The death penalty is one of the issues that our country wrestles with as this bill is currently being reviewed on our legislator’s desks. I understand that in the Old Testament, God ordained a punishment that demands life for a life stated in Genesis 9:6 as God’s emphasis on the sanctity of life. Those who are against capital punishment put forward the story of the adulterous woman in John 7-8 as Jesus’ encounter with death penalty. The story of the adulterous woman who was to be stoned to death in the new testament according to some christian scholars say that Jesus was not condemning death penalty in this story but is focusing on the hypocrisy of Jewish leaders. Is the death penalty truly biblical in the sense that God encourages us to demand life for a life to emphasize the sanctity of it? And in a country that wrestles with this issue, as Christians, are we to support the death penalty? I appreciate your thoughts here in this forum.
Great question and one I that I struggle with. I will point you to the NT and away from the OT for the time being. Jesus said,
(Matthew 26:5) “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."
Please take a moment to understand the governments roll in this, too. Read Romans 13.
Obviously Jesus prefers peace over violence. He is referring to a person who uses violence and if they prefer to live like that, they can expect to die like that.
Now we are under the governments rule with violence and law breaking and that changes from country to country. If capital punishment is a part of there rule, then so be it. However, many of us might disagree with for various reasons - value of life, etc. I’m not a supporter myself of CP but if I read Romans 13 correct, then it isn’t a wrong approach to have according to the laws of a land. So I don’t think you have to “support” it necessarily if your laws are such but you do have to adhere to the laws of your land for obvious reasons. There are many laws in our country we don’t have to support like the abortion laws but we have to tolerate them as such. And if a law causes you to sin, you have a higher law to which you answer to and therefore do not have to do it. For example, if the government force you to deny your faith in Christ. You won’t deny Him, thereby breaking the law. But that is ok and we can have further discussion on this later.
You posed such a great question. In fact, that law was reiterated again in Lev 24:17.
To understand God’s laws for ancient Israel, we must understand its core principle: the sanctity of life. How sacred life is to God. From all the “odd” ceremonial laws dealing with blood (life is in the blood - Lev 17:11) and semen (the seed of life), God wants the Israelites to consecrate theirs and all lives, and be different to the other nations, who had way more life-devaluing cultures.
Principle #1: Life is Sacred
The other principle is better understood from the other law like it, the “eye for an eye” law of retaliation in Lev 24:20. Now, such a law is not a justification for revenge, but to restrict the compensation to the value of the loss. But how does that apply to “life for a life” law? Back then, you kill 1 person from a different family or tribe, and the revenger felt justified to unleash his vengeance on the whole family or tribe. We see the horrific nature of such a vendetta in Gen 34:25, when Simeon and Levi massacred all the men in the whole town of Hamor and Shechem, the defiler of their sister, Dinah.
Principle #2: Restrict the Compensation
The last principle is more simple of course, as modern audience can relate, which is to protect would-be victims. If the law is not equally heavy in consequence, then human, with fallen-natured desires, can kill inconsequently to get ahead or purely to satiate their hatred, or jealousy, envy, or even violating the previous principle, like avenging a broken arm with a life.
Principle #3: Protect potential victims
These laws are not for an ideal world, but a fallen world. And Jesus taught us grace to transcend these laws in Matt 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus Himself who was wrongfully persecuted, prayed for His persecutors before His own life was taken up, for the sake of them and all of us. Which brings us to our last principle, that is Jesus’ redemptive salvation.
Principle #4: Jesus’ life for our lives
So I believe these 4 main principles are what’s behind God’s law in Gen 9:6 you mentioned and Lev 24:17.
Though in limiting the compensation, capital punshment is the furthest a consequence that is Biblically allowed for a life-taker. But legislating capital punishment is never the motive of the Biblical law.
Just as the dilemma you will face, when dealt with this unwanted scenario: if the only choice you have in saving the life of your loved one is in you killing the person who is about to murder your loved one, what would you do?
The only consolation you have is the fact that this scenario posed itself as a dilemma meant that you treat life as priceless, whether the murderer’s or your loved one’s.
Ideally, we should strive to avoid taking lives as much as possible to honor the intrinsic value God has endowed upon each life, but since we are not living in an ideal world, I believe God sometimes let us make the tough call on the jurisdiction involving lives, so we can learn through the decision-making process, how sacred life is. The fact that so much debate goes on on both sides: the ones who demanded the life taken to be so valuable that it can only be fully compensated by the murderer’s life, and the other side who is determined to value the life of even the murderer. Whichever side your pendulum swings, the lesson we all learned is that every life is valuable and has intrinsic value, because they are all made in His image, Imago Dei.
@kiichimae, I hope these points help to better understand God’s intended meaning in Gen 9:6.
Blessings in Christ
@RoySujanto thank you so much for the well fleshed-out explanation. In the past I would have gone on ahead of the statistical data, social implications and pragmatics of capital punishment whether it brings value to our society or not. Just this time, I really want to understand the biblical principle about this and how Jesus’ death on the cross cover this issue as well. Most Christians who are pro death penalty will simply say it’s allowed in the bible, so I guess it’s okay to support it. I find it very difficult to agree with just that explanation. You are on point to understand Genesis 9:6 and Leviticus passage on the principle behind the laws and bring it in light of the gospel. I appreciate you taking the time to give your comprehensive input.
@jrarourke, your input is much appreciated and well-taken. You are right that the measure we use for others will be the same measure on us. I agree with you that the government is instituted by God and we are to abide in its laws. Fortunately we have no legal provisions for capital punishment in our democratic country however the citizens are starting to contemplate of whether or not should we push for the death penalty. I agree with you that we are to submit to existing laws in place and tolerate those that may be in contradiction of our faith. In this case where the law is not in place, the discussion now is revolving around whether or not as Christians, should we support it? Some Christians would say that we should have the God-instituted authority to execute God’s intent to value life in Genesis 9:6 as you would have valued the role of authority as well. I’m looking forward to more of your thoughts. Thank you again for helping me out here
I have no problem with the law allowing for capital punishment and I believe that the Bible can be used to defend the law as has been pointed out by @RoySujanto and @jrarourke but my biggest issue today is can this law be administered justly and without error. In other words can we be assured that the government will not put an innocent man to death. Sadly in America I think not and because of this I find myself inclined to support doing away with capital punishment except in extreme acts of terror and even this can be abused.
@Jimmy_Sellers thank you for your input. I also agree with you that administering justice in an imperfect system with imperfect people is hard to be trusted with a life and sentence it to death.
I totally desagred that Jim say. If you are conscious, in a normal state, you will in no way wish for the death of anyone else.