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What the Bible says about Capital Punishment
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 9:5

Some people vehemently oppose capital punishment for murderers. They view it as nothing more than legalized murder committed by the state and a punishment that has no deterrent effect. But how does God, who should be our final authority, weigh in on this matter? His instruction to Noah, upon leaving the ark following the Flood, covers Genesis 8:15Genesis 9:17, part of which involves governments of men: "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man" (Genesis 9:5).

Although man has a moral responsibility to God—"render . . . to God the things that are God's"—we must also give a reckoning to men—"render . . . to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21). God has thus delegated to human governments certain areas of His authority in which man obeys God through subjection to his fellow men. God instituted human government to regulate the corporate relationship of man to man, and this includes the authority to take life as punishment for crimes involving murder.

One of the highest responsibilities of government is the protection of life. From this commitment to protect the lives of the innocent arises the very serious responsibility of capital punishment. Humans are not only commanded not to murder, but they are also not to avenge murder. That responsibility falls on the state.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)

Exodus 21:12-14

God makes provision for an accidental or carelessly caused death. Yet if the murder was premeditated, the state executed the murderer. It made no determination of his sanity. Of course he was insane! Ascertaining a person's sanity in no way alleviates the loss to the victim's family or pays the murderer's debt to society. Capital punishment at least gives a sense of justice done and supplies a measure of deterrent if it is swiftly, consistently, and fairly administered.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)

Exodus 21:15

Physically striking or verbally abusing a parent is no different to God than murder. They are capital crimes worthy of death!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

We can dishonor our parents through stubbornness, mocking, scorning, angrily talking back to them, thievery, and violence. These will eventually be punished by death, shame, disgrace, darkness of understanding (ignorance), and destruction. Through greedy human reasoning, the Pharisees encouraged financial neglect of parents to increase the riches of the treasury, a hypocrisy Jesus condemned (Matthew 15:3-9; Mark 7:6-13).

Martin G. Collins
The Fifth Commandment

Proverbs 18:9

Could we picture ourselves strapping on a bomb under our coats, walking into a crowded shopping mall, and blowing ourselves to smithereens along with several hundred innocent victims? Could we imagine ourselves as hostage takers, poised with a scimitar to decapitate a helpless prisoner? Could we picture ourselves cowardly donning ski masks and kidnapping women and children to use as human shields to accomplish our sinister objectives?

Most of us would loathe having to perform what these disgusting images portray, yet amazingly, we may have unwittingly brought such a judgment upon ourselves. Proverbs 18:9 reveals that the slothful or lazy man "is a brother to him who is a great destroyer." In other words, the sluggard or lackadaisical person is just as culpable in the act of destruction as one who ignites a car bomb.

The word "destroyer" in this scripture is from the Hebrew mashchiyth (Strong's #4889) whose verb, shachath (Strong's #7843), denotes "to corrupt, spoil, ruin, mar, destroy." This verb appears 150 times in the Old Testament, and mashchiyth, twelve times, including describing the angel of death, "the destroyer," that God sent to devastate Egypt's firstborn (Exodus 12:23).

Sin and evil have an active and a passive component, often referred to as "sins of commission" and "sins of omission." Interestingly, the first two of the capital sins listed in Revelation 21:8, "cowardly" and "unbelieving," are sins of omission calling for execution in the Lake of Fire. Likewise, Jesus warns in Luke 9:61 of the person who begins the conversion process but then reconsiders: "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).

As much as we may think to the contrary, passivity and neglect can destroy as thoroughly as active terrorism or militant aggression.

David F. Maas
Could You Be a Spiritual Terrorist?

John 8:10-11

Consider that this woman caught in adultery is indeed an obviously sinful woman; she had a reputation as a loose woman. The Pharisees had caught her in the very act of cheating on her husband, and that was probably only one of her many sins. We would likely not be wrong in calling her a wicked woman.

In every way opposite to her is Jesus Christ, sinless and perfect. The Pharisees, themselves sinful, attempt to force Him, a Man of unimpeachable character, to condemn a sinner—to them, a foregone conclusion: "And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" (John 8:3-5). However, Jesus' approach to the situation is poles apart; His reaction and attitude throughout this vignette is completely contrary to that of the Pharisees.

In their reading of the Old Testament law concerning the punishment for adultery (Leviticus 20:10-11; Deuteronomy 22:22), this was an open-and-shut case: The woman had been caught in the act, they had two or three witnesses, the law was clear, so there should be a stoning! This appears to be unequivocal. The law does indeed prescribe the death sentence by stoning. What more proof does Jesus need?

Despite everything weighing against the woman, Jesus approaches the matter differently. He clearly understands that the woman had sinned. He realizes there were witnesses to that effect. He knows the law and the penalty, but He does not leap to a verdict of condemnation.

Recall that, for some time, He does nothing but write on the ground (John 8:6). He lets the matter simmer. While the carnal Pharisees agitate for answers and demand action, Jesus patiently waits. God works with us in the same way. We can become infuriated when God fails to answer us immediately after we say, "Amen," but giving us time for things to work out is a consistent pattern with Him. We can be certain that He does this when we are accused before Him, even when we are guilty as charged, as the remainder of the passage in John 8 shows.

Because we are so familiar with the character of Jesus, we can appreciate how shocking His statement in John 8:11 is: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." One would expect a just God to say, "This is the law. This is your infraction, so this is your punishment." But we understand that God is love and that He is gracious and merciful, so when He does not say, "I condemn you to be stoned," we tend to pass over it without thinking.

However, first-century Jews would have been astounded to hear such a thing! They may have been the most judgmental people who have ever lived on the face of the earth. One little infraction of the law was enough to condemn a person. Excommunication was so common a practice that people stood in great fear of the Pharisees (see John 9:22). What Jesus says was a radical concept, one that contradicted everything they had been taught.

Moreover, Jesus had every right—as God in the flesh, to whom the Father had committed all judgment (John 5:22)—to condemn her to death, but He shows mercy. He does not react in anger to reinforce how bad her sin was. He does not even preach at her. He simply commands her not to sin like this anymore, and He lets her go to work it out for herself.

However, He does not pass up an opportunity to teach the crowd: "Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12). He teaches that He, being that Light, has given us an example to follow in situations like this. A sinner condemned to die produces nothing. Only with further life and light will he or she have the chance to repent and grow in character.

That is how God works with us, and are we not happy that He reacts to our sins with patience and mercy? So we should forbear with our brethren (Colossians 3:12-13).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh

Romans 13:1-5

These New Testament verses agree with Genesis 9 that human governmental authority derives from God. A purpose of human government is to keep chaos from developing. Paul does not specifically stipulate the extent of the wrath that human governments use to keep order, but his mention of "sword" indicates its use as an instrument of capital punishment.

Within God's purpose, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). A person practicing sin earns death by his conduct. A difference between this and capital punishment is that God executes directly. Although He has given governments the authority to take life to preserve order—in conjunction with the testimony of at least two witnesses—He has never extended the same right to an individual.

God is the source of life, and He alone, or those to whom He delegates it, may take it. Of all of God's physical creations, only man has a mind capable of becoming like God's. God gave man dominion, but to rule properly requires character, wisdom, and understanding. The building of these requires experience, and gaining experience requires time.

Several of the Bible's writers comment on the brevity of a man's life. When a person's life ends prematurely by murder, or even accidentally, it at least interrupts, or in some cases, ends God's great gift. No puny man has the right to take it upon himself to interfere with the continuation of God's great gift to another. If a man does this, he will pay a terrible price.

Capital punishment, consistently and fairly administered, will deter murder. However, capital punishment is an after-the-fact deterrent. Jesus preached a much more effective deterrent in His Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not murder," and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, "Raca!" shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, "You fool!" shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)

It is essential to understand that Jesus did not do away with laws, but brought to completion the laws that already existed. Likewise, He did not do away with the Old Testament death penalty principles, which act as guides to civil governments. Jesus was a pioneer, not a revolutionary. A revolutionary seeks to destroy the existing order and places himself above conventional standards. A pioneer accepts the restraints laid upon him and moves forward.

Men's governments deal with the end of the act, Christ deals with the beginning. Jesus changed the law's restraint from the act to the motive. For the Christian, merely abstaining from the act is not sufficient. Jesus imposes the positive obligation of the spirit of the law on him. He seeks to prevent crimes of violence by rooting out the attitudes and drives in a person's character that make him kill. The New Covenant law searches the heart without doing away with the Old Covenant letter.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)


Find more Bible verses about Capital punishment:
Capital punishment {Nave's}
 




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