Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Bible and Capital Punishment

The Bible and the Ballot Box 2

If we want to be faithful followers of Jesus, we have to let our faith inform every aspect of our lives – not just what we do on Sunday. Nowhere is this more important than how we, as citizens of a republic, let our faith shape how we vote and otherwise influence our government.

Few political issues cause as heated arguments between Christians as capital punishment. Both sides argue from the Bible. Both sides approach the issue with a great deal of passion. I have no illusions about changing anyone’s position, but there is one side in this debate that commonly calls the other’s compassion and devotion to Christ into question. My goal is to convince that group – those opposed to the death penalty – that the other side is making a reasonable and biblically acceptable stand.

The Mosaic Mandate
We should start this discussion by addressing the elephant in the corner:

“If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death” (Lev 24:17).

The Mosaic Covenant required the death penalty for quite a few offenses. Yet none of us really wants to start imposing capital punishment on rebellious children – well, occasionally, but I get over it quickly. How can we use the Law to impose the death penalty for murder but not cursing your parents, adultery, or Sabbath breaking? We can’t. That’s ok, because we are not part of that covenant – and praise God!

But we can take two important concepts from Moses. First, capital punishment is not murder. The same God who said, “Do not murder,” also prescribed death as the punishment for many crimes including murder. There is a difference. That doesn’t mean we have to employ it, but the death penalty is obviously not murder.

The second thing we take from the Law, and related to the first, is, since God instituted the death penalty, capital punishment is not inherently immoral. Too often liberals have said just the opposite, but liberal Christians cannot make that statement without impugning the Almighty Himself.

The Noahic Covenant
Long before Moses, God gave a command to Noah:

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

Many have framed their argument against the death penalty around the inherent dignity and value of all human life. Here we see God using the same basis for the institution of capital punishment. He says, because human life is so valuable, the appropriate punishment for taking a life is to forfeit your own.

This passage is also in the Old Testament, but we cannot cast this aside as easily. The Mosaic Covenant was binding on the nation of Israel. This is clearly presented as a universal statement. And if this no longer applies to us, does God’s promise to never again wipe out humanity with a flood (v 8-11) also expire?

The Roman Rulers
If the OT were the sole support of capital punishment, those who oppose it on biblical grounds would have a better case. The truth is, though, the NT specifically mentions capital punishment:

“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong … if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:3-4).

The sword only serves one function. If this is not talking about capital punishment, what can mean?

This passage is more striking when you look at the preceding paragraph:

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (12:19).

Leave room for God’s wrath. The ruler is an agent of God’s wrath.

Forgiveness on the Mount
There is one other elephant in the room. Jesus, in fact the whole NT, has a lot to say about forgiveness and revenge:

“But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt 5:39).

I think when Jesus told us to forgive and not take revenge, He meant exactly what He said. But He didn’t mean anything more than what He said.

Jesus tells us how to live life as a subject of His kingdom. But His commands do not tell us how to run a country. As a matter of fact, if you run a criminal justice system according to this principle, you cease to have a criminal justice system.

As Greg Koukl has pointed out, if we can’t give someone the death penalty because “Jesus would forgive,” we also can’t give them life in prison. We can’t give them five years, five days, or five minutes in prison. We can’t even give them a $5 fine. We have to forgive. If Jesus didn’t mean that we can’t have any criminal punishments, then He didn’t mean we can’t use the death penalty.

The Silent Church Fathers
My final appeal will be, again, to tradition. If Jesus’ instructions to forgive require discontinuing capital punishment, we should expect the early church fathers to mention that. They took Jesus’ commands on this topic very seriously – even to the point of a radical pacifism.

The fact is they didn’t talk about this much. The only references I could find to the death penalty in the first couple of centuries of the church were from Tertullian who complained about unjust application of it to Christians but seemed to assume it was a legitimate punishment in the state’s arsenal.

So What?
In an earlier piece I said you shouldn’t vote for someone who holds a position you are convinced is recklessly immoral. But I also don’t think you should reject someone for a carefully considered position you disagree with.

I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind about supporting capital punishment here. In truth, you can be a conservative and reject capital punishment, or you can believe it should be used sparingly. You can reject it as no longer necessary or as an overly dangerous tool in our flawed legal system. I find it justifiable and occasionally necessary but in dire need of serious reform.

The question is not whether you can support capital punishment. The question is whether you can see how a reasonable person could believe that capital punishment is acceptable biblically. If you can do that, then this is not an issue that should drive you away from voting for a candidate.

The next Bible and the Ballot Box will enter into the always-unpleasant battle over abortion.

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Related:
The Bible and the Ballot Box 1: Helping the Poor Biblically
Politics, Religion, and Brotherly Love
Voting for Candidates You Disagree With
Capital Punishment Reform
Immigration Reform and Christianity
Christianity and the Environment: 7 Principles
7 Principles and 1 Hot Topic

14 comments:

Shane Vander Hart said...

Chris,

Well thought out argument! I'm going to link to this when I do my next "Twenty Items of Interest" posts.

Vinny said...

A few years back, I was listening to a Christian radio station in my car and some pastor cited the same verses you cite to show that capital punishment could be supported from the New Testament. He said “Paul could not have been any more clear.” When I got home, I pulled out my Bible to read it for myself and I thought, “If it was Paul’s intention to endorse the death penalty, I don’t really think he could have been much less clear.” Why can’t the sword in Romans 13 simply be read as symbolic of the state’s authority to punish criminals? After all, most Christians don’t believe that Proverbs 13 requires them to use an actual rod to whack their children. Why should they believe that Romans 13 requires a literal sword and literal bloodshed?

It seems to me that you evangelicals do a lot of cherry picking when it comes to the Old Testament. For example, the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for blasphemy, adultery, homosexuality, witchcraft, and disrespect for parents. Moreover, it prescribes stoning and burning as appropriate methods of capital punishment. Why should I accept that the Old Testament establishes the inherent morality of the death penalty without also accepting that it establishes the crimes to which it should be applied and the methods by which it should be carried out?

Wickle said...

You have a very good argument here.

For my own part, I haven't really got a firm grasp on the Biblical answer, yet. Right now, I'm not (completely) philosophically opposed to capital punishment, though I'm leaning that direction.

I'm against it because we have a court system that awards millions of dollars to people who spill coffee on themselves. I'm not sure that I trust juries with people's lives.

However, I think that you made a great argument.

ChrisB said...

Vinny,

I don't think it's fair to say Paul couldn't have been less clear. Why should the sword be symbolic? The Roman use of the sword in a judicial/criminal sense was for capital punishment. There is no justification for reading that as "symbolic" unless you're determined to do so.

"Why should they believe that Romans 13 requires a literal sword and literal bloodshed?"
Not require, but permit certainly.

Why should I accept that the Old Testament establishes the inherent morality of the death penalty without also accepting that it establishes the crimes to which it should be applied...

This piece is obviously aimed in-house. I'm not going to make these arguments to non-believers. To believers, I remind them that we can, and do, take principles from the OT law even though we believe it does not apply to us.

We appeal to ideas from the Magna Carta, even though it doesn't apply to us. We point to ideals in the Declaration of Independence even though it is not binding law.

Christians believe that the OT law reveals God's nature and character even though it is not meant for us.

Wickle,I have a lot of issues with our court system. I linked to an earlier piece on reforming capital punishmet you might find interesting.

But I'm not really trying to convince you to support the death penalty. I'm trying to convince you that you can, in good conscience, vote for someone who does.

Shane, thanks I'd appreciate the link.

Vinny said...

I think the sword should be viewed as symbolic because the passage deals with the general obligation of the Christians in Rome to obey the laws of the Roman state including the payment of taxes. Since most of those laws would not have involved capital offenses, I think the sword makes more sense as a generalized symbol of the state’s power to punish rather than its specific right to impose the death penalty. In fact, if it were to impose the death on one of those Christians, it would be as likely to do so by crucifying him or throwing him to the lions as by any method involving a sword. I don’t think Paul is endorsing any specific punishment scheme any more than he is endorsing any specific tax scheme.

nancy (aka money coach) said...

You said it yourself: "if we forgive, we no longer have a criminal justice system".

Jeremy Pierce said...

Vinny, the argument is that if God gave the Torah, and if God endorses something even for a time in the Torah, then it is not immoral. Evangelicals will accept that, and it requires no cherry-picking. Evangelicals will have to say that it's not immoral to impose the death penalty for disobeying parents. I wholeheartedly endorse that claim. All human beings are fallen and deserve much worse than death from this life. So it's not remotely immoral to give death in this life for simply having a sin nature, even if the only actual sins that get committed seem relatively minor in comparison with some that others commit. This is in fact a crucial component of the Christian response to the problem of evil. So I don't think your accusation is fair at all. You're acting as if evangelicals don't say something that evangelicals have insisted on.

I think you've also misrepresented the argument in the post. The conclusion isn't that the Bible shows that the death penalty is moral. It may not be moral in every context, as far as the Bible is concerned. What it shows is that if you accept the Bible as authoritative then you have to accept that the death penalty isn't in principle immoral. That leaves plenty of room for the Roman Catholic position, for instance, that the death penalty is totally inappropriate for the world in its current stance or for the more moderate stance many evangelicals hold, that the death penalty needs serious reform before its practice is moral but that it can be done in the current context. But it also leaves room for the view that it's immoral not to have a death penalty, which is my own view and one that I think is very hard to resist given Genesis 9, which seems to me to endorse a view in many ways similar to Kantian retributivism (which I find compelling philosophically as well).

As for Romans 13, in context the issue Paul is talking about very clearly involves order in society and justice, and it very clearly involves the use of violence. If it doesn't involve the death penalty, it does clearly involve the use of force to bring people to justice, and that can always result in death. So it at least endorses government use of force in a way that won't fit with the pacifist use of the Sermon on the Mount to pretend that Jesus was a pacifist.

dudleysharp said...

Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
 
Religious positions in favor of capital punishment are neither necessary not needed to justify that sanction. However, the biblical and theological record is very supportive of the death penalty.
 
Many of the current religious campaigns against the death penalty reflect a fairly standard anti death penalty message, routed in secular arguments. When they do address  religious issues, they often neglect solid theological foundations, choosing, instead, select biblical sound bites which do not impact the solid basis of death penalty support.

The strength of the biblical, theological and traditional support for the death penalty is, partially, revealed, below.
 
Some references:
 
(1)"The Death Penalty", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, by Romano Amerio, 
 
Thoughtful deconstruction of current Roman Catholic teaching on capital punishment by a faithful Catholic Vatican insider and expert theologian.
 
http://www.domid.blogspot.com/2007/05/amerio-on-capital-punishment.html
titled "Amerio on capital punishment "Friday, May 25, 2007 
 
 (2)  "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at http://www.homicidesurvivors.com/2006/10/12/catholic-and-other-christian-references-support-for-the-death-penalty.aspx

 
 (3)  "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective", by Emmanuel Valenza (Br. Augustine) at
http://www.sspx.org/against_the_sound_bites/capital_punishment.htm
 
 
(4) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 200
http://www.st-joseph-foundation.org/newsletter/lead.php?document=2003/21-4
 

(5) "MOST CATHOLICS OPPOSE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT?", KARL KEATING'S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers, March 2, 2004
http://www.catholic.com/newsletters/kke_040302.asp
 
 
(6) "THOUGHTS ON THE BISHOPS' MEETING: NOWADAYS, VOTERS IGNORE BISHOPS" , KARL KEATING'S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers,, Nov. 22, 2005
http://www.catholic.com/newsletters/kke_051122.asp


(7) "God’s Justice and Ours" by Antonin Scalia, First Things, 5/2002
http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2022

 
(8)  "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).
 

(9) "The Death Penalty", by Solange Strong Hertz at
http://ourworld.compuserve.com/HOMEPAGES/REMNANT/death2.htm
 

(10) "Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says", Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Abingdon Press, 1987. The definitive biblical review of the death penalty.

copyright 1999-2008 Dudley Sharp

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
 
Pro death penalty sites 

homicidesurvivors(dot)com/categories/Dudley%20Sharp%20-%20Justice%20Matters.aspx

www(dot)dpinfo.com
www(dot)cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
www(dot)clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
www(dot)coastda.com/archives.html
www(dot)lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
www(dot)prodeathpenalty.com
www(dot)yesdeathpenalty.com/deathpenalty_co
yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2 (Sweden)
www(dot)wesleylowe.com/cp.html

Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.

Vinny said...

Jeremy,

If the morality of capital punishment in Leviticus rests on the fact that God, in His infinite holiness, would be completely justified in imposing the death penalty on any human being at any time whatsoever, then it does not seem that Leviticus provides us with any guidance towards making principled decisions about when, if ever, we should impose it if ever. God, in his infinite wisdom, decided to make certain transgressions punishable by stoning or burning, to serve his own unique purposes with his chosen people at a particular time in history. Without understanding his reasons and purposes, I don’t think that we can claim that our imposition of the death penalty in any particular case is somehow in accord with God’s will as revealed in Leviticus. I think it is cherry picking to suppose that we can isolate any specific principle from His overall scheme and claim that our application of the death penalty is somehow consistent with the law as revealed in the Torah.

I am not sure what the heck is going on in Genesis 9. The fourth verse addresses the consumption of meat that still has blood in it and the accounting demanded for the life of a man is equated to the accounting that is demanded for animals. I am not sure how Kantian that is.

I agree with your interpretation of Romans 13. However, our law enforcement officers carry guns, tasers, and night sticks and they use force to subdue suspects and bring them to justice. This force can sometimes cause fatal injuries, but it does not implicate the death penalty.

My personal opinion is that capital punishment is a waste of money. It is much cheaper to jail the criminal for life than to go through all the appeals that are involved in capital cases. Given the error rate of juries and prosecutors, I cannot imagine any system that would provide adequate assurances of guilt that would not be every bit as expensive as the flawed system we have now.

ChrisB said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to y'all. Busy week.

Vinny said: if it were to impose the death on one of those Christians, it would be as likely to do so by crucifying him or throwing him to the lions as by any method involving a sword.

Remember that this passage was written to Romans. Now, all were not citizens, but many no doubt were, and they, like Paul, would have been beheaded, not crucified.

I don't think you can say that Paul's promoting any particular form of punishment, but it is clear that capital punishment is on the table, and he's saying that the government has the right, even responsibility, to punish wrongdoers.

The argument from Moses is that God does not decree anything immoral. Even if the specific application in Leviticus is defunct, the very fact that it was ever instituted means that it isn't immoral.

You can believe that capital punishment is a waste of money, no longer necessary, or unsafe in the current climate. That's not the question at hand. We're asking if it is inherently immoral. That's the debate I was attempting to address here. I'll probably come back to the other questions later.

Dudley said: Religious positions in favor of capital punishment are neither necessary not needed to justify that sanction.

Agreed, but many Protestants today are making the case (to each other) that it is immoral to support capital punishment, and that is the argument this piece was meant to address.

Thanks for providing the articles.

Vinny said...

I would also note that Paul’s letter was an instruction to the Roman Christians rather than the Roman state. When Jesus taught his followers to “turn the other cheek,” I don’t think it necessarily reflected upon the morality of slapping.

Regarding Moses, I guess I would argue that God had the right to order the Israelites to employ the death penalty to punish particular offenses just as He had the right to order the Israelites to kill women and children in battle. Lacking such explicit instructions from God, I don’t see that it provides us any useful information in determining the morality of our decision to apply capital punishment today.

dudleysharp said...

Vinny writes: "I don’t see that it provides us any useful information in determining the morality of our decision to apply capital punishment today."

In the biblical discussion we are speaking of eternal teachings, so today, tomorrow or yesterday has little meaning.

Some of the essays I provided review that eternal nature.

These may be of interest, in that regard, with the second, more so, I believe.

Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000, from no. 2 at http://homicidesurvivors.com/2006/10/12/catholic-and-other-christian-references-support-for-the-death-penalty.aspx

"At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment."

"In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). "

"When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate's power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (Jn 19:1 l).Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Lk 23:41). "

"Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty."

"Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to pronounce capital sentences or serve as executioners."

"The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment. "

"Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death."

"The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime. Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the Consistent Ethic of Life here at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the classical position that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment."

"Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed, in Evangelium Vitae, that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (EV 57). But he wisely included in that statement the word innocent. He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty. "

This recent, clear review by
Andrew Tallman
http://andrewtallmanshowarticles.blogspot.com/2008/04/why-i-support-capital-punishment-part-8.html

"If Jesus elsewhere opposes capital punishment, then He is not only contradicting the Father but even His own words. "

"Typically, (the anti death penalty) view is that the harsh and mean God the Father of the Old Testament established execution, but the loving and kind God the Son of the New Testament abolished it."

"I’m pretty sure such people don’t realize they’re denying the Trinity when they say this."

"The doctrine of the Trinity affirms the eternal unity of all three persons of the Godhead, but such a fundamental disagreement between the Son and the Father would rupture this unity. In fact, if Jesus had contradicted any of the Father’s principles, let alone such a well-established one, that very disagreement would have immediately disproved His claims to be the divine Son."

"This was exactly the heresy the Pharisees were hoping to trap Him into when they brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus. Even His enemies knew that He absolutely had to affirm capital punishment in order to prove Himself not a false prophet. "

"How truly strange, then, that those who claim to love Him assert that He did exactly what His enemies failed to trick Him into doing! Far from opposing capital punishment, Jesus actually advocated it, as His unity with the Father required."

"Matthew 5:17-18“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.”

"Just a few verses later, He extends the prohibition against murder to hatred and condemns haters to “the hell of fire” in verse 22, which is very strange talk for someone who opposes capital punishment. It’s very hard to dismiss these verses because they occur smack in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, which is so often mistakenly offered as the repudiation of Old Testament justice."

"Later, Jesus scolds the Pharisees and scribes for teaching leniency toward rebellious children by quoting the Old Testament, “For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’” (Matthew 15:4)"

"Subsequently, when the Romans come to arrest Jesus, Peter rather ineptly tries to defend Him by killing Malchus, but only succeeds in slicing off his ear. Jesus rebukes him with the warning, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” Far from advocating pacifism, as this passage is often misused to do, Jesus here teaches Peter that using the sword (for murder) will only get the sword used against him (for execution)."

"Shortly thereafter, Jesus tells Pilate in John 19:11, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above…” This authority to put Jesus to death would be odd if it didn’t entail the general power to execute criminals."

"Finally, when He is dying of crucifixion, Jesus accepts the repentance of the thief on the cross, who says to his reviling companion, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds….” (Luke 23:40-41)"

"Had Jesus disagreed with this statement, responding to it with the promise of eternal salvation was a rather obtuse way to express the correction."

"Beyond all this evidence that Jesus affirms the consistent Biblical principle of capital punishment, there is yet one more vital concept to grasp. Christians believe that Christ died on the cross to pay for the sins of us all."

"Although His sinlessness merited eternal life, He endured the death we deserved to extend that gift to us. As Prof. Michael Pakaluk so perfectly expressed the point, “If no crime deserves the death penalty, then it is hard to see why it was fitting that Christ be put to death for our sins….” If we didn’t deserve the death penalty ourselves, then why would Christ need to suffer it on our behalf in order to satisfy the justice of God? Denying the death penalty directly assaults the justice of the Father, Who required His own Son to pay precisely that price in our stead."

"What about the rest of the New Testament?"

"Since both Jesus’s teaching and His death affirm the capital punishment, it should come as no surprise that the rest of the New Testament reinforces this view."

"When confronting Governor Festus, Paul says in Acts 25:11, “If I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of these things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. He both affirms capital statutes and accepts them as binding on him if he has broken one."

"Later, in the New Testament’s most famous passage on the nature of government, Paul explains, “But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for [the government] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4)"

"Finally, the same Bible which begins in Genesis 9:6 with the establishment of capital punishment, then carries the theme consistently throughout the text, and ends by reiterating it in Revelation 13:10, “If any one is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if any one kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.”

"Literally from beginning to end, the Bible teaches that capital punishment is authorized and required by God."

dudleysharp said...

Vinny:

You make a solid point on why the sword may not refer to execution, but to the state's authority of enforcing the law.

In fact, there are solid biblical and theological writings which agree with that. However, in the overall context of the bible, it is clear that the death penalty is licit if not fully endorsed. While Romans 13:4 may not be speciifc regarding execution, it does nothing to negate all of the other references for it.

My brief research on the sword issue:

16) (A) "If you do what is evil, be afraid; for [ the civil government ] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is the minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon those who practice evil." Romans 13:4. "God has given the state the power of life and death over its subjects in order to maintain order." Dr. Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (NAS), 1978. (B) Romans 13:4 does not " . . . directly refer to the infliction of the death penalty; but in the context of first century Rome and against the Old Testament background (Genesis 9:4-6), Paul would clearly include the death penalty in the state’s panalopy of punishments for wrongdoing." Douglas Moo, The Epistle To the Romans, Erdmans, 1996, pg. 802, footnote 54. (C) "Since the word sword (machaira) has occurred earlier in the letter to indicate death (Romans 8:35) and since it was used of execution (Acts 12:2; Revelation 13:10), it seems clear that Paul means it here as a symbol of capital punishment." Stott, John, ROMANS, InterVarsity Press, 342, 1994. (D) Specifically, "this word for sword indicates one that was shaped like a sabre and was carried by magistrates to show that they had the power to punish, even to death." Ryrie Study Bible - Expanded Edition, NAS, Moody Press, 1995, pg. 1810, Romans 13:4, footnote 13:4. (E) "(Jesus) warned Peter that to ‘die by the sword’ is the punishment proper for those who take human life (Matthew 25:26); it should be noted that the sword was meant for execution, not for life imprisonment." Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, Twilight Of A Great Civilization, Crossway, 1988,


4) "The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, for the representative of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to the Law or the rule of rational justice." St. Augustine, The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 21.

Father Pierre Lachance, O.P. (St, Anne Parish, Fall River, Mass.) fully concurs: "There is no question but that capital punishment was not only allowed but mandated in the Old Testament. In the New Law (New Testament) (St.) Paul recognizes the legitimacy of capital punishment . . .’It is not without purpose that the ruler carries the sword. He is God’s servant, to inflict his avenging wrath upon the wrongdoer Romans 13:4.’ " (The Death Penalty:Opposing Viewpoints Series, 1986, pg. 84)

“If by arming the magistrate, the Lord has also committed him the use of the sword, then, whenever he punishes the guilty by death, he is obeying God’s commands by exercising His vengeance. Those, therefore, who consider it is wrong to shed the blood of the guilty are contending against God.” John Calvin, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians”, in Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. Ross McKenzie(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960) p.283. see D.16

Lori said...

As far as the Old Testament death penalty for adulterous women... the "Marriage Plague" answered that well... How could the women remarry if they were dead? The "death penalty" was a disinheritance issue...just like the one for disobedient children.