While I can say that I like seeing Biblical principle used in public debate – putting it out there in all it’s glory – I’ve come to loathe seeing the Bible quoted in debates of life and death, because it seems that few people can do it justice (on either side of the debate, mind you).
While I know it’s not the most PC stance, I support the government’s application of the death penalty in cases of premeditated murder, mass murder, and grossly negligent homicide. I don’t see this as a moral issue, though, so much as one of simlple rule of law. While I think that there can be well-reasoned beliefs on either side of this issue, I don’t think either can claim the moral high ground of Biblical demand/prohibition. I do, however, think that death penalty supporters can support the claim that the death penalty is not evil and forbidden by God.
What about Thou shalt not kill (Ex 20:13 KJV)?
This one always seems to come from a talking head on TV, from whom I’ve come to expect not a thimble full of Biblical scholarship. Drop the King James’ English and go with a direct Hebrew – English translation (like the NIV) and you’ll get the more accurate “You shall not commit murder”, which is then defined further in the Torah (including pre-meditated murder, mansuaughter, and even the right to kill in self-defense). The Ten Commandments is basically a summary document of the entire law, with each of the ten “laws” described in much more detail further on in the text. In fact, there are multiple laws that, if broken, God allows the Israelites to institute capital punishment. In this fact alone, I think we can see that the death penalty, in and of itself, is not an evil act – God NEVER condones, let alone commands, his people to commit an evil act.
Old vs. New
Yeah, but that’s the Old Testament.
Jesus did away with the need for the Old Testament laws. In Matthew, it is written “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”, so there is no longer a need for the Old Testament.
This is the root of “replacement theology”, that somehow Jesus ‘fulfilled’ the law, rendering it unneeded or, at best as only support material for the Gospels. Unfortunately, this argument holds little water with the growing body of cultural evidence showing that to ‘abolish’ the law meant to interpret it incorrectly and to ‘fulfill’ it meant to interpret it correctly. In fact, immediately after this verse, Jesus says I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
If you want the references for this, I can supply them for you, as they are numerous.
The remaining two anti-death penalty verses that seem to be readily mis-quoted in support of this position are -
Do not judge, or you too will be judged (Matt 7:1)
If any one of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone. (John 8:7)
In the case of “judging”, Jesus makes it obvious that he is warning against hypocrisy in the verse just after the one quoted: For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.(Matt 7:2). It has nothing to do with the the ability of civil/legal authorities to maintain law and order.
In the case of the woman caught in adultry, and the requested stoning of her, there are a myriad of interpretations which could only be borne out by knowing what Jesus wrote in the dust – which we do not. However, the interpretation which, to me, holds the most water is culturally based on the same principle as Matt 7:1-2, and that is that it was a common rabbinical teaching that in order to condemn someone of a sin, you could not be complicit in that sin, as well. In this particular case, since Jesus was being ’set up’, the questions are begged: How did these men know where to find the woman and what she would be doing, so that she could be accused? Where was the man she was with? How were these men so familiar with her situation in the first place?
In order to stone someone for a sin, there had to be two witnesses who were not complicit in that sin, and those witnesses had to cast the first stones before anyone else who thought she was guilty could cast a stone. In this particular case, it is apparent that this burden of proof was not met.
What about grace & forgiveness & mercy?
I believe wholeheartedly in grace and forgiveness, as I live under them and require them both daily. However, as much as it hurts, I am not free of the earthly consequences of my sin, and even if I am forgiven, it is not the duty of the STATE to grant me mercy.
I do not see capital punishment as revenge. I do not see it as a necessary deterrant. I see it as the earthly consequences for heinous crimes committed against other human beings. Carrying out this punishment is neither evil nor inhumane – it is part of the fabric which holds together the social order, and it is neither demanded nor condemned by the Bible.
Right to life?
How can you be pro-life and pro-capital punishment?
This is a fairly disingenuous question/argument which I hear more and more as political seasons roll around. It is a fairly simple one to deconstruct, though.
In the case of capital punishment, we are talking about the state taking the life of an individual as the earthly consequences for heinous sins committed against his fellow man, conducted within the due process of the law. In the case of abortion, we are talking about an individual taking the life of a child (whose only “sin” has been to exist in the first place) without due process.
So, at least for me, it comes down to the complicity of the condemned person in his/her death sentence. In the same way that I would not want an innocent man to be executed – even though I support capital punishment – I do not want innocent children to be executed by their parent(s).