Gary: And now, Contending for the Faith…. Here’s this week’s question: “Tom and Dave, here in California, and I suppose around the country, the death penalty is a much-discussed issue. Cardinal Mahoney, of Los Angeles, held a press conference recently calling on the governor to put a permanent end to state executions. While the cardinal speaks for Catholics, I was wondering what God has to say about it in the Scriptures.”
Tom: And,Dave, as former Catholic, I know the catechism teaches that they acknowledge the death penalty, but there are many qualifications. One is that we don’t need it anymore because we have the facilities to incarcerate somebody—basically to protect the public from a killer. So, it would be better, given the sanctity of life and so on, to not have capital punishment.
Dave: But it’s very clear that the death penalty was instituted by God. Even for eating the fruit of a tree that He had forbidden. He said, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” Now, they didn’t die physically, but they began to die. And they died spiritually, and that is even worse, to be…for God to cut them off from His life so that they would be lost eternally. That’s very serious.
In Genesis:9:5-6, God says, “Surely your blood of your lives will I require. At the hand of every beast will I require it and at the hand of man—at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man.”
This is God saying that He requires this.
Tom: Dave, many Christians are…they take…they’re on opposite sides of this issue, and one of the statements that some are against capital punishment would say, “Well, that’s the Law, and we’re now not under the Law.” But that command by God was given before the Law!
Dave: Exactly. This is a foundational principle from Scripture. And God makes it very strong. Later He says that where they do not exact the death penalty, the blood of the victims cries out from the ground!
It doesn’t make sense that…here is, let’s say, a mass murderer. Well, if he murdered one person, and now the activists are saying, “But don’t take his life,” well, he took someone’s life, and now we’re going to protect him when the Bible says if you take man’s life, your life will be taken. You see, one of the things—we talked earlier about the Quran and Islam—one of the things that distinguishes…one of many things that distinguishes the Bible and Christianity from Islam is the penalties that are exacted. You steal something in Islam, your hand is cut off! You are marked for life. It destroys that marvelous mechanism, the hand. And then the arm doesn’t function, then the two arms don’t work together. You steal again, they cut off your foot on the other side, and you are maimed for life.
No, the Bible doesn’t say that. It says you restore it fourfold. If you steal something, then you pay it back. The Bible doesn’t even talk about putting people in prison, but they repay. It says, “A tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, and a life for a life.” And this is the justice from God.
So, I don’t think that there is anyway I can explain this away and say that this is no longer required. The life of Jesus was taken—this is in the New Testament now. You couldn’t say, “Well, God says, well, that was Old Testament.” When Jesus took my place, He took your place, He took the place of all mankind, and He stood at the bar of God’s justice (never mind Pilate—that was unjust; what we did to Him was unjust. It was horrible, it was reprehensible, and it would only add to our penalty); but God bruised Him. It says, Isaiah 53: “It pleased Yahweh, Jehovah, to bruise Him. Thou hast put Him to grief, for Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin.”
So, when Jesus stood and took my place before the bar of eternal justice, God’s justice, the penalty was exacted upon Him. Death! His blood had to be shed.
So, I don’t think we can get around that, and I don’t think that it is beneficial to society. It’s not beneficial to the murderer. It certainly is not beneficial to the victims.
Tom: Dave, the New Testament seems to support this idea—it doesn’t seem to, I think it flat-out does. Romans:13:1-5: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, for there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation, for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to 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. Wherefore ye must needs be subject not only for wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”
This is establishing laws…
Dave: Tom, in other words, what it’s saying, it is not condoning a Hitler, but it is saying that …
Tom: Or a vigilante committee, or some lone ranger.
Dave: Right. But those who are in legitimate authority are supposed—and Hitler, I wouldn’t call him a legitimate authority, although he was technically voted in and so forth, and given this position. But nevertheless, he did not execute God’s justice. He was an unjust ruler. So the Bible does not condone unjust rulers, but it is saying, Romans 13 is saying that authority figures on this earth are placed there by God for the purpose of executing His judgment, His justice, in the earth. And that would include what God has said in His Word.