17 – Question 1

This is a question that has divided Christians for ages.  Some very godly men have been for the death penalty.  Some very godly men have been against the death penalty.  Some will say that since we are living in a day of grace, that we should extend grace to even the worst criminal and spare the lives of those who commit heinous crimes.  Some will say that there are plenty of crimes that deserve the death penalty.

Let’s start by looking at the Word of God.  Under the law, there were several crimes that required the death penalty.  Exodus 21:12 says, “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.”  Searching the scriptures we also find that crimes such as kidnapping, adultery, homosexuality, and rape; just to name a few, were crimes that resulted in being put to death.  Ironically, some of the crimes that were punishable by death are not even considered crimes anymore.  That is just a testimony to the immorality of men today.

Of course, not all crimes deserve the death penalty and the Word of God makes that clear.  For one example, let’s read Exodus 22:14.  It says, “And if a man borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good.”  In other words, if a man should borrow his neighbor’s ox and the ox gets hurt or gets killed, the man must make restitution.  Our courts are much the same way today.  The punishment should fit the crime.

Scripture also teaches us that a man could not be put to death without enough evidence, or eye-witness accounts.  Deuteronomy 17:6 says, “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.”  Something as serious as the death penalty could not be taken lightly.

So, realizing that according to the Bible, there were crimes that were punishable by death, what about today?  Are we to act in grace towards those that commit terrible crimes?  Or are we to still put to death those that commit terrible crimes?

I would be very hesitant to set aside a standard that the Lord instituted in His Word.  He has instructed us that while the punishment should be appropriate for the crime that some do not deserve to live.

Individually, we should be able to forgive the most horrific crime; however the governmental laws would have us not excuse crimes, but make sure they are punished appropriately.  The Bible instructs us to bow to the governmental authorities we are under.  The apostle Paul definitely recognized the power of the government to rule, with capital punishment being in effect under the Roman government.  Romans 13:1-5 tells us, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”

With all that being said, I am comfortable in stating that I am in favor of capital punishment when it is appropriate.  I say that with reservations, however.  It would be a terrible tragedy to accidentally execute an innocent person.  We need to exhaust all resources to make sure that one is absolutely guilty before subjecting him to death.

Also, as Christians, we should never rejoice in the execution of any criminal.  Ezekiel 33:11 says, “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”  The Lord has no pleasure when a wicked one dies, and neither should we.  What a heart breaking thing to realize that a convicted criminal may now be entering Hell when he is executed.  There should be no joy in that; no joy at all.  (17.1)