With the execution of Gray Graham in Texas and others, many have begun vigorously campaigning to abolish the death penalty. I want readers to understand this is not a rehearsing of Graham’s or any other case. I am not a skilled jurist, nor do I pretend to be. This should not to be mistaken for an advancement of any political party or system. This is simply a look at the death penalty from a biblical perspective. The idea of the death penalty: Where did it originate? Why was it instituted? What should be the Christian’s response?
Simply stated, the death penalty was created by God. After generations of wickedness, God saved a righteous line through Noah. The first mention of the death penalty in found in Gen. 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood by this man his blood shall be shed for in the image of God He made man.” When Israel was in he wilderness before Sinai, God gave the law through Moses. “An if a man takes the life of any human being, he shall be surely put to death.” – Lev. 24:17 Many have called the death penalty immoral. If so, what does this say of its Creator? Surely those who support this view are not calling God immoral. It was instituted not as a vehicle for revenge, for vengeance belongs to God (Deut. 32:35). The remainder of this verse uses the word “retribution.” The Hebrew word is shillem and means to recompense or re “tribute.” As in Gen. 9:6, if you take a life, taking yours shall compensate that life taken. Christians should obey the mandate for the death penalty. In Rom. 13:1– 4, believers are told to obey governmental authority. So that righteousness could flourish, God established and gave power to governments. Even in some Muslim countries that do not honor the God of the Bible, if you commit adultery, you are executed. If you steal, you lose fingers or even your whole hand. God has given the government authority to carry out the death penalty (13:4). A moral God created the death penalty and today, the government has the authority to carry it out.
Now I know what you’re thinking, Ex. 20:13 and Deut 5:17 say, “Thou shall not kill.” Yes they do, in the English translation of the Bible. However, the original word in Hebrew is ratsach and carries the idea of premeditation and malice. In our English, the verses would read, “Do not murder.” Some might argue there is no difference. After all, the result is the same. The result may be the same but the penalty is different. For example, God told Saul to strike and destroy all the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3). David slew Goliath (17:50 – 51). Neither of these men faced the prospect of the death penalty. Why? The Amalekites and Goliath were evil. Saul and David were carrying out (even though Saul did not complete it) the command of God. God even commanded death for certain offenses: disobeying the Sabbath (Ex. 31:15), offering children to pagan deities (Lev. 20:2), adultery (20:10), blasphemy (24:16), false prophesy (Deut. 18:20), and even being a rebellious child (21:18 – 21). The ones listed are not exhaustive but it establishes a pattern. Where there is sin, death was allowed in by God to eliminate sin and encourage others to avoid participating in such activity. The executioner was never put to death, thus making the distinction clear between murder and killing. If you still need further proof, look at what God did to Pharaoh’s army who chased after Israel (Ex. 14:19 – 31). Who in their right mind would dare accuse God of murder?
I think I’ve given enough evidence to prove that God approves of the death penalty. Sure there are problems with the way it’s administered. But let me add man not God precipitated the problems. Let me give you this analogy. In the early history of the United States, slavery was a thriving business. Most who owned slaves claimed to be Christians. How could this be? Most were actually deists who believed God has no dealings with his creation. Like a top, he spun it and let it be. See, the early years of this country are filled with American Christianity that allowed what it desired. But we should not be concerned with American, German, Russian or any other nationally driven version of Christianity. We need to be concerned with Biblical Christianity. You never throw the baby out with the dirty bath water. We didn’t throw out Christianity just because early Americans had a warped version of it. We continued to obey the Bible until we got it right. Likewise, the death penalty has been misused and abuse by man. And for the record, I agree with some of the philosophy of organizations like Innocence Project. I don’t want to see innocent people executed. But just because problems have arisen with man’s understanding of the death penalty does not mean it should be altogether abandoned. We need to get it right. We believers should live up to our commitment and follow God’s word, and folks, like it or not, that includes the death penalty. If we dispute what God has said we dispute him (Ex. 16:1 – 8).
Lastly, for those who have a problem with the death penalty, I have one question for you. What do you suggest we do with the cross?