The Biblical View of Capital Punishment
I’ve mentioned before that I work in the field of corrections. Well, a coworker recently informed me of a lawsuit being brought against the agency by a prisoner who is on death row for multiple murders, kidnapping, torture, and a list of other unimaginable crimes. She said that the lawsuit was for the amount of around $300,000 and claims that the prisoner was not issued a piece of furniture that he thought he should have received. I don’t know all the details of the lawsuit, but it all seems sort of ridiculous. A man who premeditatedly took the lives of several people, held a woman hostage in chains, and brutally murdered her loved one in front of her is complaining about the comfort of having a desk or chair while he’s imprisoned. It makes no sense. Especially if he’s already on death row or serving a life sentence, he needs to die – and quickly. That way, he won’t have to worry about being issued a piece of furniture or anything else.
I know that may sound harsh, but – just as I was discussing with a dear friend the other day who taught a Bible lesson that referenced the idea of capital punishment, some of which is reviewed here – I don’t believe that the death penalty is inconsistent with what Scripture teaches. I once held the view that anything related to violence or the taking of life was contrary to Christ’s teachings – including war, personal gun ownership and use, and capital punishment. But after a closer examination of Scripture, I see no problem with the Christian defending himself or herself with a weapon or with their own hands, and I think that the government carrying out the death penalty is God’s will ordained in the hands of government. The death penalty does not need to be abolished. It should remain in place and it needs to be carried out more quickly than it currently is.
As it stands, criminals who are sentenced to the death penalty are allowed to play the game of prolonging by filing appeal after appeal. And even if they don’t, it normally takes years before their punishment is even executed. That needs to change. It only gives them more time to exact their crimes on other people. Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “Because the sentence against a criminal act is not carried out quickly, therefore the heart of people is filled with the desire to commit crime.” People erroneously believe that putting criminals behind bars stops their behavior. Drug dealers still deal drugs in prison. Rapists continue to violate people and their bodies in prison. And cold-blooded murderers still kill people in prison. So if someone is sentenced the death penalty, prolonging their punishment only provides them the opportunity to hurt more people. It shouldn’t be so. The people who they killed didn’t have the chance to appeal and prolong their lives when they ruthlessly took them.
Just in the past 2 years or so, where I work, two violent criminals were moved to a housing unit where the majority of the inmates were seriously mentally ill and/or intellectually challenged. Those two prisoners lured 4 to 6 (I don’t remember the exact number) of those individuals, one by one, into their room and killed each one of them. They were violent predators and they preyed upon the unsuspecting. They planned, they schemed, and they murdered in cold-blood. And, they will pay for what they did.
Some may contend: “What about the grace of God?” Yes, God is a gracious and loving God. He’s also a just God, and He executes justice for His people and against those who disobey Him. God has always required a life for a life. He said, “I will require the life of every animal and every man for your life and your blood. I will require the life of each man’s brother for a man’s life. Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image” (Genesis 9:5-6). Through the law of Moses, God also said, “Whoever strikes a person so that he dies must be put to death […] If a person willfully acts against his neighbor to murder him by scheming, you must take him from My altar to be put to death” (Exodus 21:12, 14).
God also required the life of a person for other violent and evil acts that were not murder. He required the life of a man who raped someone who was engaged to another person (Deuteronomy 22:25). (As an aside: I don’t understand why it is that rapists receive lighter sentencing than someone who deals or uses drugs or than someone who commits animal cruelty. We see, in some instances, that God decided the consequence of rape to be death.) He also required a life for kidnapping and beating or selling an Israelite into slavery (Deuteronomy 24:7). While it is true that we are no longer under the Partriarchal Age or the Mosaic Age, God’s rule of law during the Christian dispensenation also allows for the government to execute justice by way of death.
Recall Romans 13:1-4, “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgement on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.” So, the government has the right to render capital punishment to those who do wrong.
Even Paul implied that he supported the civil government’s right and duty to execute the death penalty on those deserving of it. In his appeal before Festus, Paul argued, “If then I am doing wrong, or have done anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die, but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11)! The apostle had no problems being put to death by the Roman government if he had indeed committed a crime deserving of such. But he had not done anything of the like. I agree with Paul. If I had done anything deserving of death – and I haven’t – then I would deal with the consequence of capital punishment, if that was my sentence. And I wouldn’t want it to be drawn out for years, months, or even weeks like death row criminals have nowadays. Criminals sentenced to death need to have their punishment exacted immediately. It will lessen the threat of danger that they pose to the officers in charge of them, to the other inmates, and to the public at-large (there’s always the possibility of escape – remember the 1984 Virginia jailbreak of 6 death row prisoners). It will also reduce costs for maintaining and sustaining the lives of such prisoners.
And then we must consider how that Jesus’ life was required by God the Father in place of our own for our transgressions against Him. The wages of sin is always death (Romans 6:23), and our sin necessitated a death – the death of Christ on the cross. So, the idea of a life for a life is not foreign to the Christian.
Some may argue that sometimes innocent people have been sentenced to death row. There are always exceptions, but those are minimal. I’m talking about those violent, evil criminals who without question commit murder and other terrible acts against other people. I don’t watch much news, as I never know what’s real or fake anymore (much of the news media, if not all, lacks integrity in their reporting). But, my friend also mentioned that the Roman Catholic church just recently made the proclamation – through the person that they deem as their pope – that it is against capital punishment. Well, to that I say that that proclamation has no bearing over what the nation’s civil government institutes as a measure to deter crime. I wrote more about the deterrence of crime here. Based on the Bible, the Roman Catholic church is not the true church of the New Testament. It is a false religion. Jesus said that we are to call no man father on earth, in reference to religious titles (Matthew 23:9). Pope means papa, which is another name for father. So, with all due respect, what the head of the Catholic religion says does not dictate anything that I do or believe. Why I say that is a topic that I will address in another post.
When it comes to capital punishment, I stand with God and the Bible. From what I have read in the word of the Lord, the government carrying out the death penalty against criminals does not violate Scripture. In fact, the Bible teaches that it is reasonable to require a life for a life and a life for other violent and horrible acts committed against people, and that justice should be exacted quickly. The government needs to carry out the “sword,” not waste time doing it, and continue to avenge those who are subject to the wrongdoing of evil people.