We invite you to join us in discussion of Capital Punishment in our Table Talk section. Below is an excerpt of the early dialogue following this section’s posting.
Joshua: I must start off by saying that I am generally against the death penalty. I think that it sends a very mixed message: killing someone to show them that killing is wrong.
I have heard all of the arguments for capital punishment: it costs too much to imprison people, a life sentence is just too lax for their crimes, but I feel very strongly that we should not “play God.” I would not be at all comfortable making the decision whether someone would face life in prison or the electric chair.
Stella: I think capital punishment is very wrong. I agree that we need to punish that person if they killed someone, but killing someone because they killed someone is just wrong. It’s like we, the United States, are murdering someone. Thanks for letting people voice their opinions about this.
Bob: The ancient Hebrews practiced a policy of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. By and large the Christian societies today do not support this Old Testament practice. However, ironically, so much of Christendom here in the United States supports ‘a life for a life’ policy by endorsing the death penalty. It makes one wonder how much of an impact the life and death of Jesus Christ has made on our day to day life. We say we believe in Jesus the Christ and forgiveness on the one hand and yet seek vengeance with the death penalty on the other hand. Consistency does not seem to be present in what we preach and what we practice.
Milton: I am flatly opposed to capital punishment. No man or woman has the right to decide who lives or dies. It isn’t a matter of morality or ethics or anything else. Only our creator has the right to give or take life.
Dan: Most of the comments about the death penalty seem largely misinformed. I am not an expert in any of these issues but it seems clear that the death penalty sends out a message to the world, its victims and its murderers. It is not so much a message to an individual but to the whole society. A free land does not tolerate murderers who want to take away our freedom.
Look at Singapore: Any person that possesses drugs or has something to do with drugs gets an immediate death penalty. In Singapore, there is NO drug problem now because everybody knows what they are getting into.
in response to Joshua: You cannot teach a person how to act after they have been abused as children at the age of 3 or 14. How do you want to top that? It sends an excellent message: Do it and we’ll kill you.
I am glad I can join this dialogue because I seem to oppose the religiously strong views. I oppose religion because it puts the wrong words into empty mouths.
in response to the story about the racist trial judge: This is absolutely wrong. These things shouldn’t happen. It was the judge who was the criminal. But you must recognize that the death sentence has nothing to do with the judge’s decision. And eliminating the death sentence does not change the judge’s decision.
Don’t you go nuts when you hear about criminals escaping from prison and wandering now in your neighborhood? There is only one solution. The death penalty.
Brad: It’s not a matter of money or revenge – it’s justice. And the judical application of justice within a civilized society should never be labeled the same as hideous crimes. If you believe they are the same then God is a murderer, and so are any of the appointed judges in the Old Testament who exacted God’s judgement. I guess God had it all wrong in the Old Testament, and corrected it in the New Testament. That is bad theology and bad logic. For some reason we seem to think we’re more civilized and intelligent than God Himself.
Shelley: I would love to hear more from the guy/gal that says, “Religion puts the wrong words into empty mouths.” What does that statement mean to him, because it sounds like empty words to me. Religion is man’s attempt to reach God. Christianity is God’s salvation of man. Like it or not, Christ says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Are you going to argue with God Almighty about the death penalty?
Ken: A system that uses capital punishment is one that breeds violence. America is one of the most violent nations on earth. It claims to be Christian but in the same breath calls for the death penalty! It makes no sense to me!
Phil: This is not a dialogue. A dialogue is a discusion between people of differing viewpoints. All of the contributors oppose the death penalty. Where are the voices of those on the other side of the issue? If you want to use this forum as a place to try and convince people that the death penalty is wrong, then say so. If you want to use this forum as a place for people to learn about the death penalty, then get some contributors who intelligently support the death penalty. I know they exist. I have read a couple of editorials that make good points in favor of the death penalty. How do those points stack up against the ones your contributors make here against the death penalty? I don’t know. I have never seen intelligent presentations on both sides in the same forum. I am tired of seeing “dialogues” on issues that turn out to forums for one side or the other.
James: If Shelley doesn’t want to argue with God about the death penalty, does she realize that it was His idea in the first place? God required the death penalty in the Old Testament, presumably to maintain the purity of His people. If God’s own people needed the death penalty, doesn’t it stand to reason that a nation that is “Christian” in name only would also need it? And while we are commanded to love our enemies, I fail to see how sentencing them to life in prison is a shining example of love either. If we love them, shouldn’t we bring them home, counsel them, let them loose? Is there such a thing as “Christian justice”? And if it takes death row to bring someone to grips with their sinful nature and their need for a personal Saviour, isn’t it possible that that is more loving than allowing them to feel like “victims of the system” all their lives? Phil is right, we need to hear both sides of this issue before it can be called a dialogue.
Jonathan: Singapore is not the USA. This is a bad example because the USA has population of 268 million compared to 3.4 million in Singapore. These are extremely different countries. I also prefer much more freedom like we have in the USA.
…in response to Phil’s comment(This is not a dialogue.) I agree. Although a dialogue can officially be only an exchange of ideas and opinions most of the opinions I have read so far seem to be critics of the death penalty. Bring on some proponents to help us sharpen our viewpoints before this forum gets boring…
Jared: Hi, my name is Jared and I’m from a small community in northeast MO. I attend college at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, MO. The reason that the death penalty is wrong is very simple: Jesus died on the cross for us, not planning his revenge upon us for putting Him there, but out of selfless, true love he became a sacrifice, the payment that we couldn’t pay. We have all been called on to display that same Christ-like love for our fellow man. This means we should pray for those who persecute us, not try to even the score. Jesus didn’t try to even the score. I believe that the taking of human life can never be justified. The authority to sentence death has not been given to us, but resides soley on the will of the Father to call us home. The Bible is clear that if we can’t forgive those who sin against us, why then should God forgive us, for our sins are ever-plaguing our daily lives. Even non-Christians must agree that the death sentence is very final, it cannot be whimsically undone. This life is not most precious thing we have, but the next one is. This present life is perhaps most valuable to those friends, co-workers, and strangers who haven’t yet decided to follow Jesus, for it then becomes the one thing separating them from judgement without justification. God’s kingdom is an upside-down kingdom, (“Whoever shall try to save his own life shall lose it…, the last shall be first…”) completely opposite of what our instincts tell us. Jesus has given us the supreme example, it’s up to us to follow it.
Brad: I’m not sure who Howard is under the section “Does it Deter?”, but it is apparent that his preconceived ideas about the death penalty being a deterrent get in the way of his objectivity. I guess we’re all that way to one degree or another. It is impossible to establish whether or not it is a deterent within a particular society without examining all the factors over an extended period of time. Are there other pervasive factors, such as the breakdown of the family, the loss of moral absolutes, the rise of secular humanism, etc. that will drive people to kill inspite of the death penalty. I have heard that the death penalty is no deterrent for 20 years and I still don’t buy it. The death penalty, as well as other punishments, has proven to be a deterrent is a number of other cultures. People are people, no matter where, no matter what culture. We all have a great fear of death and will go to great lengths to avoid it. But let’s, for a moment, suggest that it wasn’t a deterrent. Should we then bypass the wisdom and directive of God for our own “superior” wisdom? God never abolished the death penalty from the Old to the New Testament.
Eastern Mennonite High School student: One of the things that I’ve learned through the school and [my] church is living Christ’s teaching. I have just skimmed “Victims of Crime” on your [website]. One of the articles I read was the one about a man who had witnessed [the] death of his friend. I just wanted to comment on that. Yes, I believe that the death penalty is wrong. But we also have to realize that Jesus Christ had to go through a much [more] painful death than any of us will have to. His death symbolizes His love for us. I do feel for those that have to go through the death penalty. A few years ago Karla Faye Tucker [went] through the death penalty. I was angry that she had to die, but also I felt that the Lord was with her all the way. I wish that there [was] something more that Christians could do to stop this madness of people killing people.
Myron: Regardless of whether or not the death penalty is an effective deterrent, and regardless of whether or not it can be carried out legally in light of the law against “cruel and unusual” punishment, it is difficult for me to see how anyone who considers themselves “Christian” could argue in favor of its use. Jesus, in the New Testament, clearly calls for a recognition of the dignity and value of human life and forbids his listeners to take human life.
Thone: I believe that capital punishment is very wrong. No one has the right to take anyone’s life. For God created humans and He gave life to His people. Only God has the right to take away our life because He was the One that created us. Humans shouldn’t try to play God by taking away the life of any human beings. I don’t understand what this world is up to. Sending a person to the electric chair sends a very negative message. Why is it okay to send criminals to the electric chair? Doesn’t the law say that killing is illegal? When will any kind of killing stop? The people killing people process is just going in circles.
Rachel: Hola! Hope everyone is doin’ all right tonight. Just a few thoughts on the death penalty…To quote Exodus, “Thou shalt not kill.” I don’t think this statement leaves any room for error. It doesn’t say “Thou shalt not kill, UNLESS…” It says “Thou shalt not kill.” Jesus said to love your enemy. Love and murder (for that is clearly what the death penalty is) do not seem in my mind to co-exist.
Something to think about–if you put someone to death, you are taking away their chance for receiving the grace of Jesus our Lord, and no person has the right to do that. If they are dead, they can’t be saved!! May the love of the Lord carry you all through your life…
Marni: I agree that capital punishment is wrong. I believe that people who commit crimes need help and healing. I think that our prisons should work on healing and helping these people to make their lives meaningful.
Brad: I have a few questions for Rachel… When God exacted His justice and took people’s lives was He breaking His own law? Was He a murderer? What was God doing when He cracked open the ground and swallowed up 3000 people at once? What was he doing when He struck down Aquilla and Priscilla? Is God a murderer? And if we as a judicious society exact similar penalties, how is it different from what God did and instructed others to do as well?
Lon: I see opponents of the death penalty here basing their views on, if I may, emotions and vague definitions of love, but no explicit Old Testament, New Testament references for a theological argument for their beliefs. An exhaustive rebuke on Genesis.9:5-6 is requested. A threefold use of Hebrew verbage in verse 5 highlights the principle that God sees life so valuable that he demands the life of the murderer. I can see in the forum here, most do not hold this orthodox view. Sadly this is why 25 million babies are dead and euthanasia is being pushed, all because we DON’T value life enough. God is the vindicator, not us. (Psalm.9:12) Does not God demand justice as well love?
Jim: I too struggle with the issue of the government using the death penalty in violent crimes, but I continue to ask myself what is a just punishment for someone intentionally taking another life? And is building more prisons the answer? And is a life sentence in prison, with the current prison conditions, as inhumane as the death penalty? This is an issue I, as a Mennonite and pacifist, struggle with everyday I read about either sentence being given to a prisoner. There are many incidents in the Bible that the sentence for disobedience to God, and his commandments, was death. So what consequences should there be, for the perpetrator, in these cases of intentional and/or planned murders?
Lon: It’s just me, Lon. I would like to start by apologizing to the web guy for not thanking him/her for putting together this great site. I got so involved in yapping, I just forgot to say thank you. To my brothers and sisters, please do not take my debates personally, I just like to discuss theological matters. (Yes, I think I might be sick also.) Now back to business. Thanks for honesty Jim. I understand where you’re coming from. I’m from the Mennonite tradition as well, although no longer attend. I read you are battling what to do in the case of execution, or life in jail. Yes I can see the point at hand. In a system that is pathetic in implementing basic justice and protection of the nonguilty charged with guilt, I agree wholeheartedly. I believe the system should be revamped totally to protect the innocent. Our founding fathers believed it was more evil to have the innocent declared guilty than the guilty declared innocent. Again I agree wholeheartedly. Secondly, so seriously did Israel take safeguarding the process against abuse that two eyewitnesses were needed to convict. If any lied, they too were executed! Sadly, our system (I think) uses an “overwhelming evidence” to convict, not a more precise method. Thirdly, I think what may be happening in our church culture today is we confuse justice with mercy. Justice is always obligated by God. Mercy, by definition, is voluntary. As human beings we tend to like mercy more than justice, for obvious reasons I might add, but that doesn’t negate justice needing to be met. In closing, remember the most important execution of all human history, the one that God’s justice demanded. Yes that one. In the atonement of Christ the penalty of sin (which is death) was paid for by the Lamb of God with his life so that you don’t have to. Justice demanded it and by grace you have been saved. By an execution at that. Thank you for your patience in my fallen state.
Lon: Hi, just Lon again. I thought I’d be involved in a serious discussion by now. I’m waiting… While I’m waiting for a response I will add more info to Jim’s statement regarding God’s requirement for capital punishment in (what seems) trivial matters. There are recorded over 35 offenses in the Law for which God requires the penalty of capital punishment if they are violated. (listed in Exodus 21-22, i.e.murder, adultery, idoatry, homosexuality, etc.) We as 20th century Americans are horrified at the lack of grace that seems so prevalent in the Old Testament in light of the teachings of Jesus. Let’s not have the mindset that the Old Testament is based on wrath and judgement, while the New Testament is one of grace and love–like God is a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde based on which Testament we’re in. The Old Testament is full of Grace, just look for it!!! (1) How many crimes were capital offenses in Eden? “The soul that sins shall die.” ALL sin was viewed as capital offenses! But by Grace [God] dramatically reduces that amount in Exodus 20-22 (all NKJV) (2)The redeemer promised in Genesis 3:15 Yes that early, by Grace he promises a redeemer (3)The first act of redemption–Genesis 3:21. God provided his creatures with a “skin” to cover their shame. (Maybe this was a lambskin?) These are just from Genesis. If you don’t look and study you’ll never see the truth.
Thone: In response to some of Lon’s comments. I know that it is always good to quote scriptures from the Bible where God commands us not to do this and that, but what I don’t really understand is why quote it when you don’t know it?! Anyone can quote as many scriptures as they like, but do they really take that into consideration? Do they live by it? How hard is it for us to understand when God says, “Thy shalt not kill?” He made it plain and simple!
Lon: Hello, and praise the Lord for all involved in this forum. I hope it makes us all look deeper into the things of God (whether we agree or disagree) as the web designer has surely intended. Well Thone, I hope I haven’t offended you with my comments. I must apologize if this is the case. I may have written something wrong or was just misguided in my thinking. If that’s the case I must be corrected. Please feel free to state any problem there is with my statements, but I must ask you to be specific in your next message. Capital Punishment is not such an easy issue as you seem to imply. The Church has long debated the matter with still no common ground reached. First off, “Thou shall not kill,” if taken to mean as general destruction of life is intrinsically evil, then it creates problems for other areas of study that must be mentioned. 1). God is then evil for commanding the death penalty. 2).God is evil for ordering military conquest of Canaan (which involves killing). 3) Joshua is therefore sinning by obeying the word of God! (by killing in the above mentioned) I wish it were easier Thone, but it just opens a can of worms that need to be explained. That’s all I ask. Most commentaries suggest that this command is best translated, “Thou shall not murder.” It is first-degree murder, or murder-one as we call it. If this is correct, as I believe it is, then that can of worms is at least half-way closed. Please don’t tell me God can do as he pleases without any regard to the law he gives. God is not “above the law” as a mercenary is. God’s law reflects his own holy character to a T. I still need a rebuttal to that passage in Genesis. Thank you for your patience. God Bless.
DeLores: I’ve been reading these comments for several weeks and I’ve finally decided to share my struggles with this issue. I, as a fifth generation Mennonite struggle with this issue, possibly above all other issues. I abhor violence. We stopped taking the local newspaper because there was nothing but the violence in it. But when you do hear about the vicious killing(s) (via TV news/radio), I struggle because my instinct is to give an “eye for an eye.” Then I feel guilty because of those feelings. I have always considered God’s Word as my only guide through life (with the accepted interpretation of the whole body/church)and would in most circles be considered conservative. I consider God’s Word as applying to me NOW just as much as it did in the Old Testament times. I believe that God is a God of justice, order, forgiveness and hope. Many of the scriptures have been quoted. So too in Matthew 5:17 it says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” God gives forgiveness to each of us when we ask. BUT this does not change, eliminate or lessen the consequences we will endure for our sins. (Even passed on to our children?) I believe that we in the Mennonite Church have gotten away from the issues of sin and the consequences. RARELY are there sermons based on the lessons of the Old Testament. We must be very uncomfortable talking about the consequences of sin as provided for in God’s law. It is easier to think only of God as a God of Love, which he is to those that love and worship him and follow God’s Law . . all his law. See, I’m struggling!
Jose: How can a pastor, who has seen the violence in the streets of Chicago, believe that talking about victims and criminals and the death penalty save the addicted kind on my sidewalk. Hey…. tell me where to turn. The church runs away… they have kids, babies to take care of. Where are the professors, the theoleogians, the educated…Goshen College, Eastern Mennonite University, Hesston College, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, etc.? I don’t see them in my sidewalk. I don’t believe God’s children can do anything but save the victims, those who have killed as well as the ones who have not. However, give me hope… give me something.
Lon: I half wonder this myself Delores. I share in your lament of the church’s failure to educate its people also. (This is not an insult.) If we would put down the rose colored glasses and see what the Bible says on the “essence” of God, we see God described as primarily “Holy, Holy, Holy” that is, God is so other, so different, that he defies our understanding. The Bible doesn’t raise any other attribute of God to the superlative that happens in Isaiah 6. If we can study and grasp this, then we’re halfway home. I understand it upsets people to discuss such a fairly trivial matter to such great detail, when we should be growing in Christ more and pursuing sanctification. I apoligize for such. Discussion over victims, criminals, and capital punishment does not help their plight whatsoever, nor has anyone here made that claim. I seek the truth, whatever form that comes in, because truth matters. Ultimately therein lies our hope. Christ died for truth. Let’s not sweep it under the rug. There is always hope in HIM.
Brad: Is it possible to give someone the death penalty as well as forgive them for committing a first degree murder?
Lon: Hello and God Bless to everyone. In response to Brad’s letter, I must first say, very interesting. I think Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”, which may also say something about me! Now , when we discuss the matter of capital punishment, we first must remember it is the State that is given the authority of the sword to carry out justice (Rom. 13:4). The implementation is NOT to be done by an individual.There is a very big difference between actions of the State and personal vengeance. We are called to be merciful, kind and to have the love that covers a multitude of sins… as individuals. The State however, is responsible for the protction of human society. All evildoers therefore come under the wrath and judgement of the State. Now, to deal with your question. Can we forgive and implement capital punishment? The State is under no obligation to acquit the guilty of any crime. Actually it is the opposite. The individual does have freedom to forgive any crime apart from the actions of the State. But, that does not cancel out the need for justice. God forgives the guilty (if clothed in the righteousness of Christ) for eternal salvation. But, you still reap what you sow. Even Christians are legally bound by the laws of the State (while on Earth) as long as they are not ungodly laws. Despite our forgiveness in Christ, death still results from sin. Ted Bundy, if you remember, was born again on death row. Forgiven from sin by God, but still bound to the law of God.
Hanna: I personally don’t think it’s a good thing. What if someone is wrongly charged, and then they are executed?
In response to Brad: I agree with this comment. It would be hard to execute someone and yet at the same time forgive them. Yet the Bible teaches an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth… It’s so confusing!
Mary: I have been visiting several women on Death Row in California for the past two years — I live close enough to Chowchilla to visit several times a month. I have grown to love them. I also write to several men on Death Row — also here in California — and plan to visit them in the near future. San Quentin is much further from my home. I recommend befriending someone on the Row to really get an understanding of them as people. They are just like us. I don’t want these people — my friends — to be killed by the state. I know the parents of all the men that I write to — that is how I got started writing to these men. All of these families are victims, also. There is so much sadness in the world already. What we are doing — state sanctioned killing — greatly increases the sorrow of these families and in no way relieves the suffering of any victims of violence.
Lon: I saw that Newsweek magazine had an article regarding our forum topic. The article states that since 1976 there have been 486 executions, and 3517 on death row. The striking number is not those on death row but the amount wrongly sentenced to die… 75 “known” cases that have been freed. That’s disgusting. The system obviously needs MAJOR overhaul; it’s not working. In Israel’s system these numbers would be dramatically different (refer to past post). It goes to show sin begets sin. After reading that article I am now more convinced the system is unrighteous and must be restructured. Now in regards to comments. Yes, there is already too much sadness in this world. Why link it to capital punishment? Did not the criminal freely choose to kill? The sorrow should be directed where it belongs… at sin. The transgression of the Law of God is the cause for ALL sorrow in this world, not the implementation of justice.Capital punishment is not intended to relieve the sufferings of the victims, but to punish the wicked who dare to strike at the image of God.
Russ: What does the Bible mean when it says governments “do not bear the sword in vain?” After all, what does one do with a sword? Certainly not “spank!” If it is the government’s job to punish evil doers and Paul condones the use of the sword, then what does that say about capital punishment? That is why Christians must stay clear of involvement in government, because governments are asked to do things that Christians cannot!
Brad: Russ, I’m not sure what you are saying. Are you saying that the Bible says one thing and that Christians should do the opposite? Also, are you saying that Christians should stay completely out of public service?
Lon: Oh boy, now we might be getting off the forum topic, although it may pertain to the discussion at hand… loosely. I don’t know what Russ was implying but it sounded like Christians should crawl in a hole and not be the salt and light to the world. (Mt. 5:13-16) Not to open another can of worms, but…How do we then do we explain God working through human government? Is God evil?
1. Joseph was made a high government official in Egypt under, of all people, the Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:3-43)
2. Nehemiah in the court of Artaxerxes of Persia. (Nehemiah 2:1-10)
3. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego used in Babylon government. (Daniel 1:1-7)
4. And for those only interested in New Testament studies, we have a Christian of the Apostolic church in a position of government without being chastised by Paul. Erastus, the treasurer of the city (Rome of all places). (Romans 16:23-24) A pretty high office no? Used by the providence of God in their unique offices. And all for his glory. But that doesn’t mean government is inherently good, mind you.
Gabor: To prescribe the death penalty is playing God. OK God, take this guy’s soul because we think it is time. 85% of the USA population says that they are Christian in their beliefs. Yet, the Bible says [in the] Ten Commandments, “Thou Shalt Not Kill!” If you make an exception to one rule…well then it opens up all the rest for exceptions. What a nation of hypocrites! Even when the female or male sentenced to die accepts Jesus Christ…no dice. Where are the preachers now? Some, of them luke-warmly say, ” Well, maybe that person doesn’t deserve to die.”
When asked, “Would you do this if the person was a Buddhist?” [there is] no reply. What are we doing? Again, the Constitution says “cruel and unusual punishment.” How [much] more cruel can you get than the ultimate, Death? Yet, people will twist that around to serve their own ends. Where is the example of Jesus Christ? WELL, we are talking about the crime rate here. OH, it gets me votes! How many politicians do you know that have jumped on the capital punishment bandwagon?
The only time that I see maybe killing someone is up front self-defense. The actual assault is taking place and something needs to be done. Once the criminal is caught–by all means lock him or her up to protect the rest of society. While there, they work. NO WORK, no food. The criminal has lost their right to participate in society. He or she has done something against society. I can see putting a man or woman in prison. Still, when we are talking about death, look at the total person. That man or woman has a soul, mental, physical.
Who among us is pure or worthy enough to mete out death as punishment? What was Ghandi trying to show us? Or Buddha? Or Jesus Christ? I seem to recall something about violence begets more violence. Also, history teaches us that capitol punishment has never been successful in deterring crime. The number of crimes punishable by death has jumped. Remember when we used to hang horse thieves? What kind of an example are we giving to the rest of the world? Hello. Is there anybody out there?
Lon: Hello Gabor and everybody. Quite an interesting letter. Yes I must agree that demanding Capital Punishment is playing God. God demands we do it, ergo, God is playing God. The apostle Paul is known to be a deceptive, lying, redneck fundy in saying the state is given authority to kill. :~) (kidding) You said 85% of America says they’re Christian. Between you and me Gabor, I’ve got some great real estate to sell you down south. Call me. The only verse you quoted was “Thou shall not kill.” Oh?… [Did you ever] read an NIV or other contextual translation? Ever study a commentary on the matter, or discuss this with any brethren? This verse is best translated as “murder” not kill. Why? Then God is evil as I related in my earlier posts. Also brother, I must say it puts you in an unenviable spot. I quote “The only time that I see maybe killing someone is up-front self defense.” Say What??? You just said, sentences earlier “thou shall not kill.” It seems you do hold the murder translation after all, at best. At worst you are a slanderer attacking your brethren because you called me a hypocrite for saying I’m a Christian that supports Capital Punishment. Do you realize what you’ve said? (Forgiveness accepted. I know you didn’t mean it) :~) You say to lock up murderers. Biblical support? You said we aren’t pure enough to command death. We aren’t, God is. History also shows Capital Punishment has not been used as a deterrence. Since 1976, 486 people have been executed. How many more crimes have been committed, Gabor? Criminologists have said, according to my references, that enforcement is more of a deterrent. That is, “fear of being busted”!
Edward: Questions for Lon:
1. You seem to be searching for a single passage of Scripture that unambiguously repudiates the use of capital punishment by any government (although I suspect this purely a rhetorical stance, and that you are already fairly confident, as I am, that no such passage exists). Yet you also imply (above) that you oppose abortion and euthanasia, neither of which are explicitly addressed. Why can’t the death penalty fall into the same category, as an issue that can be resolved by appeal to reason based on general ethical principles, rather than one requiring explicit Scriptural reference?
2. While the Mosaic law certainly mandates imposition of the death penalty for a number of crimes, it also recognizes the existence of a social order that none of us would today describe as consistent with democratic principles (i.e., it assumes the existence of slavery, reflects a less “enlightened” view of the social status of women, etc.) Why do you assume that a set of laws created expressly for use within a theocratic government should be binding in this modern age? Might application of the death penalty be in the same class as the enforcement of endogamy, or the rejection of religious pluralism? That is to say, an ideal that makes good sense in a society where the church and state are unified–and thus the state can claim to directly represent God–rather than one where they are separated, and the state is more subject to the whims of its citizens than a commitment to carrying out God’s will? I don’t think Israel’s leaders ever needed to worry about the conflict of interest that arises from the need to continually run for re-election…
3. Do you feel that the dubious nature of capital punishment as specifically exercised in the past few decades is qualitatively different than that described in the Old Testatment? Perhaps the latter involved a higher burden of proof that would make it less likely to result in false convictions than the former, but it still seems hard to conclude that these safeguards were infallible. Does this mean that God really is willing to accept the possibility, however remote, that a “just” system of sentencing could occasionally result in the execution of an innocent? (This isn’t an argument at all; this is something that seriously worries me, and I can’t come up with a satisfying answer myself.)
The bottom line is that I feel very concerned about the direct application of laws or principles meant either for a society where the church and state are unified (Old Testament) or in conflict (New Testament) to our own system of government. I fully agree with you, though, that a simple, literal-minded extension of personal ethics (“Thou shalt not kill”) to public policy is equally problematic–you might just as well argue that taxation is prohibited as a form of theft. But I do think it’s important the recognize that the “authority” that entitles governments to act in ways that would be unethical for individuals does not entitle governments to act with total impunity (and I’m sure you agree based on what you’ve already written).
Nicholas: I was never more proud of our country, Canada, [than] the day I sat in the House of Commons, Ottawa, when capital punishment was abolished. We must continue to witness to government, our opposition to capital punishment –state murder–lest they succumb to the portion of the public who want capital punishment restored.
Lon: Hello Edward, and everyone. Congrats on a well-written, thought out disputation of some of my positions. It has made me sit down and think.
1) You are correct in stating that euthanasia and abortion are not explicitly condemned by scripture (although there is a strong passage in the book of the law on harming a mother with child, if death results, only it doesn’t say death to whom! child or mother and child?) The church (I also believe) rightly uses implications from the text of “thou shall not murder” meaning: “thou shall protect the sanctity of life.” However, Capital Punishment is not an implication from the text. It is an explicit command. Therefore, to nullify it would require an explicit command, no? One would be violating standard biblical interpretation if using the implicit to nullify the explicit. You brought up an interesting point with an “appeal to reason” and “general ethical principles” defining one’s position. Isn’t that what got us in to the predicament to begin with? Using fallen human logic and reason to understand God’s mindset for demanding Capital Punishment is probably not possible. (I may be wrong.) Whose rationale will we use to define what God meant? Mine? Yours? His? Hers? Or should we base our position on revealed scripture?
2)&3) First I must answer of what to do about Theocratic Law as imposed by God through Moses on Israel. Consider it historical, not binding on a different era of human Government in existence as you rightly said. We don’t live in a Theocracy (so to speak) anymore. You’re probably thinking, what about Capital Punishment? You’re forgetting brother, and I saw it in your post, Capital Punishment was not ordained in Mosaic Law, not by Abraham, but by God himself as part of his covenant with Noah (Genesis 9) The rainbow still shines. I do believe however, that Mosaic Law is an excellent groundwork for the method of implementation of Capital Punishment. God required a strict system, shouldn’t we? I feel the State doesn’t today, and therein lies my dislike for it. I would love to know the stats from Israel. I don’t know how “just” it was, or if innocents were lost. It’s speculation. I would tend to think if God set it up, it’s probably the best “human” system out there. You worry about conflict of interest in Capital Punishment? Politicians can and do vote either way regardless of principle. They are guided by the wind. Which is ungodly. I agree totally that we shouldn’t have a theocratic state. However, I do believe the State is required to obey the commands of God, and the church is obligated to call it into repentance/change if need be. I do affirm the State is called to a higher judgment than we are, which makes this matter all the more important to get right. I hope you understand my position. God Bless, Lon
David: I am always amazed at how people’s definition of “justice” seems like a redefinition of “revenge” – and it always depends on whether they get their way or not. The deterrence of the death penalty has long been debunked, and those who advocate the death penalty for this or that prisoner always talk about “closure” or “healing” – only for themselves. The death penalty is selfish and is vengefulness cloaked in mystical and misplaced righteousness.
Brad: David, I won’t paint all anti-death penalty advocates with the same brush if you’ll do the same with those of us who believe the death penalty is Biblical. I don’t speak of “closure and healing”. I speak of Biblical based justice. There are those who call on the death penalty for purely vengeful reasons – this is totally wrong. There are those who are just as vengeful who don’t believe in the death penalty – this too is wrong. As for “mystical and misplaced,” I feel you need to answer some of the serious questions and assertions, with scriptural backing, put forward by a number of Christians involved here in this discussion. Their interpretations of those scriptures is what should be discussed and debated with honesty and respect. Judging the motives of the hearts of those you don’t agree with will not lead to any meaningful dialogue.
Donny: While the death penalty gives us sad feelings for the condemned, I [have] come to think that there is some political-vested interest behind it. The state cannot afford a level of protection for the citizens. Instead of giving more to people, they kill everybody who [goes] bad beyond sanity. The other people, satisfied with revenge, congratulate and thank the judge, because nobody wants them in the street anymore. The Mayor is happy with it in the next election… They ignore the fact that people change. The punishment of sin is death, but not necessarily the physical death… unfortunately not many people understand or agree with it. I live in Indonesia, far from U.S., where the death penalty is seldom stated. Instead, the society simply kills criminals on the crime spot. Police also often do that, well known but unpublicized. When you it see here… then you understand how evil is the evil.
Raymond: To whomever remarked that this was not a dialogue… sure seems like one to me. First and foremost, life, especially human life is for me sacred. Any deliberate taking of human life would therefore immediately be circumscribed to isolated cases wherein the individual under consideration would pose so grave and present a danger to society that such action would be justified. Such a situation would presume that all other methods of deterrence had been tried. It would never be permissible to expose any other life or lives to a person proven to be capable of wanton homicidal violence. An exception to the above would be a situation of self-defense in which case anyone would be justified in protecting their own life or the lives of others with lethal force if their lives were gravely threatened by another. As for the apparent dichotomy between the types of justice called for between the Old and New Testaments: First, the situation isn’t so clear: Cain clearly wantonly murdered Abel yet God spared his life.
Secondly, one cannot reflexively just assign “vengeance” to the Old Testament God: whatever HE really is, He is certainly a lover of persons, particularly the Jewish People. Thirdly, the whole covenant relationship of the Judeo-Christian God with Humanity is certainly a journey in time which Christians believe was epiphanized in the person of Christ who clearly would have been against a DEATH PENALTY. Finally, all of us should try placing ourselves in the shoes of victims of violent crime. Accepting pacifism or non-retaliation in some form or other would obviously be extremely difficult (human speaking). This is a very tough issue. However, the words, deeds and actions of Jesus come very close to defining all human life as sacred. The taking of life should therefore be rare and very carefully thought through.
Reading through the dialogue, even after my own first comments I am struck by how good a dialogue it is and I am conscious of two things: the importance of TIME in understanding that scripture is a unity and the God of the Old Testament is also the same God of the New Testament and… the vital importance of realizing that no matter what conceptions we have of our own arrived at through study etc. we must see clearly that in Jesus we get our clearest idea of the very nature of this God…merciful, loving. No greater revelation, no greater word, will be forthcoming. In Jesus we “see” the Father. Accepting that, I fail to see how anyone who seriously reads the New Testament honestly could believe that Jesus and therefore the Father would be for a Death Penalty. Yet the exigencies of modern life confront the human community. Crime does exist, and society as well as individuals have the right to safeguard themselves against violence. Yet the death penalty would have to be a means of absolutely last resort and only applied in very, very rare instances and then only after all other means had been exhausted. And in the case of an individual thus considered and granted the many options and sophistication of most criminal justice systems one would be hard-pressed to think of a situation where the death penalty would REALLY BE NECESSARY. Individual, spur of the moment self-defense is another matter, and one can easily envision circumstances where the use of lethal force would be justified.
Roland: Why I think [the] death penalty is wrong:
* [The] death penalty even falls behind the biblical ‘eye for an eye.’ No one of those accused of killing other people held them in prison for two years always looking at their execution to come.
* [The] death penalty is not a penalty: a penalty is meant to change someone to the better – this is not the case if you kill this person. (People who can’t response to a penalty should be considered mentally ill and treated that way.) People who support [the] death penalty should call it what it is: revenge.
* European statistics that go back to the French Revolution show that the death penalty never had an impact on crime rates
Hugh: I practiced law 9 years before retiring to enter ministry. I had a varied general practice, which included criminal representation. Although race is a dominant factor in punishment, we ignore the bias of CLASS which I feel is an even deeper one in American “justice.” You’ll see many minorities in jail (including the mentally ill and mentally challenged), but not many [RICH] or [POWERFUL] members of minorities.
I once defended a first-time offender who confessed to stealing three golf balls and a golf cap. He aided the police with their investigation in which other young men with long rap sheets were eventually convicted. The police urged leniency: the judge gave my client the same sentence as all the others: 2-to-5 years in state prison. (Fortunately most of my cases were more successful.) While this was going on, a middle-aged woman was convicted of embezzling half a million dollars from the Episcopal Diocese where she worked. She got a suspended sentence with no jail time from THE SAME JUDGE, who said, “This genteel woman is too delicate for prison; it would be the end of her.”
My POINT? Make capital punishment mandatory, but only for those in the top 20% tax brackets. That would soon put an end to the whole discussion – and the valuable insights on your Third Way pages would begin to seem much more reasonable to middle-class America.
Brad: Roland, thanks for your comments. They are reasonable and presented in a spirit of fairness to the other side. I’m not sure how you can be so sure that Jesus would be against the death penalty. I see no eradication of the Old Testament call for the death penalty in the New Testament. In Bible college I challenged an individual to prove where Christ would have abolished the death penalty. He studied and came up with nothing and since has changed his views to support the death penalty. I agree that the death penalty should be used in extreme circumstances. My understanding of the administration of the death penalty in the Bible was that premeditated murder, where there were two witnesses, was mandatory death penalty. No other allowance for the death penalty was mandatory. In fact, there was the authority given to parents to administrate the death penalty to rebellious children, but no examples given that it was actually acted upon. Premeditated murder with witnesses is another story, however, and in my view, has everything to do with the sanctity of life. I believe that God was so serious about the sanctity of life that he instituted the death penalty to those who would murder another. Those who say that the death penalty is murder must also then call the incarceration of a criminal ‘kidnapping’.
And to Raymond, we must cease accusing proponents of the death penalty of excercising revenge. Some victims and some death penalty advocates want to see murderers get their own medicine. This is an anti-Christian response. As I have said earlier in this dialogue, there are also those who want people to be thrown in jail for life because they are mad and they want to see murders suffer. This is just as wrong. Any kind of human revenge is wrong. God was not seeking revenge when he swallowed up 3000 at Mount Sinai. He was seeking justice and he was telling His people how devastating an affect sin has on a people.
Let’s stop judging people’s inner motives, rather let’s continue to dialogue based on what we do know for sure. And let’s be careful to accept the Bible for what it says at face value, rather than coming to it with preconceived ideas about this or any other issue and then search for anything that might somehow appear to support our ideas. This is a challenge to all of us who call ourselves Biblical Christians, especially me.
JoAnn: I’m not sure, if this is a Christian web site, why there is so much talk against the death penalty. The death penalty is not “an eye for an eye.” It is from Genesis 9:6 “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” That doesn’t mean we rejoice at the killing. And we certainly don’t do it ourselves. Romans 13 then goes on to show us that the government should execute the punishment. The problem today is that we wait too long and punishment is not executed swiftly. At all times, I believe, we should pray that the person gets saved.
Stan: The Bible unequivocably mandates execution for the crime of murder. BUT, what is usually overlooked, is the Bible’s insistence and requirement of TWO eyewitnesses to the crime (see Deutoronomy 17:6). The Rabbinic tradition, as discussed in the Talmud, mandates that these eyewitnesses be meticulously interrogated, and also takes the mental state of mind into account. Thus, in the Bible’s judicial system, an accused murderer would not receive capital punishment if the evidence were circumstantial, even if the circumstantial evidence were overwhelming and there was also one eyewitness. It seems to me that the reasoning of the Bible is this: the Bible believes in absolute justice, so it therefore mandates the death sentence for murder. But the Bible sees it as a travesty and perversion of justice if an innocent man is put to death. Better that 999 murders go free than one innocent man be put to death. (there probably would have been prison for the murderer for whom the evidence was overwhelming, but the Bible does not explicitly mention prison at all). Given that we live in a country with a judicial system that will accept circumstantial evidence, I am opposed to capital punishment.
Lon: Excellent point made Stan. I am pleased to see such an in-depth statement in so little of a space. I, and I believe many others, who have posted on this matter, also have taken a similar stand. However, if conviction in today’s system is in full view of one’s guilt, I would not disagree with the verdict, if in fact he/she is guilty.
Raymond: Many of the comments thus far seem to draw heavily on the Old Testament.To Brad, Jesus’ response to the attempt to have the Woman Caught in Adultery stoned seems quite clear to me as a repudiation of the “death penalty” which was called for in cases such as this by the Mosaic Law. We would not expect him to have stood up and made a speech or hold a news conference in “modern” terms making a pronouncement against the death penalty. God gave us Reason that we might apply ALL of scripture to our lives here and now–in the present. To carry on today IGNORING that the ULTIMATE Revalation of Who & What God really is that we received in the Person, Words and Actions of Jesus is to ignore that God is FORGIVING–I don’t what it says in the Old Testament. I would like someone to comment on why Cain wasn’t subjected to Capital Punishment nor the Woman Caught in Adultery. Finally, has anyone stopped to think yet that Christ himself was a VICTIM of Capital Punishment? What are the implications of that truth?…Thank you.
Lon: Hello and I must thank all for a fantastic forum. It has made me sit down, study the word of God, and think. (uh-oh) First, the question of why Cain was spared Capital Punishment. I can’t read the mind of God. I don’t know why he spared Cain, then 5 chapters later said to execute those who kill. However, I will wager a guess. It seems that God himself is tempering justice with mercy. That, in essence, is what God does for us. We all deserve death, and God instead gives mercy. However, we must also see that Cain was punished harshly. He was cursed (v.11) Remember, even Adam and Eve weren’t cursed. It was the creation that was cursed. Cain therefore couldn’t grow crops as his food supply. (v.12) Cain replied that his punishment was more than he can bear. (v.13) That is not a punishment given to criminals today.
In regards to the Adulterous woman. It doesn’t matter what crime she committed. The outcome would always be the same, Raymond. If you have been reading the material on this forum, you would have seen the answer already. Under Mosiac law, two or more witnesses were required for capital punishment. You’ll remember that the ones who caught her red handed, the Pharisees, left and departed one by one. There were no longer any witnesses present. Thus our Lord asks her: “… has no one condemned you?” John 8:10. Under Mosiac law, nobody could have possibly been executed. You are reading too much into the text. Remember, Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question of what to do with the woman. Do you really think our Lord would let go a question of whether to obey Mosiac law or not? “I came to fulfill the law, not to loosen it.” He answered it, but he puts a distinction on it right away. He said, ” Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He said stone her. Before the Pharisees could react, he writes in the dirt which causes them to leave. The law of Moses has been upheld. Every Jot and Tittle.
Roger: Can any serious Christian imagine that Jesus would kill a person for any reason, whether capital punishment, military action, abortion, or in any other way? I can’t, and Jesus’ example seems decisive to me.
Raymond: Hi Lon. I want first of all to thank you for your thoughtful comments. I tune in once a week to see how everything is going. I see another topic is currently under consideration: Morality and Leadership…very germane to our current or perhaps I should say long- standing crisis in America. In your last “letter” I get the impression that you see the Adulterous Woman as avoiding the “sentence” which the Mosaic Law called for on a kind of technicality. You also cautioned me about not “reading” too much into the texts.
My point is that in the presence of Jesus, who is God-Incarnate (thus in-the-flesh the SUPREME revelatory event of all Salvation History, the Apex, the most Profound and Personal revelation of Who God is and What He wills), This Woman who should have been stoned, walked! Rather than “read” too much into a text, we cannot also only rest with the letters on the page, but approach Sacred Scripture as “living” and “breathing” with the Spirit… so we can ask…what is the lesson here? …what did Christ feel at this particular moment? Scripture says that he immediately bent over and began to write on the ground. What was He feeling? …What was He thinking? … What did the human/divine heart feel about the human condition, human frailty right at that very moment?
It misses the point I think to take pains to demonstrate how the Mosaic Law was kept “intact” due to her accusers drifting away, so that not one witness was left, where two would have been required. The “point” of this story I think is Compassion, Mercy, and Forgiveness FULFILLING the Mosaic Law in a way that mere “men” could not have fathomed up to that point. In fact all throughout His Ministry, men and women continued to WALK AWAY FROM CHRIST because His teaching was “hard” to accept. Nothing in Christianity which Lives in the Newness of the New Testament is harder to accept than Jesus’ call to Forgive others…even unto death. The World has never accepted that…the World has never accepted the Mercy and Love of Christ…and that is why we are in the mess we are in. Jesus NEVER would have been in favor of the Death Penalty! Never.
Lon: Hi everybody. I must say this forum is one of the more interesting forums, even though we have only dealt (so far) with Capital Punishment. I don’t think I have learned more about this topic than I have here. I believe Raymond’s dealing with the adulterous woman was great. However, I don’t know if I would call her “acquital” a technicality. Jesus dealt with her the same way he deals with us, with Grace. He tempered justice with mercy. Which certainly sanctifies the act and should encourage us to do so as well. I still do believe that the whole point of this episode was a test by the Pharisees, not solely just to abolish Capital Punishment. I understand and agree fully with Raymond that the incarnation was the pinnacle of God working out salvation for his people. However, I think (I could be wrong) I detected a different way of looking at the scriptures than I have employed. (I think) This may be the reason for our differences. Raymond said Christ fully showed God’s own perfect will. I agree. However, this perfect New Testament will is being set against the Father’s Old Testament perfect will. In other words, what is the definition of the Trinity? Is there a break within the Godhead? The Father says to do one thing and then the Son says to do another. I prefer “harmonization” of Old Testament to New Testament unless scripture specifically says one has passed away. If we don’t we basically have a canon within a canon of scripture. What statement has been given that Capital Punishment has passed away? It isn’t under atoning sacrifice, dietary law, etc. I seek a harmonizing view that the Father orders Noah to use Capital Punishment, Jesus says not to, then the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to write [that] the state has authority to bear the sword to restrain evil. That is all I ask. God Bless
Raymond: To reply to Lon’s last rejoinder: Lon, my brother in faith, I was truly touched by your thoughtful, insightful, in-good-faith grasp at a further “handle” on this issue. You stand in complete justice in the sanctuary of your own conscience on this issue. Well thought out and well presented, Lon. I do think that part of our divergence on this issue (the Death Penalty) is indeed our “approach” to studying Sacred Scripture. My tradition is Catholic, so in some shape or form I have been “formed” by the Commentaries I have been reading, which are Catholic ones. What is your tradition, Lon? Secondly, I think you are quite correct in “viewing” this whole periscope (the Adulterous Woman) as a “test” by the Pharisees to Jesus. However, it would certainly seem that an actual woman, caught in the actual act of Adultery is involved here … so Jesus’ response was certainly Judeo-Semaic “wisdom” response to his adversaries … yet it also was certainly as well a direct response to a moral dilemma emanating from his union with God the Father. I do not believe a contradiction is involved here at all … only our ability as members of the human race to slowly grasp down through the centuries the fullness of the Divine Will. Ultimately it’s a mystery which we will never fully understand until we “see” not as in a “dark mirror” but clearly in the Kingdom. We were created “thinking creatures” and one of our vocations in this life is to struggle with our minds to grasp what God has been all these years trying to communicate to us. In forums such as this … sincere thinking on this issue, as with all issues pertinent to Christianity and modern man, is what leads us to the truth. Keep up the good work, Lon. See you soon.
Lon: Hi everybody. I hope you enjoyed the weekend. I am pleased to see a more “laid back” forum than what had been evident in the past. I, after all, like to think we are on the same side. What I should clarify from the last post is that I came in this forum as a crass, redneck, ultra-fundamentalist type whose attitude was, well, let’s say, “fry ’em.” I have since changed my view based on our discussions. However, I still believe that Capital Punishment is ordained by God. I believe it must be done justly. The best method presumably would be by the system [God] instituted via Mosaic Law. Any other system therefore would be in question.
To answer Raymond’s last question, I am technically still “in the books” of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church. However, I am in the process of transference of membership due to a change of residence and other doctrinal matters unrelated to this forum. I am currently attending a Reformed Baptist church and will probably stay there. I regret that we can’t exchange e-mail addresses to discuss and “fine-tune” our formal relations on this forum (hint, hint) as I think that may also help our understanding of each other’s views. In Christ, Lon
Lon: I don’t know if this is a legitimate request. But if it is acceptable, put my address at the end of my last post.
webmaster: We have intentionally witheld the e-mail addresses of respondants. Our purpose, however, is to get our community talking about important issues, and Lon has voiced a desire to have his e-mail revealed to further this conversation. We will not post addresses of other participants without their request to do so.
Trent: God gave us minds to use. Agree? So, logically, killing one man to prove to the world that killing is wrong seems a little, hmmmmmmm, illogical. Don’t we view Singapore and some other Middle Eastern Countries who use extreme punishment to fend off crime as “extreme” and their punishments inhumane. The death penalty does not deter. Being from Ohio, I was immensely saddened by last week’s execution, the first in 36 years here. The media ate it up, though, bringing updates throughout the night. How horrible and disgusting. At the very least let the man die in peace. In response to people’s comments about how God killed and the Israelis killed. God does get angry and had a justified reason for killing the mentioned people. The Israelis killed under God’s authority and power, so the credit there again goes back to God. (This pathetic reason is used to justify Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians–but let’s not go there.) Bottom line, scripture states that we should not kill, but above all we must take Jesus’ example in the Garden before he was arrested and not use any force/violence.
To JoAnn: What is the example Jesus sets forth? The Bible states a lot of things, do you cover your head? Do you speak in worship? I don’t have the four corners of my head unshaven. Do most Christians you know? Come on, a hermeneutical approach must be applied when looking at Scripture. Don’t imply that this site is unChristian merely because it does not follow/believe the way you do…
Brad: Trent, to follow your logic…
* We should not capture and hold a convict in prison against their will, because kidnapping is wrong.
* We should not take a drunk’s car after he/she has killed someone while driving drunk, because stealing is wrong.
* We should not spank our children when they beat up another kid on the playground, because physical abuse is wrong.
To simplistically associate the judicious execution of judgment against one who has committed a crime and the act of committing a crime is totally illogical. This form of argumentation has lead many to arrive at a particular conclusion for the wrong reasons. There is no doubt that the murder is not the same as exacting capital punishment. That logic would make God Himself a murderer (He is not.). The question is, did Christ abolish the death penalty, when and where did He do this, and/or is it an unnecessary form of punishment. I see examples where Christ chose to show mercy and not exact the complete judgment He could have, but I don’t see any proof that this was to be the case 100% of the time. I am waiting to see this proof from some of the well-informed people on this discussion thread. As has been expressed by a number involved herein, I have found this discussion to be very informative as well. Thanks to all who write.
Raymond: Well … good recent postings … things I see are picking up (good debate going on here)! Several things. First I think it important for everyone who considers themselves a follower of Christ to give some consideration to the truth that we are in some unfathomable way all “family.” Good families argue constructively; they also respect and love one another. There is an amazing scene in Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov” (I believe) entitled “The Grand Inquisitor” in which Christ returns but no one recognizes him. If he were to return today or tomorrow, would he recognize us … would we recognize [him]? And if he began to “teach” anew, and we found out we were wrong about certain matters, would we change our views (easily?)?
Secondly, it is important through dialogue to seek the truth. We believe that truth can be sought after and found … that is what makes us different amidst a world which has “given up” on truth after having relativized and banished it (whatever floats your boat mentality).So let us not give up (ever) on earnestly seeking the truth through civilized dialogue.
Thirdly, to address the logical/illogical issue. Reason in mankind is at once a blessing and our Achilles heel so to speak. With reason we have created the Parthenon and put men in space … we have also … created the past specters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki … and possibly (let’s hope not) others yet to come? We are so often at loggerheads with each other because one cannot “see” what another so plainly does see or vice versa. Therefore … it is important to realize that reason is a boat which only takes us so far yet ultimately leaves us short of our destination … final and complete communion with Truth. (We will never completely know that in this life.) My point is that there are things, truths about the Divine Will that reason alone can never know fully in this life. A further human power, that of the heart, is needed to really “know” certain things. God is after all Love and is or can only ultimately be known through love … otherwise Jesus would have come as a Greek Philosopher and not as an intinerant Jewish preacher. In my tradition the words of Aquinas are very helpful here … there are certain truths about God that totally surpass man’s ability … there are some intelligible truths about God that are open to the human reason, but there are others that absolutely surpass its power (Summa Contra Gentiles, I chap 3).
In my view, the subject under consideration here, Capital Punishment is something God would never will (he is a Creator and cannot be otherwise) … but mere reason alone will never convince anyone … for that the Gospels must be read and an earnest attempt must be made to sit at the feet of Christ, listening to his every word … with one’s HEART.
Trent: Brad: Your logic might be considered that of a five-year old. Prison=kidnapping? Come on, we’re supposed to be reasonable adults here. Killing to show that killing is wrong. Blatantly stupid. Granted, there is a whole lot of contradiction in the world today. Anyway, I agree with you that we must look to Christ for guidance involving this issue, One of the examples I assume you’re referring to when you stated that Jesus didn’t show mercy 100% of the time would be the wilting of the fig tree. Right? I think that us not knowing if Christ chose to show mercy all the time proves that revenge is not ours and that capital punishment should be left in God’s hands when the time comes. If you could I would like to know some other examples and your thoughts. Likewise, this dialogue has been very informative.
Lon: Hello everyone. I understand Raymond’s statement that logic and reason may not help in understanding of biblical matter, and that the true “power” of the heart is needed as well. This may be off topic a hair, but I guess it pertains to the matter of how we interpret the Bible, thus Capital Punishment. I don’t quite think I understand the statement fully, I hope I don’t mistake the intentions of the author. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I believe this may be another area where our methodology affects our interpretation.
I will address this as carefully as possible and still try to stay on topic. Reason is a boat that goes only so far? Reason is simply rational thinking. One is limited by irrational thinking because that boat is always adrift. If rational thought is used, truth will always result. That is why St. Aquinas was a masterful apologist. He believed he could defend the faith rationally. Why have the study of apologetics if truth can never be attained by thinking? I think Aquinas is my ally on this. The Apostles used reason in Acts 8 to preach the word. Paul reasoned with the Greek people at Mar’s Hill in Acts 17. Why bother? To plant the seed for the Spirit. When one is born again he looks at truth from a different perspective. Ultimate truth can only be given by the Spirit. I think that is what Raymond meant by saying “from the heart” truth is found. Yes, but it is through using our human minds renewed by the Spirit. Man is not a robot being fed things to believe, he has a mind to have faith and believe. The heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. The human feeling of the heart is not our authority. I can tell myself anything from my heart. Always lay foundations on biblical truths, not necessarily on what one’s heart feels at the time. Scripture interprets scripture. I think a “reasonable” knowledge of truth can be found or we wouldn’t be called to seek it. Let us continue to reason from the scriptures about Capital Punishment. In it is the truth.
Lastly Raymond ended by saying God would not will Capital Punishment. Define will. Imperative or desirous? God wills creation into being and it appears. God wills no man perish and most do. Which will are you using? I don’t think God desires the need for Capital Punishment at all. He recognizes we live in a fallen world and men need restraint. In Christ, Lon
Brad: Trent, I’ve asked around our office and we can’t seem to figure out how you can make a parallel between the application of justice as directed by the rule of law and the act of crime itself (perhaps it’s not my age, rather, it’s my Canadianitys showing). They agreed that capital punishment and murder are not remotely the same–just as my examples of incarceration and kidnapping are not remotely the same–nor are impoundment and theft of vehicles.
Also, do you think God’s logic is, to use your words, “blatantly stupid” in the Old Testament in this regard? Or what is your explanation of God’s call and use of Capital Punishment? Thanks.
Trent: Brad: Who determines the application of justice in this world? Not God. Humans do. We may try to convince ourselves that what we do is right in God’s eyes, but since we are human how can we know? Granted, we can go to the Bible, but there are statements in the Bible that contradict each other (there I said it) IF you simply view them as statements. We deem other governments’ application of law as wrong, even criminal. That’s how I draw a parallel here. God’s logic is not blantantly stupid, but sometimes the human race’s logic is; just look at the news. The U.S.A. spent too much $$$$ trying to prove that our President lied and did a lot of bad things. (that’s a bad example I know) I could have told you that he lied for much less money– logic and government sometimes do not get along AND it’s the government that makes the rule about capital punishment, is it not? What I’m trying to say is that the rule of law and a crime can be one and the same. In answer to your first question… no, God’s logic is not stupid. You claim that the Old Testament states the we should enforce capital punishment. (The Old Testament also says not to breed two animals together.) When the U.S.A. and the other nations follow God’s law like they’re supposed to, then we can start to claim that reasoning. Until then, it is the humans who decide who lives or dies and that is not acceptable for “Revenge is mine, says the Lord”, and isn’t that what we’re really getting at here — we’re mad because someone killed someone else and we want REVENGE. It’s a horrible thing to kill someone, but we do not have the right to take his/her life. Your second question needs more clarification.. thanks…
Lon: Hello everybody and especially Trent. I will get right down to it.
* You ask “How do we know what is right?” Uh, maybe because God revealed himself to us? How do we know anything is right? Abortion isn’t in the Bible. Is it right? Then you made a statement that floored me … the Bible makes contradictory statements … if you view them as statements! I will give a brother the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think you meant that as it sounds. I hope.
* The government spent too much money to prove the President committed perjury? Ohh? How much is truth worth? Not much to you it seems. What price do you put on truth? Christ died for truth. Don’t tell me you are going to stand before Christ and tell him you don’t care for the truth.
* You said it’s the government that makes rules over Capital Punishment. Well, they make the applications, but Paul sets the rule in Romans 13:4, that is, to restrain evil. As your post said, murder is evil.
* The Old Testament says lots of things? Like not letting 2 animals bred together? Huh? You will have to expand on this.(If it is not off topic)
* When the world follows God’s law then we can claim the reasoning for Capital Punishment? So Israel followed God’s Law day in day out for all of the Old Testament???? Answer this!!! Man’s actions are a prerequisite for justness???? Then man can NEVER implement any justice if he has to wait for moral perfection. A cop can never give a ticket unless he obeys the law himself.
* “Until then it is humans who decides who dies.” No Trent, it is God. He said murderers shall be executed.
* You say (and others as well) that my desire is revenge. Ohh? I WANT JUSTICE. Look in your concordance under Justice and its other variations. Spend a few weeks on it and get back to me.
Trent: Off topic … Let’s not get started on money and the president’s lies. That money could have [been] put to a much better use than investigating him. He lied. He did bad things. I knew it — we all knew it. We also knew that there was no possible way for him to impeached. Spend the money on hungry children or education. ‘Course, knowing us we probably would have given it to Israel for “their protection”. Anyway … i’m not quite sure why you’re mad at the “if we view them as statements” comment. What I meant is that we need to take things in context and apply hermeneutical principles when trying to interpret what the Bible is saying. The animal thing – Leviticus 19:19. Your Romans text … What happens when the government tells us something that we ought not to do. Acts 5:29 “We must obey God rather than men.” I believe Jesus through his acts and words has convinced me that nonviolence and LOVE is the right path, and killing, be it knife, lethal injection, or electric chair … is violent and NOT a loving thing to do. All who draw by the sword will die by the sword … (this is also used for the pro arguement as well) Are we not drawing the sword when we flip the switch? Let him without sin cast the first stone … Murder is sin. Is not all sin the same? Could you throw the switch? Also, you say God said that murders should be executed. What about trial? There are rules for a trial in the Bible. Do you also not shave from the four corners of you face? Leviticus 19 He said that too. If I break your bone, then my bone should be broken too, right? That doesn’t happen in this society, WHY NOT?????? (Leviticus 24:20) Tell me!!!! If anyone curses his father or mother he must be put to death … He said that too. See my point? We hold the Bible up higher than Jesus the person, the man, our Savior. We pick and choose the verses we think best fits our world view and then shove it down people’s throats (sorry, a little off topic). Please do not stone me for the next point I’m about to make, because it’s so secular/cliche. But what would Jesus do? Would He flip the switch OR would he say “my precious, precious child; I forgive you?” hmmm?
Lon: Hi everybody Interesting points made, Trent. I don’t claim to know everything. I still wonder where that leads to justice being implemented. The Bible says we should be concerned with justice. Leviticus 19:19 deals with cross-breeding. I thought you meant two animals themselves of like kind. The idea is being made here of boundaries and distinctions. This may possibly help in cloning, but not Capital Punishment. Romans 13:4, you said, tells us to do something we should not. I understand your argument. That the state is to do Capital Punishment and we should steer clear. However, in a democracy, “we the people.” We are the government. Our fellow citizens are faced with this matter. What are they to do with Paul’s statement? Remember God gave this order to Noah as well, not just to secular state. Do I shave 4 corners of my face? That is Mosaic Law, why do you keep asking that? Capital Punishment was given by God to Noah before Moses even existed. I still have yet to hear refutation of Genesis 9:5. Is there a split in the Trinity? Is God mutable after all? What in the demands of God’s justice changed? Did the character of God change? The answers you provide will obviously answer my questions. Leviticus 24:20 is a statement demanding justice. There is to be no more or no less then an equal dispensing. That is biblical justice. So Paul says to restrain evil with the sword. That is justice. Yes, unfortunately we do tend to pick and choose verses to support our theology. That is why we must look at the overall. Why did God tell Noah to practice Capital Punishment then Jesus said not to, then Paul says to? Look at it overall, Trent. Or are there verses that we pick and choose to show that God is all love and not justice? The overall message of scripture is that God demands an accounting for the spilling of man’s blood. How can that be missed? Would Jesus “throw the switch?” Again, look at the biblical record overall. Not during his earthly ministry, he came to seek, not to judge. Final judgment is reserved for the one who sits at the right hand of God after ascension. Look at the book of Revelations. Will Jesus “throw the switch” at evil there? You bet.
Trent: Overall? So, since 2 biblical figures say yes to the death penalty and one doesn’t, that means we should support it? Is that what you mean? I do look at the overall. I can’t answer your questions on whether God’s character has changed, obviously. The reality is that “we” are not the people when it comes to government. Sure we elect officials, but do we have a say? Again, I hate to use Mr. Clinton, but he is a perfect example. The public cried out for the investigation to stop–did it? No. In your example it should have. OK, are you saying that if you line up the verses that oppose capital punishment and those that support it, we shall see that the Bible/God’s “overall message…is that God demands an accounting for the spilling of man’s blood.” Is that looking at the overall or simply doing mathematics? Finally, you stated my argument perfectly…”Final judgment is reserved for the one who sits at the right hand of God after ascension.” ps I’m learning a lot about other’s point of view here. Lon, it’s a shame we can’t meet and talk…I’m not particularly fond of typing my opinions, in other words–I like to talk a lot…I know I could learn a lot from you…Thanks, Salam
Lon: Hi everybody, Snow is falling in Southeastern Pa. and I have nothing else to do, so … I don’t desire a debate on politics and our “El Presidente.” So I will let that ride. :~) Yes, I agree Trent, speaking to each other is a far better way of expressing ideas than typing is or ever will be. I also have learned more about this matter of Capital Punishment and even if we don’t agree on this or that, I think we have all benefited from a deeper understanding of what makes each other “tick.” I have come to the conclusion (I ask for your opinion on it) that Capital Punishment boils down to interpretational matters of reconciling Old Testament to New Testament. I think there is too much desire to throw out the Old Testament. Yes, the New Testament is a better system. We presently live under the Grace of God, instead of the curse of the Law. I would agree the Old Testament must be interpreted in light of the New Testament. Jesus never says to abolish Capital Punishment. It seems strange, that if your view is correct, he never spent any time teaching against it. No parables, no commands, and no references. All I have heard is the story of the adulterous woman, and that deals with a testing of Mosaic Law and adultery, not the current state and murder matter we are discussing. Yes, Mosaic Law has been done away with, but not everything in the Old Testament is about Mosaic Law. Capital Punishment was not established by Mosaic Law. This matter has yet to be fully addressed here. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water, that’s all I ask for, harmonization of the sacred texts, Old Testament-New Testament.
Raymond: Hello Trent and Lon. One cannot read your comments, Lon, without getting the compelling realization of your almost total fixation (I do not mean that pejoratively) on Justice. And …you are to a certain extent perfectly correct …in a universe made up entirely of scales and balances in which Justice would be dispensed by mathematical-like entities … the Death Penalty would frequently be called for. After all, Justice is Justice … i.e. 1+1=2.
While physical laws do exist in our universe … the situation with humankind, morally and spiritually is not as clear cut. To begin with, first a comment about your question as to whether God is a “changeable” God. God does not change, but his outpouring of revelation to man (who God is) has changed over time, reaching a climatic fullness in the Incarnation of Jesus. There is a timeline and I like to think a significance to the Timing of Salvation History. God, in his ultimate Wisdom, chose to send Christ in the flesh some 1600 years after his covenant with Abraham. Why not have just laid all of revelation lock, stock and barrel on Abraham? Could it be that it is? We who change and that God addresses us AS to our condition, our capacity, our state to grasp … to comprehend situated as we are in this mesh called Time?
And yet Man, even in the presence of the Son of God Himself, grumbles and walks away rejecting this revealing of Who God is, what He really desires (cf. The Bread of Life Discourse in the Gospel of John). “Old Testament Man” will never, many at least never will, grasp this New Testament outpouring of the Mercy and Love of this God, the Father of Jesus. It is good to know scripture. It is good to quote scripture … but only by having our eyes totally fixed on Christ will we ever even begin to understand the Mercy and Love of this God He tells us about.
Furthermore, we must make a more thorough study of the true nature of man to continue in this debate. Man, we believe, is created in the image of God. Not only is he created by God but he is continually HELD IN BEING by God. (see Acts 17:28).Thus Capital Punishment, however justified can be seen as an attack on the very thing God wills … else why wouldn’t God cease to will the most deformed of criminals to exist? Secondly, the power of Christ was seen to be even OVER nature itself … so that what would be in human terms impossible was through the action of God possible … (the blind saw, the lame walked, those possessed by demons were made whole). Capital Punishment despairs any intervention of the power of Christ. If it could have been shown for instance that Karla Tucker’s conversion was “authentic” would we still execute her … is there no other way of paying her debt? …
As Paul said, under the Law all are guilty having sinned but with the Incarnation Christ brings a whole new way, not an abolishing but a fulfilling of the law, we are now given the ultimate commandment to Love. We are told that if our brother wrongs us seven times in one day, yet returns to us seven times within that day asking for forgiveness … we should forgive him (Luke 17:4). Capital Punishment ends forever the conversion of the criminal/sinner the efficacy of which is beyond our mere human understanding. The chasm between the Old Testament notion of law and the New Testament is Redemptive Love. Thus Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment deserves death (he is a cold blooded murderer), yet through the patient redemptive love offered to him by Sonya (herself a reformed woman) he experiences conversion, whereas in Lon’s universe he would have been condemned twice, once for being a murderer and secondly damned for all time for having died before he could have been “converted.”
The indelible image in the minds of Christians should not be the Greek Goddess of Justice, blindfolded and holding her scales … it should be the pierced, crucified body of our Redeemer offering us another WAY … love even unto death.
Lon: One of the best posts yet, Raymond. I enjoyed it thoroughly. You have the gift of words that I don’t. Anyway, you basically stated God’s revelations to man have changed. Yes, his redemptive ones, not his moral character. I’ll have to word it differently this time. What changed in the moral character of God, that he no longer demands the ultimate price for murder?
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that we must emphasize the nature of man. Man is created and stamped in the image of God. When a murder kills a diplomat of a country, it is also viewed as an attack upon the king himself. The murderer is assaulting God himself, in the sense that he is desecrating the image bearer of God. It has been stated that Capital Punishment is an attack on the will of God in the sense that it is by him we have our being. I guess God is schizophrenic in the Old Testament, but comes to his senses in the New Testament. Is that what one considers the primary violation in this debate? The will of God for humans as created, that is, the reason you and I are here is that we are to reflect the very character of God himself. That is what we have been created for. To sin at all is a treacherous attack against the one we owe everything to. That is the truly wicked matter that violates the will of God. Now which is more wicked? The penalty of God’s justice that he gives, or human evil?
Also said was that Capital Punishment prevents intervention of the power of Christ. This is new. What new doctrine of the sovereignty of God is this? God is powerless to intervene because of the timetables set by the decisions of men? Interesting.
I agree that if our brother wrongs us we should forgive the seventy times seven. How about when evil wrongs us? Why was Paul so concerned with restraining it by killing? You gave the best response to the difference of Old Testament theology and New Testament theology of Capital Punishment that I have seen yet. That it is a redemptive love difference. I understand where you are coming from now. I do not yet see the link though between Capital Punishment and redemption though. Maybe you can expand on that. Lon’s Universe is one where the Holy Spirit would convert Raskolnikov despite any attempts of man to the contrary. I also believe this example is one of an unjust execution that I would not support either. Would God be caught off guard by the swift and unjust execution of this man? If he is in the elect, I assure you God’s will will not be frustrated by evil.
Raymond: Hello Lon.This dialogue is getting lonelier and lonelier. I don’t want to monopolize things and wish others would join in. Two issues keep coming up with you … the changeable/unchangeable aspect of God’s nature and secondly … the apparent dichotomy between a sterner Old Testament God and a more merciful New Testament one.
A first foundational principle is that God cannot change. I am suggesting that it is WE who change. Since revelation itself as we know it has come down to us through HUMAN authors (granted the gift of divine inspiration which they had) it still is human authorship by humans. Man, the only animal on the planet with Reason, has continually progressed in his consciousness and moral awareness since his first appearance on this planet. Dinosaurs, were they alive today, would still eat veggies and we still don’t, after all these years, see chimpanzees walking around with dictionaries. The best example I can think of of how man’s awareness has changed would be Women’s Rights or Human Rights. Man’s attitude on these two subjects has changed dramatically over the centuries. As too with Salvation History … Jesus enters our world in Time to effect change in us … teaching us redemptive love. Ultimately it is man doing the adjusting and man doing the understanding of God down through the centuries … man has changed … this has not remained static.
Secondly, I never said “intervention” by power by Christ … I did say capital punishment DESPAIRED of the power of Christ … that is Grace. An inmate executed today might very well have been THE inmate who at some future date in the prison library would have found the Gospels and been converted. We end forever by executing him any chance of CONVERSION and conversion is what he/she needs. The IMMEDIATE concern for society with a murderer is concern that he not murder again.Toward that end there are many intermediate means to be taken that can safeguard against this before arriving at the Death Penalty. My point is that a murderer is one who has committed an act which he would not have committed in an originally Whole or subsequently Restored (via grace) state. Do I take you to say therefore that Karla Faye Tucker’s execution was “unjust”? We are not so bereft of reason that we cannot find suitable means to keep unreformable prisoners LOCKED-UP until natural death. And as Christians we ought to always hold out, ought we not, the possibility that GRACE could effect an outcome which we never would have deemed possible?
Finally, execution adds to the reality of our universe ONE MORE ACT OF VIOLENCE.Take the old philosophical question of whether the leaf which falls far within the forest … does it make a difference? Violence, even State sanctioned violence, only begets more violence. Christ did not come down from the cross at the taunts of soldiers when presumably he could have … because … VIOLENCE is not the answer … the ANSWER is the example of Redemptive Love … even unto the death of the Redeemer.
Trent: Hello y’all. I have but one word for the dialogue that has presented itself here in this forum, particularly between Lon and Raymond – “WOW!” Think you guys could start a lecture circuit/debate type thing – I’m serious! Good thoughts on both sides. Raymond, you read my mind (ok ok I read yours) – just before I read your last paragraph I thought “violence begets violence” and voila – there it was – good solid argument! Lon, also good points but I have to agree with Raymond on this one. I guess this is a weak attempt on my part to point the finger at Raymond and say “yeah! what he says!”
STOP BOMBING KOSOVO!!!