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Capital punishment – a theological perspective

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Tue Dec 18, 2012

Editor: Murder is the willful killing of an innocent person. It seems that almost every time a murderer is about to suffer capital punishment, people demonstrate against it. Some people object because they think it is against the teaching of the Bible.{{more}} But what does the Bible teach about capital punishment?

The first time God taught about the subject of capital punishment was to Noah and his sons: “And surely your blood, the blood of your lives, will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it: and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:5-6). What God is requiring of the human race leaves no room for misunderstanding. Human life is so sacred to God that he requires the life of the murderer, whether it be man or beast. (See Exodus 21: 28-29).

God’s teaching through Moses is very clear. The sixth commandment is: “Thou shall not kill” (Ex. 20:13). The Hebrew word for “kill” is defined in a Hebrew dictionary as “Murder, slay with premeditation.” While all murder is killing. All killing is not murder (i.e. all dogs are animals, but not all animals are dogs).

Capital punishment is prohibited by the commandment: “Thou shall not kill” and is clearly seen in the next chapter. Moses wrote: “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 21:12). Moses, over and over, said “the murderer shall surely be put to death” (Num. 35:16-18, 21, 31). “Whosoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses” (v.30).

Moreover, God has also clearly taught that capital punishment will be a deterrent to crime. In Deuteronomy 19:15-21, Moses described a court scene with judges and witnesses. He said, “And thine eye shall not pity;

life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (v. 21).

God’s justice was to punish a person according to his crime. “Life shall go for life” meant that if a person had willfully killed an innocent person, capital punishment was to be administered. This form of punishment was to be a deterrent to crime: “And those that remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil in the midst of thee” (v.20)

One murderer of about 20 innocent New York victims was asked if he would have killed those people if he knew that the result would be the electric chair. “Do you think I’m dumber than you are?” he asked.

Self-defense (Ex. 22:2) and accidental killing (Deut. 19:1-10) are not included in God’s command: “Thou shall not kill.” There will be times when innocent people must defend themselves against someone who attempts to harm them. Unfortunately, there are times when the unintentional mistakes of people will result in the death of an innocent person. This is not the willful taking of human life. The sixth commandment has not been broken.

“Thou shall not kill” teaches the sacredness of human life. In order to preserve this sacredness, God has commanded capital punishment: “The murderer shall surely be put to death” (Num. 35:16).

Incidentally, the New Testament teaches exactly what the Old Testament teaches about the sacredness of human life and capital punishment. The command “Thou shall not kill” occurs five times in the NT (Mat. 5.21, 27; Mk. 10:19; Lk. 18:20; Rom. 13:9; James 2:11). Additionally, the NT teaches that the origin for civil government is God: “The authorities that exist are appointed by God. For he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom 13:1, 4). The sword is not a paddle; it is a death instrument. Civil government has been authorized by God to administer capital punishment.

How does the shedding of blood, i.e. the murder of innocent people, affect God? Does he care? Is he indifferent? Does He become angry? What is his reaction? He hates “Hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:16-17).

The nation of Edom no longer exists because of their violence. The prophet Joel specified the reason why God had this nation destroyed: “For they have shed innocent blood in their land” (Joel 3:19). Murderers who went unpunished were ultimately destroyed by God.

Moses gave this warning: “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. 35.33).

How polluted some countries must be in the eyes of God. Murderers are imprisoned and released after only a few years of incarceration. Often the released murderers murder another innocent person. Many murderers in our prison have not received the justice God had authorized. “No atonement” or correction can be made for murder except “by the blood of him who shed it.” The Apostle Paul did not object to capital punishment (Acts 25:11).

What conclusions do these Scriptures warrant?

1. That capital punishment has been commanded by God since the days of Noah

2. Capital punishment is an eternal law

3. Capital punishment is a deterrent to crime

4. That “the murderer shall surely be put to death” is God’s will

5. That everyone who claims to be a Christian should acknowledge the right of civil government to put murderers to death, because it is a right that has been given to them by God.

6. That when capital punishment is not administered to murderers, it pollutes the land in the eyes of God.

Mark A. Charles

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