|Capital Punishment and the Bible
There are many sins in the Old Testament which call for the death penalty. The following is a partial list. Sins which are punishable by death:
1) Murder (Exodus 21:12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.)
a] With an iron instrument. (Numbers 35:16 And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.)
b] With a stone. (Numbers 35:17 And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.)
c] With a wooden weapon. (Numbers 35:18 Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.)
d] BUT who is supposed to carry out the sentence? (Numbers 35:19 The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.) We certainly don't follow THAT one, do we?
O.K. that covers murder, but what about some of the others?
2) Striking one's parents. (Exodus 21:15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.)
3) Cursing one's parents. (Exodus 21:17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.)
4) Disobeying one's parents. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, "This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard." And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.)
5) Kidnapping someone to sell them into slavery. (Exodus 21:16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.)
6) Bestiality (Exodus 22:19 Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.)
7) Doing ANY work on the Sabbath. (Exodus 31:15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.) A lot of Christians have stumbled on this one! In the 15th chapter of Numbers, a man was condemned to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath!
8) Adultery (Leviticus 20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death.)
9) Incest (Leviticus 20:11-12 And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them.)
10) Occult practices (Leviticus 20:27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.)
12) Blaspheming the name of the Lord. (Leviticus 24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.)
Many who use the Bible to support capital punishment for murder, either conveniently forget about the other circumstances where the penalty is death, or when asked about them have no answer.
The most clear-cut instance where the death penalty is brought up is in the
8th chapter of John. The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman before Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery. According to the Law (see number 8 above), death was clearly and irrefutably called for, but they wanted to see what Jesus would say. Now Jesus knew the Law better than anyone, so did He say,
"You're right. According to God's Law this woman should be put to death"? No. Jesus paused a moment, then looked at them and said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." After a few seconds of stunned silence, the crowd of Pharisees and scribes slowly broke up and walked away, one by one.
What Jesus had said to them, as clearly as if He had shouted it, was that each of them was guilty of sin in one way or another, and therefore, none of them had the right to judge the woman. Jesus Himself didn't even judge her, and He was (and is) the only person in the history of the world who had (and has) the right to pass judgement! Instead, He looked at her and said, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."
What Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees applies equally well to us today. We all have sin in our lives.
Romans 3:10 says, "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:" Verse 23 of the same chapter states, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" All have sinned, none are righteous. Just like the scribes and Pharisees, we don't have the right to pass judgement on anyone else. Remember the example of the mote in our brother's eye? Jesus says in
Matthew chapter 7, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or wilt thou say to thy brother, "Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye;" and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
The mote and the beam are faults and sins. Many times we are quick to point out someone else's faults and sins, and yet we sometimes fail to see our own. Now, some will say, "Well, I may gossip a little (or lie, or entertain lustful thoughts, or work on the Sabbath) but at least I'm not as bad as a murderer or thief!" James, however, tells a different story.
James 2:10 says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." Don't kid yourself, in God's eyes sin is sin. No individual sin (with one exception, the unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit) is any better or worse than another. So if we gossip, or tell lies (both bearing false witness), or entertain lustful thoughts (adultery), or work on the Sabbath, we are no more righteous in the eyes of God than Bonnie and Clyde, or the worst murderers in history. And when we start to think that we aren't as bad as the people we condemn to death, that makes it even worse; we become the Pharisee in
Luke, chapter 18. There, a Pharisee and a publican went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee thanked God that he was
"not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican." With that attitude, he became guilty of self-righteousness and passing judgement on the publican. We become guilty of the same things whenever we think that we're any better than someone else.
Let's take it a step further. We've already seen that all of us are guilty of sin in one way or another. And the Bible says if we are guilty of one sin, we are guilty of all. So, with one sin, we become guilty of adultery, blasphemy, defiling the Sabbath, and murder, as well as all the rest. Each of these sins demands the death penalty according to God's Law. Well, we obviously aren't about to execute ourselves, even though the Bible clearly shows that we are guilty and deserve to die. Now, murder is the only one on that list that calls for the death penalty in man's law. So why do we choose to enforce man's law and not God's? Anyone who defends capital punishment for murderers because "it's part of God's Law," and ignores the other circumstances where death is the punishment, should be careful that they are not picking and choosing which parts of God's Law they wish to follow.
"Besides displaying the self-righteousness of the Pharisees (remember, we are no better than the person we've sentenced to death), when we execute someone for a crime, we are taking away that person's God-given gift of life, and, if they have not come to Christ, irrevocably denying them any chance to receive salvation. We may believe that they would never have accepted Christ, but the only person who truly knows that is the Lord. (Even the apostles would never have thought Saul would come to the Lord, but he did, and ended up writing most of our New Testament!) And although the murderer may have done the same thing (denying someone the chance to receive salvation),
Romans 12:19 tells us, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,' saith the Lord." Instead of executing a convicted person, we should be praying for them and ministering to them in the hopes of bringing them to the knowledge of Christ.
James 5:20 says, "Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins," (even murder.)
It may be difficult to forgive someone who has had a loved one killed, however in
Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Again, in
Mark 11:25-26, "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses."5