Joe over at the Evangelical Outpost has a nice post on the biblical view of capital punishment. In it are two ideas that I had not previously considered, but I like Joe’s take on it.
Some biblical ideas on Capital Punishment
1. The punishments given as part of the Mosaic law were to Israel, not to us
One of the tough questions often posed to Christians is, if you believe the bible, why don’t you subscribe to the punishments given in the OT law, including the death penalty for homosexuality, adultery, and rebellious children? Christians often answer that, though these rules reflected the moral law (i.e. the rightness or wrongness of the things described), the civil penalties for such were not prescribed, except to Israel. As Joe says:
Christians often look back to the Mosaic Law when searching for
justifications for capital punishment. This is hardly surprising
considering that in the law God gave the Israelites, twenty-one
different offenses were considered worthy of the death penalty.
The problem with this approach is that the Law of Moses only applied
to Israel. Since this particular covenant was made between God and the
Hebrew people, it was never universally applicable. While we might be
able to discern moral truths by looking to the Law our decisions on how
to apply it would be arbitrary. How would we rationalize, for example,
applying the death penalty to cases of murder but not for homosexuality?
2. The Noahic covenant is with mankind, and does specify one act worthy of death – murder.
Although the Mosaic Law doesn’t provide a sound basis for a defense
of capital punishment, there is a covenant that does – the Noahic
covenant. After God destroyed mankind with a flood, he established a
covenant with Noah, his family, and (most importantly for us) his
descendants. Along with the promise that He would never destroy the
earth by water again, God included this moral command:
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen. 6:9, ESV)
This verse not only provides a moral norm for capital punishment but
delegates the responsibility to mankind (i.e., government) and limits
it to a particular crime (murder).
3. This is a faithful view of these covenants, since the Mosaic was superceded, the Noahic was not
We should also note that since this covenant is ‘everlasting’ (v. 16)
and ‘for all future generations’ (v. 12), it’s as applicable today as
it was in the age of Noah. Unlike the Mosaic Law, this covenant was
never superseded by any later actions of God. We should also note that
if we choose to ignore this command, we are choosing to reject God’s
4. False convictions mean that we need to be careful in our application of the death penalty, but not throw it out.
Of course there may be times when the ability of the state to implement
the death penalty is egregiously compromised. The problems that can
occur with its application are numerous and complex so we must remain
ever vigilant against its abuse. Indeed, respect for human dignity
demands that we err on the side of caution to prevent the unjust
killing of those falsely accused of committing murder. The legitimate
objections, however, appear to associated with its application, rather than in the moral legitimacy of the death penalty itself.
Poor application is a good reason to apply it more justly, not a reason to abolish it.
5. So what SHOULD we do with child rapists?
Joe doesn’t answer this question, he merely remarks
The rape of a child is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. But
in the absence of a clear Biblical mandate to expand the penalty beyond
murder, I do not believe we can justify including child-rape under the
crimes that deserve death.
But I made these suggestions – perhaps all of these together:
- Castration (though this might not really reduce their predatory inclinations, it certainly is a punishment)
- Life in prison (since the victim will be haunted for the rest of their lives by the incident?)
- Medically induced impotence? (since most rapists are men) – no more sexual pleasure ever again, not even self-pleasuring.