Ineffective Biblical arguments against capital punishment

gavel.jpgI think that capital punishment (CP) is a completely Biblical proposition if properly applied and that it is actually a pro-life position.  Having said that, in my next post I’ll make some arguments from a Christian worldview against capital punishment as currently administered in the U.S.  But first I wanted to address some anti-CP arguments that I would not use.   

(Note that I don’t use the cost issues in either scenario – i.e., “Putting them in prison for life is too expensive” vs. “The legal costs of the death penalty are too expensive.”  Justice ain’t cheap.  We shouldn’t go one direction or the other because it might cost more or less.) 

I’ll address these arguments:

  • Jesus would forgive
  • We might be eliminating the condemned killer’s opportunity to place his trust in Christ and thus causing him/her to miss out on eternal salvation.
  • Jesus is against capital punishment / Jesus reversed the Old Testament teaching on capital punishment
  • We might be killing someone who is innocent
  • Capital punishment is not a deterrent
  • The Bible says, “Thou shall not kill”

“Jesus would forgive” – Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason points out that Mother Teresa once used this argument to argue against a California capital punishment.  It is flawed for a few reasons.   

First, Jesus would forgive if the criminal repented.  I don’t know if the condemned killer repented in that case or not, but many times they do not.  And, of course, only Jesus would know if the repentance is authentic.   

Second, Jesus offers divine forgiveness but He doesn’t always remove earthly consequences of our actions (examples abound – see King David & Bathsheba, other Bible characters, you, me and others). 

Third, and most importantly, this argument proves too much.  The rationale that “Jesus would forgive” presumably means we shouldn’t apply the death penalty.  But those arguing against capital punishment typically drop back to a punishment of life in prison.  But if Jesus would forgive, how could we put this person away for life?  How about just 20 years in prison?  No, Jesus would forgive.  And so on.  The literal application of the “Jesus would forgive” position would keep us from punishing anyone, ever.  And no, that isn’t a slippery slope argument.  It just means that if you say society must forgive because Jesus would and you define forgive as eliminating consequences, then why apply any punishment?     

Another bad reason for this and the remaining arguments is that the ACLU would just hate them because they mention the “J” word (sarcasm intended).  Actually, they might like the arguments.  Sometimes people are willing to relax their standards when something benefits their position.  I haven’t done precise Venn diagrams on this topic, but it seems like the “Jesus would forgive” crowd overlaps a lot with the “separation of church and state” crowd.  

“We might be eliminating the condemned killer’s opportunity to place his trust in Christ and thus causing him/her to miss out on eternal salvation.”  I am big on evangelism, and I love to hear the stories of people who repented and believed despite horrible circumstances and backgrounds.  David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, is a powerful example.  I am involved with the Kairos prison ministry and support ministries like Prison Fellowship who take the Gospel to prisoners and care for their families.  But this argument just doesn’t work for me.   

First, anyone who puts it forth would have to acknowledge that the murder the criminal committed is an even worse crime than the state recognizes.  After all, the government is punishing the person for taking someone’s earthly life.  If you truly believe that an opportunity for eternal life was taken then the crime is significantly greater, perhaps infinitely so.  That would imply the need for a stronger punishment, not a lesser one, so you are arguing against your own position.   

Second, this argument ignores the sovereignty of God.  Both Calvinists and Arminians believe that God knows which way we’ll choose.  If someone holds a different view then they need to revisit my first objection.  I don’t think any non-believers will convince God that if only they had lived longer they would have repented and believed.   

Third, it takes many, many years before a convicted murderer is put to death.  He/she has plenty of time to consider whether to put his/her faith in Christ.  Condemned killers probably have more time than their victim did and certainly a greater sense of urgency to consider their eternal destiny. 

“Jesus is against capital punishment / Jesus reversed the Old Testament teaching on capital punishment” – This is much simpler to refute than most people realize.  Consider the following two arguments: 

  • Capital punishment for murderers was God’s idea (For example, Genesis 9:5-6: “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.  Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”).
  • Jesus is God.
  • Therefore, capital punishment for murderers was Jesus’ idea.
  • The Old Testament clearly teaches that capital punishment is an appropriate punishment for justly convicted murderers – both inside and outside the Israelite culture.
  • No New Testament teachings reverse this teaching.
  • Therefore, capital punishment is still an acceptable punishment for justly convicted murderers.

Foreshadowing: My next post on “(Somewhat) Effective Biblical arguments against capital punishment” will focus on the “justly convicted” part.

It is possible that Jesus could have changed this teaching, but there are no passages to support this notion.  The Bible indicates that capital punishment was prescribed for more than a dozen Israelite-specific transgressions.  But capital punishment for murderers goes back much farther, all the way to Noah.   

Peter and Paul both point to the government having authority to punish people.  In Romans 13, Paul specifically mentions that rulers do “not bear the sword for nothing.”   Presumably, the “sword” was for capital punishment, not corporal punishment.   

When Paul was threatened with the death penalty in the book of Acts, he didn’t object to the penalty itself, he just pointed to his innocence (Acts 25:10-11).  Jesus did the same when He was on trial.   

The “turn the other cheek” passage sometimes used to assert that Jesus was against CP is a misapplication.  That teaching is about personal relationships when you are insulted, not for government punishments of condemned killers.  It is hard to turn the other cheek when you are dead. 

And while turning the other cheek when you are insulted is noble and Christian, turning the other cheek when someone weaker is threatened or killed is cowardice.  Read it in context and you’ll see that it has nothing to do with the government administration of the death penalty:

 

 

 

Matthew 5:38-42 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

But what about the command to “love your enemies?”  Again, this is a passage to Christians, not the government.  It doesn’t even hint that the government wouldn’t hold people accountable for crimes committed against Christians.  If someone assaults you, you need to forgive them.  But jailing them may be the loving thing to do if it protects others (remember, you need to love your enemies and your neighbors).   

To make the case that capital punishment in general is un-Biblical one would need some clear passages to that effect.  And they simply don’t exist.     

“We might be killing someone who is innocent” – If a Biblical model of justice is followed, the odds of this happening are very, very low.  And God was willing to take that chance.   This argument does have some merit, as the U.S. has drifted from a more Biblical model of justice.  I’ll address that next. 

This is an unusual side note, but please consider that if someone is truly innocent, then their conviction is much more likely to be overturned if they are given the death penalty than if they have a sentence of life without parole. This is because a death penalty sentence has automatic appeals and legal support not available to someone with a sentence of life without parole.  Ironically, then, an innocent person sentenced to life without parole is more likely to die in prison than an innocent person given the death penalty.  This isn’t a major point either way, just one of those ironic twists.       

Keep in mind that many times there is no doubt about the guilt of the accused (Remember Karla Faye Tucker and “Free Tookie,” among others).    

“Capital punishment is not a deterrent” – Is so.  Romans 13:3: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.  Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?  Then do what is right and he will commend you.  For he is God’s servant to do you good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.  He is God’s servant, and agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”  Sounds like a deterrent to me.   

Please spare me any statistics that allegedly show that capital punishment increases murders or has no effect.  I appreciate a good study, but if you can find one that eliminates all issues like more fatherless kids, less religious influence, etc. – not to mention the interminably long process required to carry out an execution – I would like to see that one.  When in doubt, I’ll stick with clear Biblical teachings over man-made surveys.   

Also, I think it is rather obvious that stronger punishments are greater deterrents.  Do you think driving behavior would change at all if traffic tickets only cost a nickel, or if the punishment was life in prison? 

And of course, we can be 100% sure that capital punishment certainly deters murderers from killing again.  Many murders have taken place when murderers were set free or when other prisoners were killed.  If we love our neighbors we will seek to protect them.

Does it deter everyone from killing?  Of course not.  But since when was that part of the criteria for deterring behavior?

“The Bible says, ‘Thou shall not kill’”  Actually, it says you shouldn’t murder, which is killing an innocent human being.  And that is such a great crime that it brought the death penalty.  People who think that is ironic to kill murderes are missing the point.  Life is so valuable that to take a human life is to commit the greatest crime possible.  Also see Pro-capital punishment = pro-life.   

Anyone making that argument had better be pro-life, or they need to be prepared for me to point out the hypocrisy of being for the legal killing of innocent human beings and against the destruction of guilty murderers.  Also see Abortion and Capital Punishment.

 

 

2 Peter overview

Greetings,

This is an overview of 2 Peter.  I almost skipped this overview since we just did the overview of 1 Peter.  But this book has a much different focus.  While 1 Peter focused on external dangers and hardships (the suffering from the persecution for being Christians), 2 Peter focuses on internal dangers of false teachers.    Christianity has fought a two front war from its earliest days: From those who would persecute it from the outside and those who would distort its teachings from the inside.   

Who wrote it: Peter, one of the twelve Apostles who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry.  Peter was brash and outspoken.  He denied Jesus three times the night before the crucifixion of Jesus (just as Jesus predicted he would) but was restored to fellowship later and became a key leader of the early church.   Also see the 1 Peter overview

When written: Roughly A.D. 67, about 3 years after 1 Peter was written.  Peter was killed for his faith shortly after this was written. 

Why was it written: Jesus warned against false teachers, and much of the New Testament carries similar warnings and corrects false teachings.  Also see Doctrine Counts.

Servant evangelism

I wanted to share this story from my sister-in-law (and Godmother to J, daughter #2), a passionate pro-life Christian and all-around great person to be around.  She and my brother-in-law are raising an outstanding son who has one of the biggest hearts around.   She describes something I read about once, where church groups do things for free such as washing cars for strangers.  And I mean really free – it isn’t one of those things where you say it is “free” but you really want donations.  They would literally refuse donations.  

Sometimes just getting people to talk and offering to pray for them can lead to more in-depth spiritual discussions and sharing the Gospel with words.   Many people need to have their “reset” button pushed so they stop and consider what Christianity really means.  Read and enjoy.

We have this AWESOME new minister, right outta Seminary . . . he is “into” something called “servant evangelism”. 

Our first experience with it at our church was last Saturday.  He called FOUR gas stations in town to find ONE who would allow the Youth Group (and some adults) to GIVE AWAY ten dollars worth of  gasoline at a time.  The minister took it out of his discretionary fund.  When someone pulled up, a group of 2-3 people approached the  driver “Could we please give you $10 worth of free gas?”  The response was always … “WHY?” … then, the response would be “for no reason, just to let you know that God loves you today” or “for just a random act of kindness” or whatever struck the person at the time, to say. Then, they’d offer to pump gas and clean the windows.

IT WAS AMAZING!!  Eric and I participated with a group of about 15 people.  So many incredible stories . . . one guy pulled up in a motorcycle . . . He only needed to top off, and it was $2.53.  He said I could use some prayers, though . . . “I am on my way to ‘run’ in honor of my daughter who was just diagnosed with Leukemia.”  

Another woman wanted prayers for her sick mom.   When prayers were requested, a group would gather around that person, and lay on hands.  Fr. Marcus also wanted us to be “servants” of the gas station, because they were the only ones to accept our offer.  So, we cleaned windows and swept the entire store.

My favorite story was a guy just shrugged, “Na, I’m fine” and rushed past me to go in the store.  Apparently, the workers told him what was going on.  He came back out and looked me in the eye . . . “What is going on?  Where are you from?” . . .  “I have never heard of such a thing . . . to do this . . . and not want anything in return.” 

I told him the church name, but said, “We are not here to promote our church, we are just here to be servants and to let you know that God loves you today.”  By this time, he was completely softened and said, “I’m a florist, and I want to drop off some flowers to your church.”  The transformation in his mood was what really touched me.

Anyway, we went back to the church for pizza, to regroup, and to tell stories.  We gave away $310 worth of gas in about 2 hours.  We were ALL so touched how the Lord was in the midst of it all.

Fire the bad and unethical salespeople

Pastors who deny the essentials of the faith either lied at their ordination vows or changed their minds later.  Either way, integrity demands that they resign their positions or be fired. For example, if a pastor doesn’t tell the world that Jesus is the only way to salvation, it is due to one or more of the following:

  1. Ignorance of scripture
  2. Fear of being politically incorrect
  3. Active disbelief of this essential of the faith

If a salesperson for HP didn’t want to approach Dell customers for fear of offending them, or if he didn’t know enough about his own products to sell them or he really thought Dell was better, he should quit or be fired.    How much more so should pastors be fired if they don’t communicate the clear message of the uniqueness of Jesus, among other essentials of the faith.   

Q. Isn’t that harsh?  Are you saying people can’t question things?

A.  Visitors and lay people can question all they like. But the church was built on a foundation of some core doctrines.  These questions were asked and answered a long time ago.  It is fraudulent for pastors and leaders to take money from people who do believe the essentials then teach the opposite things.  Also see this classic by Charles Spurgeon. 

Q. Shouldn’t people be able to believe what they want to?

A.  Of course.  Jesus never forced anyone to follow him.  When the rich young ruler walked away Jesus didn’t negotiate with him or run and tackle him.  But pastors who deny the essentials should stop cashing paychecks that say “United Methodist Church” on them (or whatever denomination they are in). 

Q. Wouldn’t it be divisive to fire the false teachers?

A.  Probably.  Hopefully.  Jesus said the real Gospel would be divisive.  But there are plenty of Unitarian type churches these pastors could go to and live more honest lives. 

Also see In essentials, unity . . . and Doctrine Counts.

1 Peter 5

Greetings,

1 Peter 5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.  

I think there are a total of five crowns referred to in the New Testament that believers can receive.  Our salvation is 100% dependent on what Jesus did for us, but the Bible does teach that there will be different rewards in Heaven.  I’m not sure exactly how that plays out, but the concept is undeniable.  Of course, the least-rewarded position in Heaven will be awesome beyond description and infinitely better than the least-miserable position in Hell, but if God teaches that there are rewards in Heaven then it must be true. 

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

The line “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” is from Proverbs 3:34 and is quoted in James 4:6 and here in 1 Peter.  God only has to say something once for it to be 100% true, but it is interesting to note when a theme is repeated.  Note that we don’t start out humble. 

We need to clothe ourselves with humility and humble ourselves.  I don’t think this is a one-time activity.  Pride is sin at the root of most other sins, so we need to constantly work to humble ourselves.  God will lift us up when He is ready and we’ll be glad we had humbled ourselves.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

The previous passage is an excellent one to memorize.  Think of the comfort it gives to know that you can “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  Jesus taught many times in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and other places that we should not worry.  That is hard to do.  But God tells us to give him our anxieties. 

Also note that the devil, Satan, is always looking for people to devour.  We resist him by standing firm in our faith.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

Note that Peter acknowledges that there will be suffering for their faith but that God will make them better for it.  God allows challenges in our lives to make us grow and to become more like Jesus. 

Please share any comments or questions you have.  Next up: The second letter from Peter in the Bible, 2 Peter.

Quote of the day

I really appreciated this quote, because it speaks volumes about the wrong assumptions people often make when criticizing “Christianity.”  For what they are criticizing is not behavior that Christ taught, but behavior that is often the opposite of what Christ taught.  In addition, the “good” things about secularism nearly always overlap with Christian principles.   

Secularism looks best when secularists live like Christians ought to, but in a way that is inconsistent with their secularism, and Christianity looks worst when so-called Christians live consistent with secularist principles.

Greg Koukl, Stand To Reason Podcast