Joe over at the Evangelical Outpost (now defunct) had 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.
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 This is a faithful view of these covenants, since the Mosaic was superseded, the Noahic was not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 Unlike the Mosaic Law, this covenant was never superseded by any later actions of God.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 wisdom.
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.