Capital punishment: serious questions

If we use the Old Testament as support for capital punishment—shouldn’t we support execution for all offenses it lists as capital?

The Bible isn’t a belief buffet from which we can pick and choose what we want to believe or apply.

Under the Old Testament law, murder (Numbers 35:16) and rape (Deuteronomy 22:25) were in fact grounds for execution. But if we are to consistently apply Old Testament Law—and not simply pick and choose—we would need to apply capital punishment for all offenses it lists as capital, such as . . .

    adultery (Leviticus 20:10)

    homosexual behavior (Leviticus 20:13)

    kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)

    occult practices (Exodus 22:18)

    premarital sex (Leviticus 21:9)

    not observing the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36) and

    striking or slandering a parent (Exodus 21:15, 17)

Who would be left to pull the switch?!

Under New Testament grace, didn’t Christ take our “capital punishment” required under the Law?

    When we were utterly helpless with no way of escape, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners who had no use for him. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since by his blood he did all this for us as sinners, how much more will he do for us now that he has declared us not guilty? Now he will save us from all of God’s wrath to come (Romans 5:6, 8-9).

    Well then, are God laws and God’s promises against each other? Of course not! If we could be saved by the laws, then God would not have had to give us a different way to get out of the grip of sin—for the Scriptures insist we are all its prisoners. The only way out is through faith in Jesus Christ; the way of escape is open to all who believe in him (Galatians 3:21-22).

If the death penalty is a universal, timeless punishment commanded by God for those Old Testament sins viewed capital offenses (see above), shouldn’t the following offenders have been executed?

    Cain, the first murderer, was actually protected by God (Genesis 4:8-15)

    Moses murdered an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-15)

    King David committed adultery, then had the woman’s husband killed (2 Samuel 11)

    The woman at the well (John 4:1-42) who was guilty of adultery.

    The woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11)

    The Christians in Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV) who were formerly “sexually immoral,” “idolators,” “adulterers,” “male prostitutes,” and “homosexual offenders”—all of which were capital offenses in the Old Testament

And don’t forget, to include everyone of us in that list!

    Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal (Romans 3:23 TLB).

    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23 TLB).

I’ve searched the New Testament for justification for humanly-imposed capital punishment. God’s punishment of unbelievers at Judgment Day is certainly capital! (Revelation 20:11-15)

What I do find, however, are many passages that warn against judging others, not showing mercy, and mistreating prisoners (Matthew 5:7, 44; 7:2; 25:39-40, 44-45).

Admittedly, it is a controversial issue. (And I could be wrong!)

So, on those issues where there is such disagreement, shouldn’t we err on the side of life rather than death?

Adapted from Death & Beyond Copyright © 1992 James N. Watkins. All rights reserved.

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