Someone recently posted this question on a social networking site… The Death Penalty: Does it really solve anything? I feel compelled to share the conversation.
First off – the way the question was posed has automatically skewed the answer with a negative bias. Asking for results-oriented justification isn’t the best way to look at anything. Based on their productivity, most Husbands and Churches are pragmatically useless.
Isn’t the reason we have capital punishment because it has ancient Biblical roots? Genesis 9:6? (Side note: according to the Bible, you could not be convicted without two witnesses / piece if evidence – no circumstantial stuff.)
I know that it seems harsh in today’s soft society. It was never meant as a correction or for rehabilitation like other forms of discipline. The main goal isn’t even a deterrent. It’s major purpose is to protect the prerogative of God – the sanctity of life. According to God, no one is to get by with murder.
From JB: The Old Testament is an ancient text written for ancient times, before Jesus came. His love and work speaks of forgiveness. According to the Old Testament, death is a punishment to be given for prostitution, profaning on the Sabbath, ext. Obviously, we as a society don’t put hookers on death row just for being hookers.
Let me say that I’m not an expert & I don’t know it all. This is my humble interpretation of Scripture & society. First, I agree that it’s tragic if just one innocent man would die in the name of capital punishment. Again, if we required the Biblical amount of evidence, fewer people would be on death row.
In addition, the Old Testament is old – but not irrelevant. To say it’s wisdom does not apply is to miss the authority that Jesus himself quoted hundreds of times. As to your thought about prostitution & the Sabbath day: I think I might not have been clear about what I was trying to say. I’m not saying that every Old Testament law is appropriate to apply to our context. In fact, much of the ‘law’ IS outdated and/or not relevant to this culture. But passages about capital punishment, homosexuality, etc. were given BEFORE the ‘law’ of Moses. They are fundamental, natural laws – because they protect inherent rights given by a Creator, not by government. Much of our own laws today are founded upon the principles of the Old Testament – they are entirely relevant.
Jesus himself said that He did NOT come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. I wish we could operate a society totally based upon “love and forgiveness” – but justice in an appropriate part of society. One day – for all true believers – we have hope that love, forgiveness, and justice will all align in a place called Heaven. But for now, they seem to conflict and to be at odds.
From WD: I strongly disagree with your interpretation but I will agree to disagree. But let it be known, I don’t consider myself a “soft” member of a “soft” society just because I don’t like or advocate for the death penalty. I thought our faith is strongly based on the teachings of Jesus and no where have I read that Jesus was for people being killed for their mistakes or failures. When did we start strictly living and teaching only what the Old Testament says. And I’m really going to have to think about your comment: “The main goal isn’t even a deterrent. It’s major purpose is to protect the prerogative of God-the sanctity of life.” What if we could teach people the power of forgiveness, growth and rehabilitation through working with someone to become a better person who has killed another human being. Isn’t that protecting “…the prerogative of God-the sanctity of life.” My main focus in starting this discussion was truly understanding why, if we have the death penalty, it’s okay to kill some people who kill others and not all of them. And when we start executing, we run into the BIG risk of killing innocent people. Isn’t that too big of a risk? If we execute an innocent person aren’t we doing what we are trying to punish others for? I don’t think I live in a soft society, just smarter.
I didn’t mean for the ‘soft’ comment to be taken personally – definitely didn’t direct it to anyone in particular. By soft enough I mean: I just see that most of Christianity today is enamored with grace, love, and hope of Jesus … without looking at the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God. For example, my wife read this morning: Isaiah 61:8 … the Lord loves righteous judgment. That ‘prophecy’ has not changed over the last 3,000 years. That is WHO God is. God is both love and justice. He is both forgiveness and retribution. He is both hope and judgment. Doesn’t make total sense to me, I must admit, but I just have faith because that’s who the Word says He is.
I certainly understand your quandary about the innocent – I am plagued about that too. I have had this conversation with prisoners in a prison chapel. We had some interesting dialogue to say the least – but a surprising number are actually pro-death penalty! They had some very interesting points… the best being that, from the spiritual standpoint, the death penalty ends a person’s opportunity for salvation and spiritual growth.
You are right, that there is a definite ‘risk’ – even one life is a ‘BIG risk.’ But we both know that the exception to the rule doesn’t excuse the rule. I just think that doing away with a 5,000+ year old rule with Biblical foundation just because our nation hasn’t been careful enough with evidence isn’t the right way to go about it.
From WD: Don’t get me wrong, as a minister I still use and see the Old Testament as important and useful and when we pick and choose things from the Old Testament saying “This is relevant, but This isn’t” is wrong and we need to turn to the Bible as a whole to guide us as people in this century. Our system is broken. Thanks everyone for a good healthy adult observation.
This is an emotionally-charged issue that seems to polarize Christians… What do you think?
*Thanks WD for the thought-provoking question!
- Capital Punishment, Sanctity of Life, and Human Dignity (thepublicdiscourse.com)
- Christian Leader: The Death Penalty Affirms the Sanctity of Life (patheos.com)