice The third applies but obliquely, in that it only talks about trespassing, which, only by a stretch, can be specifically applied murder. The fourth may be what stops a jury from convicting and condemning a person to death The fifth exhorts victims to be patient and let the Lord take care of vengeance. The sixth is the only argument that is specific and contradictory to 13:19, however I'd give a commandment more precedence than a prophet's words.
Biblical History of Execution
In the first crime in the Bible, Cain murdered his brother Abel. Cain intuitively believed that everyone would think themselves justified in executing a murderer.
*"It will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me." Gen. 4:14
So God forbade capital punishment:
*"Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him. Gen. 4:15
Vengeance does not clearly mean execution here. Vengeance can take many forms and besides, here again, the Lord is clearly telling mankind not to take vengeance, meaning not to kill a killer
Without the death penalty, lawlessness reigned on earth:
*"So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them..." Gen. 6:12-13
Within ten verses of the account of Noah's departure from the ark, God instituted the death penalty. Interestingly, the first three commands given to man after the flood parallel the very first three commands given to man before the flood.
Before the Flood
"Be fruitful and multiply... have dominion... over every living thing that moves on the earth." Gen. 1:28
"Of every tree... you may freely eat; but... of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat..." Gen. 1:29
"Whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." Gen. 4:1 (Death penalty commanded):
After the Flood
"Be fruitful and multiply... And the fear of you... shall be... on all that move on the earth..." Gen. 9:1-2
"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you... But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is its blood." Gen. 9:3
"Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed... Gen. 9:6
Clearly here is another reason to leave the Bible out of this argument, for it seems to clearly be of two minds on this issue. And then, look well at the third commandment given after the flood. I guess Mr. McVeigh could use this as a justification for his actions in Oklahoma City? Is the Bible tell us that the cycle of revenge is the way to go?
These were the only three commands given to mankind before the flood, and the only three commands given to mankind after the flood and before Israel's covenant of circumcision.
Thou Shalt Not Kill
The rendering of the sixth commandment in the King James was very unfortunate. "Thou shalt not kill" in recent versions (like the NKJV, NIV, RSV, ASB, NASB, etc.) is accurately translated "You shall not murder" (Ex. 20:13). In Hebrew, as in English, the words for "murder" and "kill" can be used interchangeably, but their different meanings are easily understood from the context.
The words, kill and murder are not used interchangeably in English. Both have different meanings and connotations. Kill, relatively neutral, means to deprive of life, while murder means the unlawful taking of life via a premeditated plan, quite different actually. As far as that definition of murder goes it comes awful close to that which an innocent suffers when executed by the state. This kind of victim is unlawfully deprived of life as part of thought out process which is blind to the fact that he is not the guilty party.
The Hebrew word for murder (ratsach, which appears in Ex. 20:13) is translated by the King James as murder/murderer 17 times, slayer/slain/slayeth 21 times, kill/killing 6 times, manslayer 2 times, and death once. The Hebrew word for kill (which appears in Ex. 13:15-harag) is translated by the King James as slay/slayer/slain 132 times, as kill 27 times, murder/murderer 3 times, destroyed once, out of hand once, and made/put/surely 3 times.
The Ten Commandments forbid murder, not killing. The chapter following the giving of the Ten Commandments has a number of commands from God to execute criminals, including:
*"He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death." Ex. 21:12
*"He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." Ex. 21:15
*"He who kidnaps a man... shall surely be put to death." Ex. 21:16
*"He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." Ex. 21:17
*"[If an unborn baby is killed] you shall give life for life." Ex. 21:23
It is not plausible to suppose that God contradicted Himself just a few sentences after delivering the Ten Commandments to Moses. Clearly God prohibited murder but insisted upon execution of murderers and others. Some Christians, however, are so influenced by the world's philosophy that they are ashamed of the Lord's own words in Exodus 21. Others talk as though God was a bad God in the Old Testament but that now in the New, He is a much nicer God, as though He has gone through a rite of passage. God forbid murder, and commanded the lawful execution of murderers.
How do you separate the truly guilty killers from those who are trapped, convicted, executed, yet innocent? If the state kills wrongfully it is morally equivalent to murder.
Thus all the exhortations above would be allowable. Mr. McVeigh was justified because of Waco? Are you saying that any child who curses their parents should be put to death? An adult child is to be executed for striking their parent? If you allow these statements to be used as a support for CP then I can only wonder how you decide to pick and choose which of these crimes should be made capital offenses again and which should not be? Can you second guess God?
A broader question arises to consider here. The pronouncements of God as recorded in the bible are old historical documents. A recording, if you will, of divine intervention in human affairs. Perhaps these messages were meant for that time and place and not meant to be followed forever, as if we were unthinking robots.
Execution Not Optional
As punishment for murder, the death penalty was applicable to each and every murderer:
*"Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death.... You shall have the same law for the [foreigner] and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God." Lev. 24:17-22
The death penalty was not a maximum penalty, nor was it optional. As the Lord said:
*'Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death... So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.' Num. 35:31-33
Is this what you advocate? Each and every killer themselves deserve to die? How many thousands a year would die around the world if that were the case? Then too what about the following:
What does one do with the cigarette manufacturers who are steadily expanding overseas selling to millions of new addicts. They know what cigarettes do already, yet they persist. The World Health Organization predicts millions of deaths on an annual basis as the persons who began smoking this peculiar American export begin to receive the "benefits" of smoking: cancer, heart disease, to name the major headliners. A reporter described it as a holocaust in the making, but murdering hundreds of millions over a few decades time is not news. But I have to ask, are not these people, the manufacturers, the factory employees, the delivery and sales people complicit in dealing death?
And what do you do if a nation near your nation is engaged in the act of murdering some segment of its population? Your moral directive would be clear: intervene.
And what do you do when your own governmental is killing innocents? How do you shed the blood of a government?
Did God change this law in the New Testament? Consider that Jesus supports the death penalty in Matthew and Mark, and so does John in Revelation, and Paul in Acts and Romans, as does the book of Hebrews.
Jesus Supports Capital Punishment
Jesus affirmed the Mosaic Law even to the keeping of the "least of these commandments" (Mat. 5:17-19). He blasted the Pharisees for giving their own ideas precedence over God's commands:
*"Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying... `He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say..." Mat. 15:3-4
*"For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men..." [Jesus] said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother; and 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say..." Mark 7:8-11
That would have to be some curse. However an interesting distinction arises here: this point involves capital punishment but not for murder, for "cursing one's parents". This argument is not directly to the point, and, but for its rediculousness, should be ignored.
Jesus reaffirmed the capital statutes of God's law. Not only the murderer (Rev. 13:10; 1 Tim. 1:8-9; Rom. 13:4), but even the one who curses a parent must be put to death (Ex. 21:17 and Lev. 20:9) just as God commanded. God's commands to execute the one who strikes or curses a parent are the death penalty statutes that liberal Christians are the most embarrassed over. However, Christ was not at all embarrassed over His Fathers commands. Jesus repeated these commands without caveat or reservation.
Laying aside the commands of God has its consequences. In America, murder has become the number one cause of death among young black males, and suicide is the number three cause of death among all teenagers. There is a death penalty when children disrespect their parents. If Jesus' telling of God's command is ignored, countless children will die terrible deaths at the hands of other children and by their own hands. On the other hand, if God's command were enforced, rather than ridiculed, the shedding of innocent blood would virtually disappear in our land. God's wisdom would save thousands of children. man's wisdom destroys them.
The attempt to "prove" one of God's commandments is in effect is full of faulty reasoning. You are saying that these young black males suffer because they do not respect their parents. On one level that is true, children busy with rebellion and or "going their own way" have more risks than those that have harmonious home lives and secure circumstances. However, if these young black males were dying because they have broken a commandment against respect then what do the following statistics prove? Which commandments is being broken by the unborn who are aborted, by those born with defects so severe that they die soon after birth, or those reared in vile and despicable circumstances?
The logic in what you are saying here is this: people suffer when they break a commandment. If no one broke any commandment, therefore, our problems would disappear.
And while we are pulling up statistics, what about these causes of death: from motor vehicles: 50,000 a year, average, alcohol: perhaps twice that, handguns: another 50,000 average, cigarettes, drugs, poor diet, and ignorance all claim a tremendous number of lives, so what commandment applies to each of these kinds of death?
At this point the web site provides the aforementioned barrage of quotations from biblical sources. I will treat with those that seem to deal with the issue of CP, comment on others, if I see some application for the debate, but leave others as they are, just so some one who wants to double check with the site can see that I included it all here, that I left nothing out.
While Jesus was on the cross the Romans inflicted the death penalty on the two criminals next to Him. Christ said nothing in their defense, or against their crucifixions. One of those two mocked Christ. In response, the other criminal (whom Jesus would immediately declare righteous, Luke 23:43) said of their punishments, "we indeed justly punished, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:41). What did this forgiven criminal, this newly justified man, say about the death penalty? Bottom line: the criminals were getting their just punishment. The dying criminal knew the truth, as he said, "we indeed" are "justly" punished.
Revelation Supports Capital Punishment
The angels in heaven also recognize the principle of just punishment.
*And I heard the angel of the waters saying: "You are righteous, O Lord... because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due." Rev. 16:5-6
God will equip the two witnesses of Revelation 11 to execute those trying to harm them.
*And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. Rev. 11:5
Interesting that the proponents of CP include this quotation. That a man next to Jesus questions the execution of Jesus. He himself may accept his fate but he certainly questions the execution of Jesus who was being lawfully executed by the state. He had his trial, was heard, and then executed for his "crimes against the state".
The Apostle John also taught that you reap what you sow:
*...he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. Rev. 13:10
This last has some direct bearing on the matter, but then one wonders that if this is true, then what would God expect to happen to the Jews after he directs them into battle to slaughter the nations they attacked in the old testament? Just curious. It really is not a capital punishment issue here. For the word clearly is kill and not murder.
Paul Supports Capital Punishment
The Apostle Paul did not object to the death penalty. He knew his rights as a Roman citizen and defended them. Yet while on trial, he volunteered the following endorsement of capital punishment to Porcius Festus, Governor in Caesarea:
*"For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar." Acts 25:11
*Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, "You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!" Acts 25:12
Vengeance is inherently good. God said, "Vengeance is Mine." Individuals, however, are not to avenge themselves, but are to allow God to avenge in His way:
*Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Rom. 12:19 (see also Lev. 19:18)
While Paul instructs people not to seek their own revenge, but to "give place to wrath." Paul then explains that the proper channel for wrath is the "governing authorities." The government is the "place" for wrath and vengeance:
*Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities... For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Rom. 13:1, 3
Godly rulers are a terror to evil doers. Note that God's two witnesses in Revelation "tormented those who dwell on the earth" (Rev. 11:10).
God through Paul specifically commands earthly governments to execute criminals with the sword:
*For [the governing authority] is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Rom. 13:4
Of the five items listed above only the first and last deal with CP. Both are related in that if the governing authority is God's minister bearing the sword, and one has committed a crime worthy of death, then Paul would be quite correct in what he says. One wonders what he would say if he were being sentenced to death unjustly. Would he be so sanguine? I think, at least, he'd have other words to say.
A further thought did not NAZI Germany, Communist Russia, and various other totalitarian states lawfully execute persons? I wonder how the one would reconcile Romans 13:1,3 with those historical atrocities? What do you do when you have ungodly rulers bent on exporting their terror?
A sword is not used for scourging but for killing.
Paul instructs believers to "not avenge" themselves, "but rather give place to wrath." Governments are the place for wrath for they are "God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath." Individuals have one role, governments have another. Individuals do not avenge themselves, the government does. Believers forgive, governments execute. So, if the governing authorities are to obey God, they must not bear the sword in vain but execute wrath on the criminal, for they are God's minister to avenge and bring terror on him who practices evil. Thus God commanded execution in large part to meet out vengeance against capital criminals.
To be truthful the crimes for which death is commanded include swearing, and striking at parents, hardly capital crimes. In fact I have heard it said that there are many crimes for which CP was the express punishment in the Bible. Do you say that you support all of those?
Hebrews Supports Capital Punishment
The author of the book of Hebrews also supports the death penalty. The certainty of punishment under the Mosaic law proves the certainty of punishment for rejecting Jesus Christ:
*Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies (present tense) without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot... Heb. 10:28-29
Temporal punishment through the law teaches men of the certainty of God's eternal punishment. If the government neglects the death penalty, then the people will scoff at the second death (Rev. 2:11; Rev. 20:6, Rev. 20:12-14; Rev. 21:8).
*Be afraid of the sword for yourselves; for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment. Job 19:29
*The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance... So that men will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely He is God who judges in the earth." Ps. 58:10-11
Surely you do not suggest that on the basis of two or three witnesses we execute a person for any of many crimes that Moses laid out? And what of the idea that vengeance was to be the province of the Lord? Does this quote supersede that one?
Further, showing mercy to the wicked does not produce repentance. As Isaiah wrote:
*Let grace be shown to the wicked, yet he will not learn righteousness... Isa. 26:10
And as the proverb states:
*A man of great wrath will suffer punishment; for if you rescue him, you will have to do it again. Prov. 19:19
While the Old and New Testaments strongly support the death penalty, some Christians think Jesus repealed capital punishment during an event that John described in his Gospel.
The Woman Caught In Adultery
Does the story of the woman caught in adultery, forgiven and released (John 8:3-11) negate the death penalty?
God Forgave Adulterers Before
Gomer was an adulteress yet God forgave her (Hos. 3:1). Still, He demanded that His people obey His law (Hos. 4:6).
King David committed adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11). Yet God forgave him (Psalm 32:1-5).
It was a conscious decision on God's part to not execute David. As Nathan said to David:
*"The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However... by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme..." 2 Sam. 12:13
Still, God's law remained in effect (Ps. 1:2; 19:7; 78:1, 5-8; 89:30-32; 119).
God forgave the New Testament adulterer just as He forgave Old Testament adulterers, in neither instance revoking His law. God has all authority to forgive the criminal and disregard temporal punishment. Contrariwise, Men must obey God and cannot ignore punishment.
This is to say that God can do what God wills for God's reasons and no one can gain say what it might mean or have redress regarding it. Either God is inconsistent since not all killers are themselves killed, or the material for the bible has been edited and revised over the centuries. Biblical based supporters of CP would have a hard time saying that God is inconsistent, so they would, perforce of that attitude, have to agree that the Bible's text has been mangled in translations. Whereupon one would then ask how do they know what God said if that was the case? If that were the case how could one base an argument upon it, if it is, on this issue at least, inconsistent?
The Pharisees Wanted to Trap Christ The Pharisees wanted to accuse Jesus of rebelling against the Roman Empire:
*This [the Pharisees] said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. John 8:6
Rome had revoked the Jews' authority to put a criminal to death (John 18:31). A straight-forward answer to the Pharisees would have brought Jesus into premature conflict with Rome before His "hour had come." Jesus solved this problem stating, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first" (John 8:7). Christ often frustrated the Pharisees giving clever answers that thwarted their wicked intentions (Mat. 22:15-22; 21:21-27; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26).
Jesus Did Not Repeal The Law
Without the law, lawlessness cannot exist. Yet as Christ said, "because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Mat. 24:12). Christ will throw "those who practice lawlessness... into the furnace of fire" (Mat. 13:41-42).
Jesus was born under the Old Testament law:
*...God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law. Gal. 4:4
The Mosaic law was still in effect in the New Testament according to Jesus:
*"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets... Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great..." Mat. 5:17-19
*And Jesus said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded as a testimony to them." Mat. 8:4
*"The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do..." Mat. 23:2-3
*[Jesus said,] "Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? ... Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?" John 7:19-23
Some argue that all this changed after the resurrection. Yet after His resurrection, Jesus said:
*"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations... teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." Mat. 28:19-20
And years later, "James and all the elders" said to Paul:
*"You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law." Acts 21:20
Paul Used The Law
Paul teaches that the unrepentant world is still under the law, and that the law is designed to show guilt and to bring people to Christ:
*But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless... and for sinners... for murderers... for sodomites, for kidnappers, for perjurers... 1 Tim. 1:8-10
All the world is under the law:
*Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God... Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. Rom. 3:19, 31
*Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. Gal. 3:24-25
Christians who are untutored in the evangelistic role of the law oppose the foundation of the criminal code upon God's law.
Turn the Other Cheek
*"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." Mat. 5:38-39
Pacifists have an unworkable interpretation of this passage. Imagine applying the pacifist view to a woman being raped? Does a father tell his daughter to not resist the rapist? Pacifist father to daughter being raped: "Don't resist the evil man, honey. Remember, Jesus said, 'Love your enemy.' If he wants you for one hour, stay with him two."
Rather, this teaching is similar to Paul's teaching, "Do not avenge yourselves," knowing that the government is to bring wrath and vengeance against the perpetrator. The command to not avail oneself of "an-eye-for-an-eye" is not a strictly New Testament concept. Many falsely presume that this is a New Testament teaching which opposes Old Testament teachings. However, the command to avoid personal vengeance was just as applicable to Old Testament believers as to us. "Do not say, 'I will do to him just as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work" (Prov. 24:29). Graciousness from the believer in his personal life is an enduring virtue and not a new concept.
Interesting portion of that last paragraph, it seems the command is to avoid personal vengeance. Something that many of the persons who support capital punishment support. Often it is said that the death of the murderer satisfies vengeance. Perhaps this would be a good quote to offer those who seek simple vengeance.
Further, a slap "on your right cheek" would normally be a back-handed slap such as an insult. A punch to the face would usually land on the left cheek, as most men are right-handed Thus Jesus was not talking about a full-fledged violent attack, an attempted murder or a rape.
Jesus was not here repealing the Mosaic law, but was teaching patience, forgiveness, and self control for the individual.
It Is Personal, Not Governmental
The Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5-7) does not lay down rules for governments but principles for an upright heart.
*"Blessed are the poor in spirit... You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder'... But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of the judgment... Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way... I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Mat. 5:3-28
In this very sermon Jesus made the distinction between individuals and governments:
*"Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. Mat. 5:25-26
Jesus did not tell the judge or the officer to turn the other cheek or to void the law. God wants the governing authorities to uphold the law without mercy (Heb. 10:28; Rom. 13:3-4).
The Other Laws Remain
With the following words, did Jesus repeal God's law that He referred to:
*"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you... whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Mat. 5:38-39).
If Christ here repealed "An eye for an eye," as some suppose, did He at the same time repeal the other Mosaic laws that He mentioned in the exact same manner? Few would even begin to argue that He did. Jesus used the words "You have heard... But I say unto you..." to show the personal application of the laws on murder and adultery. He said:
*"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder...' But I say to you..." Mat. 5:21-22
*"You have heard that it was said to those of old, `You shall not commit adultery...' But I say to you..." Mat. 5:27-28
The punishment side of God's criminal justice system in the Mosaic law is directed to governments who were commanded to execute the criminals, it was not directed to individuals. Thus, individuals who used these laws to justify their own lack of forgiveness were misapplying the law. Jesus here repealed neither the prohibitions against murder and adultery nor the command to love your neighbor. Rather, He was correcting misinterpretations. Thus, in the same way Christ was not repealing "an eye for an eye" but explaining the right heart attitude of a believer.
Just commenting on the last paragraph above:
This is assuming that the government is a righteous one, that is to say, one based on Gods law. How many would argue that our government is based on God's law? Not many I would suspect. Thus this quotation does not apply to the issue for it is based on an idealized system which does not exist.
An Unusual Formulation
Old Testament quotes are typically introduced with the phrases "It is written," or "That which was spoken by the prophet," or "Moses said." The formulation used in the Sermon on the Mount indicates that Jesus was not directly addressing what was written, but rather, what was said about what was written. "You have heard that it was said."
Jesus was not criticizing God's law, but the misinterpretation of the law. This becomes obvious when it is realized that at one point, He corrects a command that does not even appear in the law:
*"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love you neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies..." Mat. 5:43-44
"Hate your enemy," does not appear in the Mosaic law. Jesus is not adjusting the law! He is correcting the misapplication of the law.
What have we? An instruction that would lead you to "love your enemy". Probably this would not be the kind of directive that could be interpreted to support killing one's enemy, the murderer of your mother, or brother say?
"You have made the Word of God of no effect by the traditions of men." Throughout this sermon Jesus is rebuking men for misinterpreting the law. And what do men do, they completely misinterpret this sermon.
Pacifists Only Go So Far
Many churches claim to literally "turn the other cheek" (Mat. 5:39). After losing a lawsuit, however, not many churches would give double the judgment amount to their opponent (Mat. 5:40). Further, in the context of evil requests from evil people, Jesus said to "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away (Mat. 5:42). The members of a church which publicly claimed such a policy would end up poorer than church mice, and with less shelter. Wicked people would take everything they own.
No Contradictions Here
If Jesus in Matthew 5:39 revoked part of the law, He would have severely contradicted His own statement made just 20 verses earlier:
*"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets... Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great..." Mat. 5:17-19
Hence Jesus command to turn the other cheek is not a repeal of God's command to governments to apprehend and punish criminals but a command to individuals to love one another.
But Who Can Forgive Whom?
Some argue that we are to forgive murderers. These same people insist that we incarcerate murderers and make thieves pay restitution. They say "forgive," but actually demand punishment. These objectors do not sincerely believe in forgiveness, they only want to decide on the penalty themselves while rejecting the penalty God has commanded.
You can forgive a debt owed to you, but not one owed to your neighbor. If your friend owes you $100 dollars, you can cancel that debt if you like; however, if your friend owes me $100, you have no such authority to cancel that debt. You can forgive a sin against you, but not a sin against your neighbor. Only God has authority to forgive a murderer and even He will not forgive the unrepentant murderer.
Meaning that God will forgive the repentant murderer? So not all murder results in punishment?
A murderer has also assaulted the community, the law and God Himself. You can only forgive the wrong done against you, not that done against God or your community.
When Jesus spoke of forgiveness, He did not confuse this simple truth. He taught clearly that you must forgive those who sinned against you, not those who sinned against your neighbor. For as He taught Israel to pray:
*"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" Mat. 6:12
Jesus forgave sins and the scribes reasoned in their hearts, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7). Thus Jesus realized that men would want evidence for His claim to be able to forgive sins:
*"But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" - He said to the man who was paralyzed, "I say to you, arise..." Luke 5:24; Mark 2:10-11
So parents of a murder victim should forgive to the extent that they have been hurt, which requires a tremendous amount of forgiveness to cover a tremendous amount of hurt. In America, sadly, their sorrow is agitated and increased by a government that mocks their grief through mercy to the murderer. How does a mother's broken heart heal when the wound is reopened each time her daughter's murderer is up for appeal, or sues the jail, or gets a photo in the newspaper.
The foregoing bring out the corollary issue that people sometimes ask me about. Persons in favor of CP ask me, well, if you don't want to execute them what do you
want? I want restitution of damages, for the murderer to literally pay for his or her crime. I would like the following to be a principle upon which the consequences are formulated: that the person who murders another must make full restitution to the set of persons or groups of persons, including but not limited to, the victim's heirs, family, and community, the "interested parties". The state would oversee this process. The state would support the victims in whatever way needed to ameliorate the damage done to those interested parties and the murderer would in turn be responsible for reimbursing the state, not only its costs outlayed to the interested parties but for the costs of maintaining them while they undertook that task, meaning the cost of incarceration. I would have them work off their debt to society, however long it took, and in almost whatever way it might be possible to do. I want to be clear that this is not vengeance, this is not forgiving, and it is not judging the murderer, it is simply forcing them to clear their debt.
Do Not Judge?
But does the New Testament teach believers to not judge? Jesus did say: "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Mat. 7:1)? Jesus gave that teaching to hypocrites (Mat. 7:5) however. For He specifically commands His followers to judge:
*"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." John 7:24
"Judge not" is the Hypocrites Golden Rule. For "judge not" (Mat. 7:1-5) is simply a hypocrites application of do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Mat. 7:12). "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged" (Mat. 7:2). Judge others as you would have them do unto you inverted is Judge not if you do not want to be judged. Therefore the hypocrite does not judge. As Jesus said, "Judge not... you hypocrite" (Mat. 7:1, 5 KJV; Ezek. 16:52).
Jesus warned against judging falsely or with hypocrisy. For immediately after saying "judge not," Jesus taught just how to judge correctly:
*"And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?... Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye." Mat. 7:3, 5
Christ kept this theme throughout His ministry. "Hypocrites," Jesus said, "why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?" (Luke 12:56-57). Still, His own followers have mostly ignored the Lord's harsh rebuke: "Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye" (Mat. 7:5). "Judge Not" is the Hypocritical Oath and hypocrite haven. He who lives in a glass house should not throw stones. Such Christians, though, should relocate. Move into "the temple of the great God, which is being built with heavy stones" (Ezra 5:8).
Jesus paid a compliment to Simon [not Peter] when He said:
*"You have rightly judged." Luke 7:43
Paul commands Christians to judge:
*Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judge by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 1 Cor. 6:2-5
Paul elsewhere teaches:
*...he who is spiritual judges all things... 1 Cor. 2:15
Moses and the law of God condemns and judges sinners, as Christ said:
*"Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you 'Moses..." John 5:45
Paul teaches this also:
*Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world [is] guilty before God. Rom 3:19
God has always approved of giving warning to those who commit crimes:
*...those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them. Prov. 24:25
Then Why Is the Death Penalty not a Deterrent in America?
God promises that the death penalty is a reliable deterrent:
*"So you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously." Deut. 17:12-13
Yet, the death penalty as executed through American courts is not much of a deterrent. Wise King Solomon 2,900 years ago explained why this is so:
*Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Eccl. 8:11
When a murderer is executed, three appeals and 12 years after his crime, society has largely forgotten about him. His death has almost no deterrent effect on crime. Further, a life sentence cannot be executed speedily. The swift death penalty deters crime and aids evangelism. Thus Christians, in obedience to God, should support the death penalty.
This is the interesting part, deterrence. The point, apparently, is that if we had swift, sure consequences, that is to say murderers were put to death quickly, that there would be a steady and quick decline in the murder rate. This ignores the fact that a vast majority of killers kill on impulse, in the heat of the moment or because they are, in some way deranged. Swift sure punishment would not be a deterrent for these kinds of crimes and it would only make those who plot their despicable act plot all the longer and better. And then, while we began our program of swift sure punishment the United States would be in an unenviable position of executing a thousands of persons each year, the majority of which would still be poor, non white, and in some way incompetent, while facing lawsuits concerning the inevitable innocents that would be put to death, and being regarded with disdain by other nations which do not employ the ultimate penalty as much as we do. What then would we be saying about ourselves? That the only solution to capital crime is throwing away further lives?
We have a history of individualism built into our culture, that we are proud of. We are proud that persons can have the freedom to believe as they wish, live as they wish and even form whatever kinds of groups they wish. We hail the lone hero who succeeds, often times through murderous violence, to secure his ends our culture readily accepts violence in books, movies, and music. Then we promote gun use in while providing easy access to those weapons. The creators of the web site ignore all of those large factors and insist that a swift and sure consequence for an individual will undo all of what our culture promotes.
This is as far as I went with this. I sent the webstite and my commentary to the email address of the writer and have heard no word since. I know that many of the Biblical quotations may be of no use, however, many may be and having some counterbalancing quotations can help you in your debate. I would, however, before using the quotes in this article, make sure that they are accurate. It was safe for me to assume that since I was willing to accept them at face value, meaning I assumed they were correct. You, in a debate, will not have that luxury. You may be expected to know these and other quotations that apply to your debate.
I hope this has been helpful to you .... Dan
"But if he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer (ratsach as in Ex.20:13); the murderer shall surely be put to death." Num.35:16
Criminals, that is, robbers not from the Greek kleptes for a typical thief, but kakourgos (Luke 21:39) and lestes (Mat.27:38; Mark15:27), for a thief who steals openly (Mat.21:13). This is the same word lestes used for the thieves who attacked the man helped by the good Samaritan. These robbers "stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead" (Luke 10:30), that is, attempted murder.
Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, speaks of many robbers, one of whom was Judas, son of Ezekias, who, in the aftermath of Herod's death, assaulted the palace in Sepphoris in Galilee, stole its weapons, and was purposely vicious with everyone to build a reputation for himself. Robbers, were also murderers. Elsewhere, Josephus speaks of the Judean Procurator Felix, in AD 52 hiring robbers to kill the High Priest. After that accomplishment, the robbers returned again and again to murder others in the city and in the temple itself. Josephus claims that this is likely the reason God rejected Jerusalem and its impure temple and brought the Romans upon the Jews (AD 70).
The prohibition of personal vengeance has precedence in the Old Testament. "`You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev.19:18). No one could successfully argue that the prohibition of vengeance in the Old Testament negated the death penalty then. And no one can successfully argue the same today.