CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT SET UP THROUGH NOAH AFTER THE FLOOD
After the flood, God set up a new order through Noah which included capital punishment so as to prevent the world from returning to the violence of the days before the flood:
"Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man."
THE COMMANDMENT "YOU SHALL NOT MURDER" DOES NOT CONTRADICT CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
"You shall not murder"
"murder" = "ratsach"
[Note that the word "ratsach" is often misinterpreted as killing in general to which objectors to self defense and war claim this verse supports their nonscriptural viewpoint against any violence whatsoever. But the word in its context indicates when properly translated: premeditated murder which excludes self defense and wars of national defense. Other Hebrew words such as "harag" = "slay, kill - in murder or in war" or "makka" = "to smite i.e., hit in violence to hurt or kill" were not used because they do connote violence in general sometimes not even resulting in death. The meaning of "ratsach" = "murder' was chosen by Moses as inspired by God to be used to connote the more specific meaning of premeditated murder]
THE MOSAIC LAW REAFFIRMED CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
"And if a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death."
(v. 16) "But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
(v. 17) And if he struck him down with a stone in the hand, by which he may die, and as a result he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
(v. 18) Or if he struck him with a wooden object in the hand, by which he may die, and as a result he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
(v. 19) The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him.
(v. 20) And if he pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait and as a result he died,
(v. 21) or if he struck him down with his hand in enmity, and as a result he died, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death, he is a murderer; the blood avenger shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
[The next 8 verses provide for those circumstances which are not premeditated]
(v. 22) But if he pushed him suddenly without enmity, or threw something at him without lying in wait,
(v. 23) or with any deadly object of stone, and without seeing it dropped on him so that he died, while he was not his enemy nor seeking his injury,
(v. 24) then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the blood avenger according to these ordinances.
(v. 25) And the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the blood avenger, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he fled; and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.
(v. 26) But if the manslayer, shall at any time go beyond the border of his city of refuge to which he may flee,
(v. 27) and the blood avenger finds him outside the border of his city of refuge, and the blood avenger kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood
(v. 28) because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest the manslayer shall return to the land of his possession.
(v. 29) And these things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
[And provisions for capital punishment are carefully stipulated, requiring more than one witness, and excluding the option of payment in lieu of the penalties for either capital murder or manslaughter]:
(v. 30) If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.
(v. 31) Moreover, you shall not take ransom [i.e., no excuses or substitute penalties are acceptable] for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.
(v. 32) And you shall not take ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to live in the land before the death of the priest.
[And God's Word is clear that justice can only be served by the blood of him who shed blood. The exercise of mercy, pity are not included in these provisions for the capital crime of premeditated murder]:
(v. 33) So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.
(v. 34) And you shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel."
Notice that premeditated murder that does not receive the just penalty of the laws of God herein stated places the whole land, i.e., the nation under moral guilt, for the land 'cries out' for the shedding of blood to be justly 'satisfied'.
On the other hand, the death penalty must not be instituted on the basis of one witness only or on the basis of circumstantial evidence only. Note that one's personal confession does constitute one witness, but one more is needed.
(v. 6) "On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, [relative to a capital crime, (vv. 1-5)] he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness."
(v. 7) The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst."
And in accordance with Scripture, the death penalty which God first instituted with Noah has never been rescinded.
ON THE OTHER HAND THERE IS ALSO PRECEDENT FOR MERCY FROM INSTITUTING CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
After all of this, objectors often indicate that God did exercise mercy twice over upon David when he committed two capital crimes: adultery and premeditated murder. There is a difference here however, it is God and not man Who exercised mercy upon David for His own purposes which included David to continue as king of Israel, guilty or not. He made the rules for His sovereign purposes, He is holy and righteous and just as the Rule Maker. Furthermore, there were penalties for David's crimes:
[2 Sam 11:9-11]:
(v. 9) "Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in His eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
(v. 10) Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own."
(v. 11) This is what
the LORD says: 'Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity
upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to
one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad
[David never got to see the Temple built, and he lived through the rebellion, murder, fornication, adultery, rape and death of members of his own family, his wives and his sons and his daughters - even the temporary loss of his kingdom]
Just as the thief on the cross who trusted in Christ as Savior was extended mercy unto eternal life, (Lk 23:39-43), but was not given mercy relative to paying for his crimes via capital punishment on the cross, so mercy is not man's option to give relative to properly witnessed capital crimes today.
STILL OTHERS WHO OBJECT TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT POINT TO CAIN
But Cain did pay for the consequences of his sin. At the time there was no death penalty instituted by God, so that was not an option. But Cain was banished to wander the rest of his life, (recall that people in those days lived for hundreds of years):
(v. 10) "The LORD said, 'What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.
(v. 11) Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.
(v. 12) When you work the ground, it will no longer
yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.'
(v. 13) Cain said to the LORD, 'My punishment is more than I can bear.
(v. 14) Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.....etc., etc."
GOD'S WORD RECOGNIZES GOD'S COMMAND OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT BUT WITH DISCERNMENT AND JUSTICE IN MIND IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE LAW
(v. 4) "For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
(v. 5) Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience."
[Compare Jn 8:3-11]:
(v. 3) "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group
(v. 4) and said to Jesus, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
(v. 5) In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?'
(v. 6) They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
(v. 7) When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, 'If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.'
(v. 8) Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
(v. 9) At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
(v. 10) Jesus straightened up and asked her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'
(v. 11) 'No one, sir,' she said. 'Then neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin.' "
[Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask, Victor Books, USA, 1992, p. 415]:
"The authority in Romans 13 is the Roman government and the authorities in John 8 are Jewish ones. The point is that the Jews had to act under Roman law. for instance, if they were really going to stone a woman, why did they seek the help of Pilate in the crucifixion of Jesus? For in John 18:31 the Jews respond to Pilate saying, 'It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.' but in the case of the adulterous woman, they were ready to stone her.
Second, they did not act in accordance with the Law itself. The Law stated that both the parties, male and female, had to be brought before the people (Deut. 22:22-24). Since this woman was caught in the very act (v. 4), why wasn't the man brought out with the woman to be stoned? The scribes and Pharisees who were supposed to be law abiding citizens failed in a key aspect of their own law.
Third, the motives of these scribes and Pharisees were wrong. They used this opportunity to try to trap Jesus so that they might have a reason for accusing Him (v. 6). The crime of adultery did not seem important to them. Rather, it seemed more important to find cause for accusation against Jesus.
This passage, then, is not a good text for anyone who wants to propose that Jesus opposed capital punishment. In fact, other places of Scripture seem to suport the very idea (see Gen 9:6 and Matt. 26:52)."
THE BIBLE'S SYSTEM OF DETERMINING GUILT OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
[Adapted from "Capital Punishment" by D.W. Van Ness in "Dictionary of Christianity in America." InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of the USA, Downers Grove, Illinois. 1990. p. 222]:
1. Proportionality (Exodus 21:23-25)
2. Intent (Numbers 35:22-24)
3. Due process (Deuteronomy 17:8-9; Numbers 35)
4. Individual responsibility ( Deuteronomy 24:16)
5. Fairness, regardless of the wealth or class of the accused (Numbers 35:29-31; Exodus 23:6-7)
6. Certainty of guilt (Deuteronomy 17:6; Numbers 35:30).