Christian Conservative Christian "Independent"

I'm an evangelical Christian, member of the CPC, but presently & unjustly exiled to wander the political wilderness.
All opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Bible on Capital Punishment

Having an interesting day. Genesis 9:6 was quoted in today's message at chapel, and that same verse was quoted by President Jed Bartlett in the Season One episode of the West Wing that I'm watching tonight.

So naturally, I've been spending the day mulling the issue over once again. A lot of people naturally think that I'm set in my ways, that I'm just some one dimensional nitwit who never examines what I think about the issues... which couldn't be further from the truth.

When talking to people about the issue, I've always been confronted with the apparent paradox of how I could support capital punishment, while I in the next breath could be talking about the "sanctity of life" when it comes to the abortion issue. To some, it would seem to be a paradox.

It all crystallized for me today in a new and fresh way, thanks to that verse. In the past, I've always turned to Lev. 24:20, the old "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" passage, but that's the wrong verse. Genesis 9:6 is really the key verse on the issue that better explains my position, and helps to clarify the apparent paradox on my position on the sanctity of life.

In Genesis 9:6, God says, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man."

My elder who was speaking today made the interesting point about this verse, that it is BECAUSE life is sacred that we should support capital punishment. Yes, all life is sacred, and as such, I can't ever support the heinous practice of abortion. Likewise, the life of any man or woman who's life has just been taken is sacred, as they too have been created "in the image of God".

It's always been my view that if you've taken the life of another, you have forfeit your right to keep your own life. This is, of course, a rather vindictive way of looking at it, and I must admit that I missed the point of this command from God. It's not I think intended to be retribution, but is intended to reveal to us the sacredness of life, and WHY it's so sacred... because we have been made in the very image of God. Because we have been given that greatest of all gifts, the ability to reason and choose for ourselves our own path, a gift and blessing not given to the lesser beings, the animals.

As such, as we are indeed so valuable and precious in His sight, when someone dares to defy a Holy and Sovereign God by de valuing His precious gift of life, then that person or persons lives should not be permitted to continue. And the responsibility for "enforcing" this command has been to mankind to enforce.

Of course, this won't make much sense to those who don't believe in a Holy and Sovereign God, but there's not likely much I can do to change anyone's mind on that front. But at least for me, today, this verse has helped refocus my opinion on the issue.

Capital punishment ought not to be about retribution. What it should be about is honouring God, and about protecting His greatest creation... the very life of mankind. And to do that, as counter intuitive as it may seem, He has commanded that those who would take the life of another have their own lives taken by those to whom He has given that task... to us, to society, as a whole.

To meet out His justice, to protect His creation, mankind. It's a big issue, and who knows if I've cleared things up or just made them worse, but these are some of the thoughts that have been spinning around in my head today. Hope it's been even marginally helpful to you.

Sent from my Blackberry


  • At Sun Nov 01, 11:15:00 p.m. EST, Blogger Hinchey's Store said…

    That's a very clear and non-confrontational explanation of what you stand for. I appreciate the thought that went into this. But you're right... this probably won't make those who don't hold similar beliefs view Christians any differently. We are currently viewed as among the most intolerant and narrow-minded in society. Which couldn't be more wrong...
    Have a good night and keep fighting the "good fight!"

  • At Sun Nov 01, 11:16:00 p.m. EST, Anonymous Joe said…

    Ah yes now where is it written that "Mercy triumphs over Justice".

    Should we receive our just desserts how many of us would be left standing?

    In truth because we don't have all the truth far better that we lock away the offender than kill the 'innocent' offender. I really wouldn't to be counted as the killer of Steven Truscott, or David Milgaard both innocent men, convicted in a court of law of being a murderer.

    I can agree with the sentiments of capital punishment but from both a Scriptural and ethical point of view I can't support it.

    Funnily enough you will find all the calls to capital punishment in the Old Testament and none in the New Testament. Why not? Because Capital Punishment was shown once and for all to be injustice. Ask the Man who died on the Centre Cross.

  • At Mon Nov 02, 12:06:00 a.m. EST, Anonymous Eldon Murray said…

    I too have thought about and discussed capital punishment, and hold the same stance and reasoning as you, yet non-Christians seem to think that capital punishment could not be a Christian concept.

    One point that must be said is that without capital punishment, Jesus Christ would have never died for our sins, and thus it is one of the most crucial aspects where God used the Roman government to perform judgments that Israel could not do

  • At Mon Nov 02, 12:46:00 a.m. EST, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Fascinating/though provoking post. I have a few (read:too many) comments.

    1. "A lot of people naturally think that I'm set in my ways, that I'm just some one dimensional nitwit who never examines what I think about the issues..."
    For the record: if I was one of those people, I wouldn't keep coming back.

    2. My default position is one against capital punishment, but whatever one's position, you are right that there is an apparent paradox.
    I think that, despite the contrast between Lev 24:20 and Gen 9:6, there is an important common thread in both; one that appears throughout the Bible and throughout the history of political philosophy: the punishment must fit the crime.

    One of my favourite philosophers (Kant) addresses the issue. He was a Christian (a Pietist) but his work seems compatible with atheism. This works for me, since I consider myself an agnostic [I hate when agnostics are put in the same category as atheists... but I digress]. Kant writes in The Metaphysics of Morals that the punishment must fit the crime, and that people must pay for their crimes. The crime of murder, however, is rather unique:

    "If, however, he has committed murder he must die. Here there is no substitute that will satisfy justice. There is no similarity between life, however wretched it may be, and death, hence no likeness between the crime and the retribution unless death is judicially carried out upon the wrongdoer, although it must still be freed from any mistreatment that could make the humanity of the person suffering it into something abominable." (6:333).

    3. My problem with this is that, as Genesis says, this job is left to up to mankind. I'm not sure we can be trusted. It seems like one of those "un-tendered contracts" that should be looked at again. Couldn't it be "outsourced"?
    What I'm getting at here is that there is an inescapable uncertainty. Innocent men and women have been, are being, and will be put to death--even in the best (better?) political communities.
    Which brings me to Thomas Hobbes's interpretation of Genesis 3:5, when the Devil says "...God doth know that, in the day ye eat thereof, ye shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil." Hobbes says that the devil here was right. "they did indeed take upon them Gods office, which is Judicature of Good and Evill; but acquired no new ability to distinguish between them aright" (Leviathan, Part II Chap. 20).
    This, for me, is the big problem. Others may take innocent life, and may deserve to die. But in taking upon ourselves "God's office", we run the risk of taking innocent life ourselves. I consider that a big risk.

    4. The "innocent life" part I think removes anything paradoxical about your position on abortion. The unborn have committed no crime. They simply exist. And (as Kant says), everyone has a right to exist upon the earth, wherever they may find themselves.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am uncomfortable with restrictions on abortion that make exceptions for "rape and incest" (or even "the life and health of the mother"). In such cases, the unborn child is being punished for someone else's crime. Which seems rather unfair.

    For the record: I am "pro-choice". But that's another long discussion.


  • At Mon Nov 02, 12:47:00 a.m. EST, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    5. My questions:
    a. Do you agree that it is inevitable that, in a system that allows for capital punishment, innocent people will die? If not, why? If so (and I really see no way that it isn't so) how do you justify it? [I am opened to answers like "nothing's perfect and it's better overall"].

    b. Hasn't God ordered or sanctioned the death of people whose crimes were far less serious than murder? Genesis 9:6 is just after God destroyed all of mankind (except for Noah's family and some animals). Surely they weren't all murderers. Especially the animals. Think of all of the herbivores... And there are all sorts of battles in the Old Testament where cities are attacked. Could there have been innocents there? Quite frankly, I feel bad for Lot's wife. Yes, she looked back; but... being told not to look back is sort of like being told: "don't think of a pink elephant." Perhaps her last thoughts were: "maybe I should have killed my brother instead."

    c. Speaking of Cain and Abel... Cain was punished, but his sentence doesn't seem harsh in comparison to Lot's wife. Moreover (and I'm just noticing this now), God forbade anyone from killing Cain. "whosoever slayeth Cain vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold" (Gen. 4:15). And them some descendant: "for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly La'mech seventy and sevenfold" (Gen 4:23-4).

    d. Speaking of seventy and seven. "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but Until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21-22).

    How do you reconcile Leviticus and Genesis with passages from the new testament that focus on forgiveness? (Surely it is wrong to destroy something made in God's image. But we killed God's son, who in some sense IS God. Surely that's worse, but is nevertheless Jesus forgave his persecutors. "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Not "you know years from now we'll be laughing about this". Not one of them was turned into a condiment.

    d. I'm worried I'm being offensive. That's not my intention. But it brings me to the first question that came to mind upon reading your post. You wrote:

    "Capital punishment ought not to be about retribution. What it should be about is honouring God, and about protecting His greatest creation... the very life of mankind."

    Capital punishment is an issue that implicates the whole of society, especially a democratic society. How do you justify your position to someone who cannot assent to policies that are justified in terms of "honouring God", especially if they involve life-and-death issues. What do you say to the Atheist, or anyone outside the Abrahamic religions?


  • At Mon Nov 02, 01:05:00 a.m. EST, Blogger Scott Merrithew said…

    Very interesting. I think you have zeroed in on the key principle.
    Humans of every age tend to underestimate the value of life, and likewise underestimate the revulsion of sin. To most, Sin is just a word that means bad. We have no real understanding of what it means to be holy or sinful.

    This issue came up when I was teaching about the Tabernacle and the system of animal sacrifices prescribed by God. When we considered the immense number of bulls and rams that were sacrificed in a single day, we realized how sickening and revolting all the carnage and blood and gore would be. The sight and the stench would be disgusting.

    So the obvious question is, Why would God require such an awful thing as atonement for sin?
    It seemed clear to us that God wanted us to realize how awful sin is. That daily, weekly and yearly sacrifices for the atonement of sin are associated with such gruesome carnage only a few meters away from the Holy of Holies where the Mercy Seat of God Himself rests over the Ark of the Covenant, is an object lesson from God to show the juxtaposition of sin's curse and God's Holiness.

    I realize that this is not related to capital punishment, but it seemed to resonate with your point about the sanctity of life from God's perspective.

  • At Mon Nov 02, 01:19:00 a.m. EST, Blogger Rural and Right said…

    I support Capital punishment but am undecided as a Christian if it is the right thing to do.

    I believe as Christians we should follow the words of Jesus in the bible above all other writings in the bible.

    And I believe that Matthew 5:38
    [An Eye for an Eye] 38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

    I feel that Jesus is saying not to take revenge (eye for eye) as written in Exodus 21:24, Lev. 24:20and Deut. 19:21

    Jesus came to change things and I think one of those things was the eye for eye tooth for tooth violence.

    I appreciate your writing on this subject thank you for pointing out this verse and how it relates to capital punishment.

  • At Mon Nov 02, 04:02:00 p.m. EST, Blogger Brian in Calgary said…

    As a Christian, I have no qualms against Capital Punishment in principle. I do, however, recall, one episode of "Touched By An Angel" a few years ago, that in touching upon this issue, presented the strongest argument against capital punishment I have seen: by allowing a convicted killer to live, it gives him or her more of an opportunity to turn to God in full repentance.

  • At Mon Nov 02, 04:15:00 p.m. EST, Blogger Christian Conservative said…

    THAT, Brian, is the one thing that does make me hesitate, somewhat, on capital punishment... or my service in things like the military, where I might be forced to take someone's life myself.

  • At Mon Nov 02, 06:40:00 p.m. EST, Blogger dudleysharp said…

    You may find these of interest:

    "Death Penalty Support: Christian and Secular Scholars"


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