A man once said, if one accepts the authority of scripture, then the issue of capital punishment must be decided on what scripture actually teaches and not on the popular, naturalistic ideas of sociology and penology that prevail today. Why is that?

Posted: December 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

Basically, it appears that he is saying that Christians, those who accept “the authority of scripture”, must accept what scripture says about the death penalty rather than what culture says. If he also means Jews, who accept the authority of the Old Testament, the answer would be a simple, “Yup!”

BUT…if he means Christians, it’s not that cut and dried:

MURDER

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,a and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’* is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’** will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21–22)

ADULTERY

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (5:27–32) (1)

Finally, he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (5:38–39) Preachers will say, but since he didn’t specifically include “life for life” here, he didn’t mean that. Well, he also didn’t include “hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

Image result for Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.

So, we have two capital crimes mentioned just in Matthew 5, and Jesus basically says we are all guilty of both. Who wants to be the first to volunteer to be stoned? Plus, we are not to return evil with evil; if we are not to even resist the man who slaps us, how are we to deal with the criminal?

For good or ill, we DO live in a country that has an alternative to the death penalty: life or life without parole. Both allow one thing the death penalty does not: the possibility of correction for human error. So if the person quoted was arguing for the death penalty as being the only “Christian” alternative to capital crimes, I would have to at least offer that it is not so absolute.

One last word. Anyone who claims the Bible mandates death for murder must also mandate death for adultery, homosexual acts, idolatry, blaspheming God, rebellion against parents, cursing parents, working on the Sabbath, practicing witchcraft, kidnapping…I think the population of the US would decrease by several million if we were to get Biblical on crime! (2)

*Of Chaldee origin (compare reyq); O empty one, i.e. Thou worthless (as a term of utter vilification) — Raca. (4469. ῥακά (rhaka) — empty (an expression of contempt))

**moros. Sound familiar? Ever call someone a “moron”? Eeek! We’re all going to hell! (Jk!)

Regardless, however, of what scripture says—and I definitely accept the authority of scripture, as is obvious, I would submit, as I have often, that since we—humans—are terribly imperfect, despite our intelligence and awesome forensic science, the only way to be absolutely certain that no innocent person is ever killed by mistake is by abolishing the death penalty. Blackstone’s formula states: “For the law holds, that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer”, a sentiment shared by Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. I would further submit that it is better for ten-thousand persons to be confined to prison for life than for one innocent person to be killed.

(1) Interestingly, the context of this verse isn’t about “murder”, it’s about injury if there is a fight and a pregnant woman either has a miscarriage or gives birth prematurely: “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:22–25)

(2) I am not arguing here for or against pacifism. I am not saying these things are no longer sin; I am saying that not every sin should be criminal, and that no sin/crime must be punishable by death.

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