Rainbows and Electric Chairs:
A Christian View on Capital Punishment

Moral Philosophy — By on April 17, 2008 at 12:31 am

Earlier this week the Supreme Court debated whether the rape of children should be punishable by execution. In deciding the case of Patrick Kennedy, a Louisiana man who raped his 8-year-old stepdaughter, the Court could determine whether the death penalty is extended to crimes other than murder. The case is also likely to reopen debates on the question of the moral legitimacy of state-imposed death. Are there any legitimate reasons for supporting the death penalty? Should child rape be a cause for execution?
Personally, I believe that the Bible not only should be our primary guide on such questions but that it also provides sufficient answers. I also believe that we should not rely on the three primary justifications given for the death penalty — deterrence, protection of society, and retribution — but should instead advocate for the Biblical model of justice.
As a Christian I believe that many human institutions, including civil government, are divinely ordained and delegated a certain degree of authority and responsibility. While ultimately under God’s control, civil government is given a degree of sovereignty over certain spheres of human existence. One of the most important areas which government is ordained is in dispensing justice.
While no government is able to carry out this task perfectly, the more it conforms its view of justice with God’s moral law the more legitimate its authority and the more just the state will be. We are able to know the moral law because it is revealed to us either through special revelation (e.g., the Bible) or through natural revelation (e.g., the natural law). For the purpose of justifying capital punishment we will turn to special revelation.
Christians often look back to the Mosaic Law when searching for justifications for capital punishment. This is hardly surprising considering that in the law God gave the Israelites, twenty-one different offenses were considered worthy of the death penalty.
The problem with this approach is that the Law of Moses only applied to Israel. Since this particular covenant was made between God and the Hebrew people, it was never universally applicable. While we might be able to discern moral truths by looking to the Law our decisions on how to apply it would be arbitrary. How would we rationalize, for example, applying the death penalty to cases of murder but not for homosexuality?
Although the Mosaic Law doesn’t provide a sound basis for a defense of capital punishment, there is a covenant that does – the Noahic covenant. After God destroyed mankind with a flood, he established a covenant with Noah, his family, and (most importantly for us) his descendants. Along with the promise that He would never destroy the earth by water again, God included this moral command:

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen. 6:9, ESV)

This verse not only provides a moral norm for capital punishment but delegates the responsibility to mankind (i.e., government) and limits it to a particular crime (murder). This sets a very narrow range of applicability. The rape of a child is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. But in the absence of a clear Biblical mandate to expand the penalty beyond murder, I do not believe we can justify including child-rape under the crimes that deserve death.
We should also note that since this covenant is ‘everlasting’ (v. 16) and ‘for all future generations’ (v. 12), it’s as applicable today as it was in the age of Noah. Unlike the Mosaic Law, this covenant was never superseded by any later actions of God. We should also note that if we choose to ignore this command, we are choosing to reject God’s wisdom. Governments and societies, of course, may choose to rebel against God’s commands but for professing Christians this shouldn’t be an option.
Of course there may be times when the ability of the state to implement the death penalty is egregiously compromised. The problems that can occur with its application are numerous and complex so we must remain ever vigilant against its abuse. Indeed, respect for human dignity demands that we err on the side of caution to prevent the unjust killing of those falsely accused of committing murder. The legitimate objections, however, appear to associated with its application, rather than in the moral legitimacy of the death penalty itself.
Long ago, God made a promise to never again destroy the human race with a flood. When we see the rainbow in the sky we are to remember the everlasting covenant between God and “every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” As Christians, though, we should do more than that. When we see a rainbow we should remember that we are made in the image of God–and remember too the price that must be paid when we destroy an image-bearer.
[Note: The use of the article “A” rather than “The” in the title is deliberate. While I think the position outlined in this post is a Christian view on the death penalty, I do not want to be so bold as to say that it must be the position on this issue. ]


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  • http://mattsipe.blogspot.com/ Matt

    I have always found it hard to love my enemies and forgive them (and turn the other cheek for that matter) while I’m killing them.
    BTW – I think you quote Genesis 9:6 (you wrote 6:9). The example of Jesus tells us that even after this in Genesis, Jesus has to come to earth to show us how the Old Testament laws just weren’t working. By following the example of Jesus, there is no way Christians could ever advocate for killing others. One has to make the claim based solely on a text that does not include the teachings of Jesus, and then we’re not on Christian grounds anymore.
    The death penalty is NOT Christian. Forgiveness is.

  • http://www.thewickens.info Martin

    Matt, while sin is forgiven God never says there will not be consequences for our sin here on earth.
    Sometimes a crime may be forgiven but it still carries a consequence.
    I believe the death penalty is right and just.
    Good post.

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com/ Collin Brendemuehl

    Some seem to want to paint the picutre of two choices in government. Both the Dominionists and the (what I call) demand secularists see either a completely secular government or a theological government. What Joe is broaching is one of the many steps inbetween — a government that operates on a Biblical ethic.
    A secularist would have no moral like to draw to prevent the capital execution of a child rapist let alone curtailing a multitude of liberties.
    In like manner, the Dominionist would be stoning homsexuals.
    This leaves us with the obvious tension where we now live. How can we bring the values of Christianity to law? This is one of those things that falls into pre-evangelism as we show the world the value and benefit of Godliness & Christianity (what Salt and Light really mean).
    All influence for the proper values is beneficial for the gospel. It is not necessary, but it is useful.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com/

  • ucfengr

    I have always found it hard to love my enemies and forgive them (and turn the other cheek for that matter) while I’m killing them.
    Can we please dispense with these trite little missives? The don’t add anything to the conversation; all they demonstrate is that you really haven’t given any thought to the issue. Note: I am not saying that it is impossible for a thoughtful Christian to oppose the death penalty; only that these type of posts don’t demonstrate that one is thoughtful.
    Regarding the death penalty for child rape, Romans 13:2-4 (KJV)says:
    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.
    So, God views government as a “revenger to execute wrath”, IOW to bring punishment on evildoers; that is a pretty powerful statement. When I think of God’s wrath, I think of Sodom, or Nineveh, or Tyre. When those places felt God’s wrath, people died. Now, Matthew 18:5-7 (KJV) says:
    Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!
    To me, that sounds like people who prey on children are under God’s wrath. If governments act as agents of His wrath, it seems the death penalty is an appropriate for child rapists and that Christians can support it.

  • smmtheory

    Except that Genesis 9:6 is out of the bounds of the convenant between God and Man, which was specifically – “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.” (Gen 9:11)
    Genesis 9:6 has been paraphrased as the proverbial ‘those who live by the sword shall die by the sword’ or as in Matthew 26:52 – Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Genesis 9:6 was more likely the explanation of why God devastated the earth with flood. IOW, quit killing each other, for through violence you reap violence.

  • http://www.sufficientscruples.com Kevin T. Keith

    Personally, I believe that the Bible not only should be our primary guide on such questions but that it also provides sufficient answers. I also believe that we should not rely on the three primary justifications given for the death penalty — deterrence, protection of society, and retribution — but should instead advocate for the Biblical model of justice. As a Christian I believe that many human institutions, including civil government, are divinely ordained and delegated a certain degree of authority and responsibility. . . . [T]he more it conforms its view of justice with God’s moral law the more legitimate its authority and the more just the state will be. We are able to know the moral law because it is revealed to us either through special revelation (e.g., the Bible) or through natural revelation (e.g., the natural law). For the purpose of justifying capital punishment we will turn to special revelation. . . . After God destroyed mankind with a flood, he established a covenant with Noah, his family, and (most importantly for us) his descendants. . . . Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen. 6:9, ESV). . . But in the absence of a clear Biblical mandate to expand the penalty beyond murder, I do not believe we can justify including child-rape under the crimes that deserve death. . . . We should also note that since this covenant is ‘everlasting’ (v. 16) and ‘for all future generations’ (v. 12), it’s as applicable today as it was in the age of Noah. . . . We should also note that if we choose to ignore this command, we are choosing to reject God’s wisdom. Governments and societies, of course, may choose to rebel against God’s commands but for professing Christians this shouldn’t be an option.
    And I presume you’re also going to continue to refer to people who worry about the looming theocracy as “idiots” who should be ignored. Because there’s nothing in that that sounds like imposing specific sectarian religious beliefs on the general population as law, and enforcing them with the power of the state.

  • Nick

    God included this moral command:
    Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen. 6:9, ESV)
    This verse not only provides a moral norm for capital punishment but delegates the responsibility to mankind (i.e., government) and limits it to a particular crime (murder).

    Except that it doesn’t include those details. The verse mentions shedding blood. I can accept the gloss that shedding blood refers to killing, but murder is only one subset of killing. Nowhere in the passage is there textual support for the claim that the verse is limited to murder. Similarly, no where is there support for the idea that “man” = government.
    Furthermore, there’s no limit on the moral command. It would apply equally to a murderer and to his executioner (and all those who share moral responsibility for the execution). I’m inclined to agree with smmtheory that this is another statement of “live by the sword, die by the sword.”
    You might be better off using Romans 13 as support for your argument.

  • Nick

    Sorry about the italics glitch. In my previous comment, everything down to “particular crime (murder)” is a quote from Joe.

  • http://www.4simpsons.wordpress.com Neil

    “I have always found it hard to love my enemies and forgive them (and turn the other cheek for that matter) while I’m killing them.”
    Please consider the reverse scenario: It is hard to forgive and love your enemies if you are dead. For that an other contextual reasons it is obvious that Matthew 5:39 is rarely applied properly. If you were the true victim in your scenario then you wouldn’t be around to offer forgiveness.
    That is just one of many ineffective arguments against capital punishment.
    Christians often get it wrong is because they don’t have the proper standing to forgive (in the Biblical sense), their argument proves too much and they forget the “love your neighbor” part.
    The average citizen is in no place to forgive a justly convicted murderer and to refer to it as “turning the other cheek.”
    Using their logic proves to much, because if “Jesus would forgive” is their mantra, then he’d not only skip the death penalty, but life sentences, 20 yr. sentences, etc. When Jesus forgives, it is complete.
    If you love your neighbors you’ll want to deter future murders. Proper application of the death penalty does that.
    There are legitimate Biblical arguments against CP, but they center around God’s plan for justice (i.e., multiple eyewitnesses, serious penalties for perjury, etc.).

  • http://blog.revmike.us Rev. Mike

    Joe, the framework you establish in terms of this covenant versus that covenant seems dispensational in its outlook. Was that your intention?

  • ucfengr

    Christians often get it wrong is because they don’t have the proper standing to forgive (in the Biblical sense), their argument proves too much and they forget the “love your neighbor” part.
    And our obligation to forgive doesn’t mitigate the government’s obligation to punish evil (See Romans 13).
    The average citizen is in no place to forgive a justly convicted murderer and to refer to it as “turning the other cheek.”
    Only the injured parties have any standing to forgive anyone. In the case of child r*pe, that would be the child and God. But even at that, their forgiveness does not remove the God commanded obligation of the government to punish evil.

  • Nat

    Is your argument that the Bible allows capital punishment or that it mandates it? If you are arguing that it allows it, then there might not be much disagreement from even those who oppose capital punishment. But if you are arguing that it mandates it, then you are indicting countries in Europe and elsewhere that have abolished the death penalty.
    I’ll assume you are only arguing that the Bible allows it… I would argue that the higher way for any society is to abolish the death penalty. As you say close to the end of your essay: “The legitimate objections, however, appear to associated with its application, rather than in the moral legitimacy of the death penalty itself.” Since we are talking about life and death, I think poor application is good enough reason to abolish it.
    There are two ways in which the death penalty can be unfair. The obvious and most heinous one is when an innocent person is sent to death row. But a second unfairness is that even if the person is guilty of the crime, the death penalty is not applied consistently. Your likelihood of receiving capital punishment is more closely associated with your race or economic status (and the quality of your legal representation) than it is to the actual crime. (When was the last time a celebrity was put on death row?)

  • http://dontdrinkthekingswine.blogspot.com Daniel Briggs

    “‘The legitimate objections, however, appear to associated with its application, rather than in the moral legitimacy of the death penalty itself.’ Since we are talking about life and death, I think poor application is good enough reason to abolish it.”
    Nat, you make an excellent point, one I was going to make. There is an overwhelming racial skew in death row populations, and there is a huge racial disparity between those convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to death versus life in prison. Given this application of capital punishment, *certainly* we should err on the side of preserving life rather than ending it.
    While I wouldn’t go as far as you–to abolish it outright–I *definitely* advocate a nationwide moratorium, potentially for decades upon decades. The effect might be the same–no more executions–I think it’s important to keep CP in the wings for exigencies.

  • Bob

    I would like to offer my views on why I believe the death penalty should rarely be applied, if ever. I do not favor a complete prohibition of the death penalty, but I find it difficult to conceive of a situation in which it should be applied. I am a Christian who believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God. My objections, in no particular order, are:
    1. Our application of justice is imperfect. This means there is the possibility that we will kill an innocent person. I believe that is an unacceptable risk for persons who value the sanctity of human life. In Exodus 23:7 we read, “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.”
    2. Our society does not achieve any greater good by killing someone than by imprisoning them. It is not a deterrent. It does not make us any safer than if the criminal were imprisoned for life.
    3. Related to number 2, if we imprison someone rather than kill them, they have the opportunity to repent and be saved. In Ezekiel 18 we read, “’Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?’ declares the Sovereign LORD. ‘Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?’” Ezekiel 33 contains a similar desire from God for repentance.
    4. God did not require death for Moses (Exodus 2:11-14) and David (2 Samuel 11:14-17), both of whom were murderers. David, as you know, committed a calculated, premeditated murder. According to the proof text supporting the death penalty from Genesis, he should have received the death penalty. Why did God not strike him down? Even Paul was an accessory to murder, at a minimum.
    5. In the Old Testament, death was the penalty for many sins. Should this be considered a civil law (and no longer applicable) rather than a moral law? Society at that time did not have the ability to build maximum security prisons, as we do today, and a death penalty was the only sure way to protect society. Today, we can protect society from evil, dangerous people by incarcerating them.
    6. If we consider the OT application of the death penalty to be God’s moral law, then should we not follow the prescription that there must be two or three witnesses
    Numbers 35:30
    If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.
    Deuteronomy 19:15
    “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
    Deuteronomy 17:6
    On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.
    Matthew 18:15-16
    “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
    2 Corinthians 13:1
    This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
    7. The government properly has the ability to use the sword (Romans 13) – presumably to maintain order and to deter criminals – but does that mean it has the requirement to do so if other methods are just as effective and equally just?
    8. I would certainly desire vengeance if a member of my family were harmed, but I believe that is more a reflection of my sinful nature than an innate desire for justice.
    9. To have a death penalty requires that we have an executioner. To have an executioner requires that we, as a society, are asking an individual to kill another human being.

  • http://thundersounds.blogspot.com/ slw

    Nat,
    The Bible does mandate the death penalty in Deut 19:13. We could well say that was under the OT economy, but the principles entailed there are upheld in Gen 9:6 and the Romans 13 passage apart from that economy. Society will crumble and is crumbling, IMHO, because we allow the shedding of innocent blood to go unavenged. We don’t need less capital punishment but more, and more speedily delivered. The warnings of Jeremiah in regard to the issue (shedding innocent blood) are germane and forceful.
    The point of the original post, which I find interesting, is that it cannot justly be applied to crimes other than to murder. Perhaps so, but I wonder what Joe would think about castration. I believe he doesn’t like what goes on in prisons anymore than I do.

  • Nick

    Just wanted to point out that for some reason, this discussion has, as yet, failed to deteriorate into partisan bickering between the right and left wings. Instead we have people seriously addressing the Scripture, discussing the practical strengths and shortcomings of our imperfect system of justice, and acknowledging that there can be legitimate disagreement.
    Carry on.

  • ucfengr

    7. The government properly has the ability to use the sword (Romans 13) – presumably to maintain order and to deter criminals – but does that mean it has the requirement to do so if other methods are just as effective and equally just?
    Romans 13 is very specific about why the government “has the ability to use the sword”:
    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.
    The government bears the sword to act as a “revenger to execute [God’s] wrath upon him that doeth evil.” It says nothing about maintaining order or deterring criminals, though I think that can be assumed, but it does specifically call out vengeance and wrath. Keep in mind that this is in the New Testament where the focus is ostensibly on love. Sometimes Christians forget that God is not just Jehovah Rophe (The Lord who heals), he is also Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord of righteousness).

  • ucfengr

    Just wanted to point out that for some reason, this discussion has, as yet, failed to deteriorate into partisan bickering between the right and left wings.
    What are you trying to do, jinx it?

  • ucfengr

    9. To have a death penalty requires that we have an executioner. To have an executioner requires that we, as a society, are asking an individual to kill another human being.
    Then, should we as Christians support the disarmament of our police forces, if not their dissolution? After all, sometimes preventing crime requires the use of deadly force. By having a police force aren’t we, as a society asking an individual to assume the risk of having to kill another human being? What about our military?

  • ex-preacher

    I think you may need to re-read the book you reviewed yesterday, Joe – Os Guiness’s “The Case for Civility.” In particular, read chapter 4: “Say No to the Sacred Public Square.” Guiness argues convincingly that Christians calling for laws based on the Bible’s teaching is no different than Muslims calling for Sharia law. We live in a pluralistic society in which the rationale for our laws is based on common interests and the use of reason.

  • http://thundersounds.blogspot.com/ slw

    ucfengr,
    Are you suggesting that we should have no problem killing a perpetrator after the fact if we (police or military) would have killed him if caught during commission?

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    ucfengr
    Then, should we as Christians support the disarmament of our police forces, if not their dissolution? After all, sometimes preventing crime requires the use of deadly force. By having a police force aren’t we, as a society asking an individual to assume the risk of having to kill another human being? What about our military?
    You’re dodging the argument. Military and police are given a duty to kill but to prevent killing. Yes we know that they will end up killing people in the course of their duty but that misses the point. A coal plant may kill a dozen people in a year both from accidents and pollution. That doesn’t make it equal to a person who laces a dozen cupcakes with arsenic.

  • ucfengr

    Are you suggesting that we should have no problem killing a perpetrator after the fact if we (police or military) would have killed him if caught during commission?
    No, I am asking whether or not Christians who oppose the death penalty on the basis of “Thou shalt not kill” can support a police department or military based on the probability that they will have to use deadly force in the performance of their duties.
    You’re dodging the argument.
    No, I am trying to find out where Christians who oppose the death penalty draw the line on “Thou shalt not kill”.
    A coal plant may kill a dozen people in a year both from accidents and pollution. That doesn’t make it equal to a person who laces a dozen cupcakes with arsenic.
    If we know that the coal plant will kill a dozen people a year, why isn’t it equal?

  • http://reasonablenuts.com Protagonist

    And I presume you’re also going to continue to refer to people who worry about the looming theocracy as “idiots” who should be ignored. Because there’s nothing in that that sounds like imposing specific sectarian religious beliefs on the general population as law, and enforcing them with the power of the state.
    The story of Noah is hardly specific or sectarian, but common to all three of the Abrahamic religions and found in the mythology of pre-monotheistic ancient world. Even more common in civilization is the basic sentiment of the ultimate crime deserving the ultimate punishment, common throughout most human history and only excepted to in the last 60 years in certain countries.
    Just because a sentiment is religious doesn’t mean that it isn’t also cultural, or even genetic in human civilization. The SOP of mankind has been to destroy the genes and memes of people who kill others for illogical reasons. It is a strange and dangerous experiment to now take the carriers of those genes and memes and give them 24-hour babysitting by the government with conjugal visits.
    Joe, the framework you establish in terms of this covenant versus that covenant seems dispensational in its outlook. Was that your intention?
    I was thinking the same thing, though I’m not someone who thinks dispensationalism is necessarily a dirty word. As a recent inductee to Messianic Judaism, I’ve had some occasion to consider the role of the Old Testament commandments to present-day believers.
    I’ve also had the occasion to (for the first time) read the Torah, even the technical chapters of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; and to read it as a Jew looking to study and uphold the Torah and not as a Christian mining for bible quotes.
    My final analysis: the Torah is set up to be virtually impossible or unbearably onerous to keep. Germane to the above topic are commandments to stone to death certain people, such as adulterous woman or your own rebellious children. It is notable that Jesus did not obey the former commandment, and told the story of the prodigal son in which the (protagonist) father did not obey the second commandment.
    What is commonly overlooked in the study of the Old Testament is that, sandwiched in between these commandments, are procedures for performing fasting and sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. If an Israelite made the proper sacrifices, fasted during Yom Kippur, etc., his failures to obey were forgiven in the same manner as a Christian believing in Jesus.
    After the coming and going of Jesus, the temple was destroyed and compliance with the Old Testament atonement ceremonies became impossible. The Torah was no longer a possible means of finding right-standing with God. Only by accepting Jesus as the atoning sacrifice would sin be forgiven. There was no going back.
    Nevertheless, the Torah is the thoughts of God. It conveys his standards of right and wrong for a human community. The severity of its punishments should not distract from the importance of its commandments and prohibitions. The Holy Spirit within Jew and Gentile believer alike pushes us to obey the Torah, or at least the intents of God in establishing the Torah.
    As to the present topic of discussion, God words and thoughts conveyed to us in the Torah– including pre-Mosaic covenants–tell us that intentional homicide is wrong and is to be punish with death by his community. We were never commanded otherwise in the New Testament, only that we should not seek personal revenge in a matter and that the state has a monopoly on revenge (as said in the Book of Romans cited above).

  • ucfengr

    No, I am asking whether or not Christians who oppose the death penalty on the basis of “Thou shalt not kill” can support a police department or military based on the probability that they will have to use deadly force in the performance of their duties.
    On reflection, I should also add on the basis of “loving our enemies”. If we, as Christians, base our opposition to the death penalty on “Thou shalt not kill” or “love you enemies”, how can we support a police force or military because of the likelihood that they will have to use deadly force in the performance of their duties?

  • ucfengr

    My final analysis: the Torah is set up to be virtually impossible or unbearably onerous to keep.
    This is a good point. When I think of keeping the Law, I tend to think of keeping the Commandments, but I hadn’t thought of the punishments. I would find it impossible to stone my wife if she committed adultery and I would find it impossible to do the same to my children for disobedience.

  • Nick

    On reflection, I should also add on the basis of “loving our enemies”. If we, as Christians, base our opposition to the death penalty on “Thou shalt not kill” or “love you enemies”, how can we support a police force or military because of the likelihood that they will have to use deadly force in the performance of their duties?
    I think that’s one reason behind the anabaptists’ historical withdrawal from participation in government. One way to harmonize God’s command that Christians love their enemies with the concept that the government bears the sword (e.g. Romans 13) is to say that Christians shouldn’t participate in the government. The government bearing the sword, then, becomes a way that God uses non-Christians to accomplish His will. It would be analagous to the way God used the enemies of Israel in the Old Testament to accomplish His will.
    Modern anabaptists finesse the relationship to government in various ways. Some refuse to vote, minimize their income so they don’t pay income taxes, and won’t call the police for help if robbed. Others will participate in government activities that aren’t directly linked to law enforcement or the military. Others accept policing but draw the line at the military.

  • ucfengr

    I think that’s one reason behind the anabaptists’ historical withdrawal from participation in government.
    True, but the number of Anabaptists is quite small, something like 1 million worldwide according to the Mennonite World Conference website. I doubt many of the people posting here are Anabaptists.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    If we know that the coal plant will kill a dozen people a year, why isn’t it equal?
    Because it is an unintentional by-product. There is nothing unintentional about deciding that Joe X shall be killed.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Matt I have always found it hard to love my enemies and forgive them (and turn the other cheek for that matter) while I’m killing them.
    Then you shouldn’t’ kill your enemies. ; )
    However, I certainly didn’t imply that we had a right to kill people. Taking the lives of murderers is a role for the state, not for the individual.
    The example of Jesus tells us that even after this in Genesis, Jesus has to come to earth to show us how the Old Testament laws just weren’t working.
    How do you square that with Matthew 5:17? ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
    The death penalty is NOT Christian. Forgiveness is.
    We don’t have a right to forgive an offense against God. Only God has that power.
    smmtheory Except that Genesis 9:6 is out of the bounds of the covenant between God and Man…
    I have to disagree with you there. The covenant text starts at 9:1 and ends at 9:17.
    Kevin And I presume you’re also going to continue to refer to people who worry about the looming theocracy as “idiots” who should be ignored.
    Indeed, I will. Talk about “theocracy” is a silly bogeyman.
    Because there’s nothing in that that sounds like imposing specific sectarian religious beliefs on the general population as law, and enforcing them with the power of the state.
    If you think I said anything remotely like that then you need to read the post again.
    Nick Except that it doesn’t include those details.
    I’m no theologian so I have to rely on Biblical expert on this point. But the way I interpreted the text is how the passage has historically been understood.
    Rev. Mike Joe, the framework you establish in terms of this covenant versus that covenant seems dispensational in its outlook. Was that your intention?
    Not at all. In fact, I thought the biggest disagreement would come from my dispensationalist friends.
    I don’t mean to pit one covenant against another for I think all OT covenants are “covenants of grace.”
    Nat Is your argument that the Bible allows capital punishment or that it mandates it?
    Great question. I would say that the Bible states that to do justice in the case of murder requires implementing capital punishment. But I don’t think that we can simply say “thus saith the Bible” and try to implement that as law.
    But if you are arguing that it mandates it, then you are indicting countries in Europe and elsewhere that have abolished the death penalty.
    Good point. And indeed, I am indicting those countries because they fail to implement justice. The standard for justice doesn’t change simply because they are secular countries. They can either be closer to the standard or further away. On this point, they have moved further away.
    I would argue that the higher way for any society is to abolish the death penalty.
    And I would argue just the opposite: they have taken the lower way for society by diminishing the worth of human life.
    Since we are talking about life and death, I think poor application is good enough reason to abolish it.
    Poor application is a good reason to apply it more justly, not a reason to abolish it.
    The obvious and most heinous one is when an innocent person is sent to death row. But a second unfairness is that even if the person is guilty of the crime, the death penalty is not applied consistently.
    I disagree with your second point. If a murderer is put to death for a crime he is guilty of then he received justice. It isn’t “unfair” to the executed murderer because he received a just penalty while someone else received a lesser punishment. What is unfair is that the other murderer did not receive justice. It would be absurd to compound the problem by saying that since not every murderer will receive his just punishment that we should not mete out justice at all.
    Your likelihood of receiving capital punishment is more closely associated with your race or economic status (and the quality of your legal representation) than it is to the actual crime.
    The only way that this is a problem is if innocent people are condemned. If they committed the murder then it doesn’t matter that some rich white guy got off easy. The real concern is that injustice is more likely to occur for victims of rich white people.
    Bob 1. Our application of justice is imperfect. This means there is the possibility that we will kill an innocent person. I believe that is an unacceptable risk for persons who value the sanctity of human life.
    Since God knows this, why did he issues the command?
    4. God did not require death…
    Yes, God did pardon certain people. Because he is the Ultimate Judge he has the authority to do that. The question for us is why we think we have the authority to shirk God’s command and pardon those who he has not?
    but does that mean it has the requirement to do so if other methods are just as effective and equally just?
    How are any other methods “equally just?” The standard of justice God set for murder is death. While non-Christians can dismiss that standard, we do not have that luxury.

  • smmtheory

    On reflection, I should also add on the basis of “loving our enemies”. If we, as Christians, base our opposition to the death penalty on “Thou shalt not kill” or “love you enemies”, how can we support a police force or military because of the likelihood that they will have to use deadly force in the performance of their duties?

    The reason we can support a police force and military when opposing the death penalty is on the basis of protecting the weaker members of society. We are morally obligated as a society to protect our neighbors. The likelihood that they (military or police) will have to use deadly force to do so does not abrogate that obligation. No matter how you look at a killing, it is always a moral wrong. Killing in self-defense or in the defense of another can be excused, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is morally wrong no matter how heinous or dangerous the killed person might have been. For the state to execute somebody is the equivalent of an individual performing pre-meditated murder, because the person being executed is under the control of the state at that point and no longer able to act in self-defense.

  • Marie

    1. “The problem with this approach is that the Law of Moses only applied to Israel.”
    Actually, they were commanded to kill every man, woman and child of many nations because of those nations’ sinfulness.
    So the death penalty was enacted on a huge scale upon non-Israelites.
    2. In re: forgiveness, since when does forgiving someone mean not punishing them at all? I forgive my son for lipping off. But I still take his cell phone away. To equate forgiveness with no consequences is ridiculous.
    3. Didn’t Jesus mention a millstone around a child destroyer’s neck, and that person being tossed into the sea?
    4. How sinful are we if we allow child rapists to continue to carry on? How many more children do they get to rape because we are so “forgiving?”
    Yes, they can be put in prison for life (is that merciful). They can pervert others in prison, too. They can also escape. They can also get compassionate releases. Etc.
    5. Faced with an imminent death due to his crimes, a child molester may be motivated to get right with God. They know they are doing the most terrible evil. Faced with 20-40 in prison, the motivation is not so strong.
    6. What about the victim and their loved ones? Where is the justice for them? Why must they get up each day knowing the monster is still roaming this earth? Can’t they even have the satisfaction of knowing that he can’t possibly harm anyone else ever again?
    The kindest thing to do, the most merciful, the most just, and indeed the most compassionate act, is the put a duly convicted child molester, or murderer, or violent kidnapper, to death.
    The innocent are best protected that way.

  • http://www.twoorthree.net seeker

    BOB: How are any other methods “equally just?” The standard of justice God set for murder is death.
    I agree with the poster who said that we can’t appeal to the bible as the authority in lawmaking, but upon common ethic. Yes, we can develop a biblical world view, and be motivated by the bible, but in the public arena, we must appeal, as much as possible, to common reason and ethic.
    HOWEVER, such subjective moorings often lead to eggregious errors, like thinking that life imprisonment is a just punishment for a murderer. It may be merciful, but it is not just in that it is not strictly equal – what would be equal would be to have the murderer killed in the same manner that he was killed. But I don’t think that the government wants to start officially dispensing justice in such heinous ways as some killers kill, so a fairly simple method like hanging, electrocution, firing squad, or injection seems just and clean.
    But, if we take for granted that capital punishment is NOT biblically mandated for rapists, or even allowed, what IS a just punishment, from a bibilcal or natural standpoint?
    – Castration (though this might not really reduce their predatory inclinations, it certainly is a punishment)
    – Life in prison (since the victim will be haunted for the rest of their lives by the incident?)
    – How about medically induced impotence? (since most rapists are men).

  • http://mattsipe.blogspot.com/ Matt

    Wow, lots of comments here. I haven’t been able to get back to this post until tonight and I’m behind in the discussion, so I will only respond to Martin, who was prompt to respond to me. In response to Martin:
    Matt, while sin is forgiven God never says there will not be consequences for our sin here on earth.
    Yes, you are right, but God does not say that it is our duty to judge and inflict those consequences. Please show me where it is my duty to do that as a Christian? I find these passages convincing: (Luke 6:37; Romans 2; Hebrews 10:30; James 4:12
    Sometimes a crime may be forgiven but it still carries a consequence.
    Since when are we Christians supposed to carry out the justice of God? Again, I find the scripture verses I quoted above to be convincing. God is the one to judge, not us. To deem if there is a consequence, we need to judge, and we are not called to be in that position.
    I believe the death penalty is right and just.
    One can make an argument for it being ‘right’ and ‘just’ but one cannot make an argument based on the Great Commandment: Love of God and love of neighbor (the sum of Christianity). I find being faithful to the Great Commandment to be better than being ‘right’ or ‘just’ to a government.
    If I am wrong, please explain to me how killing anyone fits into Matthew 22:36-40?

  • Chris Lutz

    Kevin T. Keith
    Because there’s nothing in that that sounds like imposing specific sectarian religious beliefs on the general population as law, and enforcing them with the power of the state.
    ex-preacher
    We live in a pluralistic society in which the rationale for our laws is based on common interests and the use of reason.
    Sorry, but you can’t claim that you are rational in your decision making just because you don’t use a religious basis. You are obviously basing your decisions on some manner of worldview that makes claims to certain truths just as religions do. It’s not a question of religion versus reason. It’s a question of worldview versus worldview.

  • http://mattsipe.blogspot.com/ Matt

    OK… one more. In response to Joe Carter:
    Taking the lives of murderers is a role for the state, not for the individual.
    And the state is not the church, and my first allegiance is to the calling of God in the church, not faithfulness to a state.
    How do you square that with Matthew 5:17? ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
    By reading the Great Commandment Matthew 22:36-40. Everything is wrapped up in loving God and loving neighbor. How does the death penalty fit into that?
    We don’t have a right to forgive an offense against God. Only God has that power.
    You are right, only God has the power to forgive sins, BUT that is not what I am talking about here. Certainly, the person who commits a sin should ask God for forgiveness, because that is the only place forgiveness of sins comes from. BUT–we also have the power to forgive those who trespass against us (remember the Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:9-15). We are called to forgive our enemies, not of their sins, but of their trespasses. Surely you don’t mean no one can ever offer forgiveness to anyone ever?

  • http://thundersounds.blogspot.com/ slw

    There has been a number of comments questioning how capital punishment can be seen as fulfilling the commandments to forgive and to love one’s neighbor, but I wonder how is it loving your neighbors to let their blood be spilt and go unrecompensed?

  • http://mattsipe.blogspot.com/ Matt

    slw,
    how is it loving your neighbors to let their blood be spilt and go unrecompensed?
    Well, you don’t just stand by passively watching (as you suggest). You do it by peacefully resisting and putting yourself in harms way [if need be] to protect another. That is the act of love. In fact, that is what we’re called to do:
    John 15.13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
    1 John 3.16: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
    Now, can you please answer my question? How does killing another person fit into the Great Commandment?

  • ucfengr

    And the state is not the church, and my first allegiance is to the calling of God in the church, not faithfulness to a state.
    But God gives the state a role and that is to praise those who do good and punish those who do punish evil. Again from Romans 13:3-4:

    “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.”

    By reading the Great Commandment Matthew 22:36-40. Everything is wrapped up in loving God and loving neighbor. How does the death penalty fit into that?
    God’s command that we as individuals love our neighbors does not negate his command that rulers execute his wrath on evildoers.
    BUT–we also have the power to forgive those who trespass against us (remember the Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:9-15). We are called to forgive our enemies, not of their sins, but of their trespasses. Surely you don’t mean no one can ever offer forgiveness to anyone ever?
    How does the victim of a murderer forgive the one who murdered him? He can’t because he’s dead. Are you assuming the authority to forgive the murderer in the murdered’s stead? Do you have the authority to forgive someone for an offense against another? No, of course not; only God has that authority. Also, our forgiveness of a murderer (or a child r*pist) does not excuse the authorities obligation to punish the evildoer. They are two separate spheres.

  • ucfengr

    How does killing another person fit into the Great Commandment?
    You are confusing individual Christian’s obligation to forgive with the government. Individual Christians and governments have different roles. Christians are called upon to spread the “Good News” and governments are called to punish evil and praise good. As a Christian, I see no contradiction in my duty to forgive personal offenses and my duty to support government’s command to punish (even up to death) evildoers as we are commanded in Romans 13.

  • http://mattsipe.blogspot.com/ Matt

    God’s command that we as individuals love our neighbors does not negate his command that rulers execute his wrath on evildoers.
    If the ruler is a Christian, yes it does. In order to know if someone deserves wrath, you have to make a judgment, and we are not called to do that. Only God can do that. It is stated in several places:
    Luke 6:37 – “‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven”
    Romans 2:1 – “2Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
    Hebrews 10:30 – “For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’”
    James 4:12 – “There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?”
    How does the victim of a murderer forgive the one who murdered him? He can’t because he’s dead. Are you assuming the authority to forgive the murderer in the murdered’s stead? Do you have the authority to forgive someone for an offense against another? No, of course not; only God has that authority. Also, our forgiveness of a murderer (or a child r*pist) does not excuse the authorities obligation to punish the evildoer. They are two separate spheres.
    So what you are saying is that no one can ever offer forgiveness to anyone ever. I find that to clearly be against what Jesus was saying in:
    Matthew 6:9-15 – “9“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. 14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

  • ucfengr

    So what you are saying is that no one can ever offer forgiveness to anyone ever.
    No, what I am saying is that the victim of a murderer can not offer forgiveness to his murderer, because he is dead. Dead men tell no tales and they also forgive no sins.
    If the ruler is a Christian, yes it does.
    So, what you are saying is that Romans 13 only applies to non-Christian rulers? Then realistically, a Christian ruler couldn’t even imprison a murderer because that passing judgment, and as you say, we aren’t allowed to do that. How does giving someone “20 to life” fit into the Great Commandment? The more I read your comments, the more I am convinced that I was right in my first comment, you really haven’t given much thought to this matter.

  • http://mattsipe.blogspot.com/ Matt

    So, what you are saying is that Romans 13 only applies to non-Christian rulers? Then realistically, a Christian ruler couldn’t even imprison a murderer because that passing judgment, and as you say, we aren’t allowed to do that. How does giving someone “20 to life” fit into the Great Commandment? The more I read your comments, the more I am convinced that I was right in my first comment, you really haven’t given much thought to this matter.
    Why do you put things in that I didn’t say. I NEVER SAID WE COULDN’T IMPRISON. I ONLY SAID WE COULDN’T KILL! The judgment I am speaking about is judging who lives and who dies. Are you the judge who gets to decide who lives and who dies? No…. only God is that judge.
    YOU really haven’t given this much thought, and learn how to follow an argument.

  • http://thundersounds.blogspot.com/ slw

    Matt,
    What kind of judgment is a finding of fact? Either someone did the dirty deed or he did not. Actions have consequences. Was Jesus was telling us we should not find or admit items of fact and deal with consequences, or was he speaking about qualitative judgments we are apt to make about the person. Making the one who has been found, in fact, to have committed murder face the consequence of that act is no different than giving a speeder a ticket when he’s been caught in a radar trap.

  • http://mattsipe.blogspot.com/ Matt

    ucfengr,
    As I read my last comments, they seem chippy. I don’t want this to go down the road of ad hominem, so I will stop now.
    You said: “you really haven’t given much thought to this matter.” This is an ad hominem attack. I responded with one back. Let’s please stick to the argument and not attack each other.
    For that, I am sorry.
    slw,
    What kind of judgment is a finding of fact? Either someone did the dirty deed or he did not. Actions have consequences. Was Jesus was telling us we should not find or admit items of fact and deal with consequences, or was he speaking about qualitative judgments we are apt to make about the person. Making the one who has been found, in fact, to have committed murder face the consequence of that act is no different than giving a speeder a ticket when he’s been caught in a radar trap.
    All I’m saying is: where does Jesus tell us Christians are able to make judgments about whether other people get to live or get to die?

  • http://thundersounds.blogspot.com/ slw

    Matt,
    Jesus never addressed the issue, the Holy Spirit did through the Apostle Paul in Romans 13. I appreciate the need to embrace forgiveness toward other people personally, but that does not keep government from its duty to execute the shedder of innocent blood. To ignore this, in light of God’s command to Joshua to slay the entire population of Canaanites, or through Moses, to have no pity on the manslayer, would be to in effect say the OT God is a different person from the NT one. Are you prepare to go there?

  • http://mattsipe.blogspot.com/ Matt

    To say that God works through governments is to say that when they kill people (anyone they deem bad, or anyone they convict) seems to justify unjust violence, especially in those governments that slaughter thousands of people.
    And how does this work in Iran, China, North Korea, Darfur, Argentina, Natzi Germany, Guantanimo Bay, Venezuela, South African Apartheid, U.S. racial discrimination, Tibet, Ethiopia… and on and on.
    Whenever they convict and kill, it’s God’s doing? How do you know which governments are from God and which ones are not? Are you prepared to go there?

  • ucfengr

    Why do you put things in that I didn’t say. I NEVER SAID WE COULDN’T IMPRISON. I ONLY SAID WE COULDN’T KILL!
    No, you said a Christian ruler couldn’t pass judgment; you didn’t limit it to life or death decisions. I quote “If the ruler is a Christian, yes it does. In order to know if someone deserves wrath, you have to make a judgment, and we are not called to do that. Only God can do that.” So, what you are saying is that the Romans 13 doesn’t apply to Christian rulers and that’s just silly. I will expand on this a bit later.

  • smmtheory

    So, what you are saying is that the Romans 13 doesn’t apply to Christian rulers and that’s just silly. I will expand on this a bit later.

    Actually, Romans 13 is more applicable to a Christian’s relationship to authority than it is to the just exercise of authority. In that regard, to use it as a justification for the death penalty is to take it out of context. That’s no more compelling than Joe’s use of Genesis 9:6 as justification for it. For the just and responsible use of authority you should appeal to Wisdom 6.

  • Nick

    ucfengr:
    True, but the number of Anabaptists is quite small, something like 1 million worldwide according to the Mennonite World Conference website. I doubt many of the people posting here are Anabaptists.
    True, but I took your question as an open one to the people commenting on this thread. When has a commenter here worried about whether most people agree with him/her before responding?
    As a Christian, I see no contradiction in my duty to forgive personal offenses and my duty to support government’s command to punish (even up to death) evildoers as we are commanded in Romans 13.
    That’s certainly the most common Christian response, but do you not see any tension at all in that distinction? I’m not sure it’s possible to draw a bright line between personal morality and state duties. Often, an evil doer will be both an enemy of the state (to be treated with wrath by the state) and a personal enemy (to be treated with love by the Christian). I assume we want to avoid an absurd situation where Christians only kill people who are not their enemies.
    I also disagree that we are commanded to punish evildoers in Romans 13. Read for context, Romans 12 and 13 describe how Christians should act (Romans 12) and then how Christians should respond to the ruler who bears the sword (Romans 13). The passage does not describe how Christians should be the ruling authorities or their agents.
    If you demonstrate elsewhere in the New Testament that Christians have a duty to serve as agents of God’s wrath, then perhaps you could interpret Romans 13 as a description of that duty. But, you can’t derive that duty from Romans 13 itself. In the absence of a clear indication that Christians should serve as agents of wrath, the behavior commanded in Romans 12 would seem to preclude Christians from being the ruler who bears the sword in Romans 13.

  • http://mattsipe.blogspot.com/ Matt

    ucfengr:
    No, you said a Christian ruler couldn’t pass judgment; you didn’t limit it to life or death decisions. I quote “If the ruler is a Christian, yes it does. In order to know if someone deserves wrath, you have to make a judgment, and we are not called to do that. Only God can do that.”
    Right, we can’t pass judgment about a person’s life. The debate is about the death penalty, not sentencing or prison. I have always been talking about death, and nothing else. What you quote me as saying above applies to the death penalty, because that is the discussion we are having. If we want to talk about sentencing and such, that seems to be a different discussion.
    In order to put someone to death, we need to be able to judge a person’s life. As Christians, we are not able to do that. Only God can make judgments about the lives of humans.
    So, what you are saying is that the Romans 13 doesn’t apply to Christian rulers and that’s just silly. I will expand on this a bit later.
    That is exactly what I am saying. I don’t have time to lay out the argument here. Many have, and others here are pointing to it. We need to read Romans 12 & 13 together.
    Some highlights from Romans 12:

    • “present your bodies as a living sacrifice”
    • “Do not repay anyone evil for evil”
    • “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”
    • “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
    • “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

    Many others have refuted the Romans 13 mantra. For a through discussion, see John Howard Yoder The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eedrmans, 1994), pp.193-211

  • http://thundersounds.blogspot.com/ slw

    Matt,
    In order to put someone to death, we need to be able to judge a person’s life. As Christians, we are not able to do that. Only God can make judgments about the lives of humans.
    How you make that leap is beyond me. The death penalty for murder is the God-given consequence for an action. The only judgment necessary is one of fact. If you take issue with our ability to judge such facts, that’s one thing, to have some kind of emotional reversion to judging a murderer as “bad” is another.

  • http://www.twoorthree.net seeker
  • smmtheory

    smmtheory Except that Genesis 9:6 is out of the bounds of the covenant between God and Man…
    I have to disagree with you there. The covenant text starts at 9:1 and ends at 9:17.

    In every contract there is supporting language. If as you point out, the text that covers the covenant is comprised of verses 1 through 17 (as opposed to 8-17), verse 6 is a supporting clause (most likely part of the specification of why the convenant is being made between God and Man), not the actual agreement. The actual agreement (verse 11) is reiterated and clarified in verses 15 through 17 which mention nothing about what might be the supporting clause in verse 6.

  • http://www.twoorthree.net/ seeker

    MATT: And the state is not the church, and my first allegiance is to the calling of God in the church, not faithfulness to a state.
    Not to quibble, but your first allegiance is to Christ and his priorities. Yes, the church is one of his highest priorities, but I think that we should be following both his Great Commission and his restatement of the law in the Great Commandment, i.e. “love god and your neighbor” and “preach the gospel AND *teach them* all I have commanded you.”
    We are to do more than just love one another and preach the gospel (the first half of the great commission) – we are to teach them how to live biblically (the second half of the great commission) in all areas of life, which includes Biblical principles of civil government.
    Note that, while principles of mercy and justice exist for both individual interactions and civil institutions, I don’t think that they are, biblically speaking, identical.
    For example, the bible condemns vigilante justice, but commands civil justice. With that in mind, I think it is improper to apply such scriptures as ‘turn the other cheek’ or ‘mercy triumphs over judgment’, which arguably apply ONLY to personal interaction, to civil actions.
    It is clear that Paul understood that the civil authorities are anointed by God to execute justice, not primarily mercy.

  • ucfengr

    Right, we can’t pass judgment about a person’s life. The debate is about the death penalty, not sentencing or prison.
    No, right now the debate is about passing judgment. You seem to want to make a distinction between passing judgment on a person’s actions and sentencing him to death and passing judgment on a person’s actions and sentencing him to life imprisonment (aka the Death Penalty on the Installment Plan). I don’t see a difference. It still requires passing judgment on a person; something you say Christians aren’t allowed to do.
    That is exactly what I am saying [that Christian rulers aren’t bound by Romans 13]. I don’t have time to lay out the argument here. Many have, and others here are pointing to it. We need to read Romans 12 & 13 together.
    So essentially you are trying to make the argument that God trusts non-Christian rulers to act as “minister[s] of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil”, but not Christian rulers. That’s just silly.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/intellectuelle Bonnie

    Joe, why would a non-Christian have the luxury of dismissing God’s standard of justice any more than a Christian would? Do we not all answer to the same God, “Christian” or not? Why would the earthly standard be any different than the heavenly one?

  • ucfengr

    To say that God works through governments is to say that when they kill people (anyone they deem bad, or anyone they convict) seems to justify unjust violence, especially in those governments that slaughter thousands of people….
    Are you saying that God is not sovereign, Matt? That things happen outside the Will of God? Does not Romans 8:28 say “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”? Notice it doesn’t say ‘only the things Matt approves of work together for good’, it say “all things”. That means the Holocaust, Darfur, slavery, everything. God is sovereign; nothing happens outside His will.
    I also disagree that we are commanded to punish evildoers in Romans 13. Read for context, Romans 12 and 13 describe how Christians should act (Romans 12) and then how Christians should respond to the ruler who bears the sword (Romans 13). The passage does not describe how Christians should be the ruling authorities or their agents.

    I disagree Nick. Romans 13 does not draw a distinction between Christian and non-Christian rulers. For you to assume it does is to assume that when Paul was inspired by God to write Romans he was unable to foresee a time when Christians might be called to be rulers. I think that is an invalid assumption.

  • Nick

    Romans 13 does not draw a distinction between Christian and non-Christian rulers. For you to assume it does is to assume that when Paul was inspired by God to write Romans he was unable to foresee a time when Christians might be called to be rulers. I think that is an invalid assumption.
    One possibility, of course, is that Paul didn’t draw a distinction because Christians aren’t called to be rulers or agents of God’s wrath. But really, I think it’s more likely that Paul didn’t make an explicit distinction because he isn’t addressing the rulers in that passage. It’s clear that his audience and the ruling authorities are non-overlapping categories. Whether or not Christians might be rulers some day in the future is not Paul’s focus, and to use the passage as some sort of proof text for the responsibilities of a Christian ruler is to take it way out of context.
    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, because I find your argument as unpersuasive as you apparently find mine!

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Matt,
    Your argument that the death penalty is in any way immoral is ludicrous. If the state has no exception in the Bible in this area, then it has no other exceptions that allow it to do what it does. If we follow your argument to its conclusion:
    Arrests are kidnapping.
    Taxation is armed robbery.
    Eminent domain is extortion.
    By advocating that police can ever justify arresting people, by your argument, you are saying that a Christian is justify the kidnapping of someone. Who cares why the cop wants to arrest them, just like who cares why the state wants to execute someone.
    You are right, you can’t kill someone while forgiving them. On the other hand, you are not the government, no matter how much propaganda you have been given by public school civics classes on how “we the people are the government,” therefore this does not apply to you.

  • Gene

    Topic already done much better at Boundless Line.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    In order to put someone to death, we need to be able to judge a person’s life. As Christians, we are not able to do that. Only God can make judgments about the lives of humans.

    All crimes require this, if you honestly believe this. Can you honestly tell me that if you sit on a jury for a thief you are “judging their life” any less than when you do so for a murderer in a case where the prosecutor is seeking execution? Of course you can’t because the fundamental principle is the same in either case.

  • ucfengr

    One possibility, of course, is that Paul didn’t draw a distinction because Christians aren’t called to be rulers or agents of God’s wrath.
    So, are you saying that no Christians have ever been rulers or served in the military or police, or that any Christians that have been rulers or served in the military or police have been acting against the God’s Sovereign Will?

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Bonnie Joe, why would a non-Christian have the luxury of dismissing God’s standard of justice any more than a Christian would?
    I only meant that they can dismiss God’s standard for justice and still be consistent with their own worldview. Of course they will have to answer for their decision just as Christians will. But my point is merely that we don’t even have a pretense of an excuse for not being obedient.

  • Rob

    If the Bible is subject to such wildly disparate interpretations it hardly seems useful as a guide.

  • http://www.dailyduck.blogspot.com Robert Duquette

    A secularist would have no moral like to draw to prevent the capital execution of a child rapist let alone curtailing a multitude of liberties.
    Nonsense. Please stop dealing with strawmen, and get out and meet some real secularists. I’m one, and I’d pull the switch on a child rapist in a heartbeat.
    Personally, I believe that the Bible not only should be our primary guide on such questions but that it also provides sufficient answers. I also believe that we should not rely on the three primary justifications given for the death penalty — deterrence, protection of society, and retribution — but should instead advocate for the Biblical model of justice.
    Except that, as this tread clearly shows, the Bible is as useless in giving guidance in this matter as is the Minneapolis Yellow Pages. Let your fingers do the walking and you’ll find the justification that you’re looking for.
    Murder is a crime by a human against another human. It is a purely human concern. God can take care of himself. Only humans can implement justice for humans, because God won’t. Human history is as clear a record of that reality as you can ask for.
    We execute murderers not because we devalue human life but because we value it above all else. A just society is a covenant among its members to pursue justice for each and every member of that society. We show how much we value each member of society by what price we will extract for any injustices perpetrated against them. Murder is the ultimate injustice, and we should extract the ultimate price for it. To set a lower price is to cheapen human life and human dignity. You cannot obtain justice at a discount.
    Dennis Prager offers the most lucid defense of capital punishment that I have read. Note: no Biblical references required.

  • smmtheory

    Are you saying that God is not sovereign, Matt? That things happen outside the Will of God? Does not Romans 8:28 say “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”? Notice it doesn’t say ‘only the things Matt approves of work together for good’, it say “all things”. That means the Holocaust, Darfur, slavery, everything. God is sovereign; nothing happens outside His will.

    Doesn’t this kind of conflict with your view on free will?

  • ucfengr

    Doesn’t this kind of conflict with your view on free will?
    I don’t think so. It’s possible that it does, but the discussion required would be beyond the scope of this post and more than I want to go into right now.

  • someotherdude

    Ephesians 2:1-5
    Ephesians 4:18
    I John 5:12
    It seems God has already killed many sinners. They walk among us.
    How you guys want to give the State power to act as God in all situations is beyond me. It proves that many Christians confuse their own personal feelings of disgust and revenge with God’s justice, and will have The State do all kinds of evil in the name of God. God certainly told the Israelites to commit all kinds of mass death and destructions on other peoples, the fact that you believe that gives you the right to do the same shows how degenerate and relativistic many of you have become.

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