Answer by John Mackay
Australian newspapers have been full of statements concerning “Death Penalty is Murder!” or “Murder at Midnight”, in the light of Indonesia’s execution of two Australian drug smugglers (April 28 2015). Even many church people are arguing that putting someone to death, even for murder, is one murder justifying another. But having been in a mortuary when they bought in the body of a beautiful young girl who had died as a result of drugs, I have little difficulty seeing the connection between murder and high profile drug dealers, whose business is to profit from the sale of death!
But the real question must be not what is your opinion or their opinion; but “Does the Creator God of the Bible believe in the death penalty?” To take it at its broadest, the answer is, yes!
When the New Testament teaches that Jesus actually died to pay the penalty of our sin, and that this was acceptable to a just, holy and righteous God, it is very evident that God believes in the death penalty. His son Jesus suffered it on behalf of us who are sinners. That should not surprise us, in the light of the first warning He gave the first man Adam – the penalty for sin would be death. A rule he has never withdrawn.
But the immediate social context of this question is should murderers, drug dealers etc, be put to death as a just penalty for their crimes, and should their fellow man be the one to put them to death, and if so who has authorised it?
The first reference to man being authorised by our Creator God to put someone to death, occurs after Noah’s flood, where we read in Genesis 9:1-6 of God instructing Noah, that whoever puts a man to death, they themselves are to have their life taken from them, and this penalty is to be implemented by their fellow man. The logic God uses on Noah, is that man is not to be murdered by his fellows, because man alone is made in the image of God.
The immediate context is that God had just authorized Noah to kill and eat animals. Since God was the Creator of animals, He had every right to dictate who can kill and eat them. Note we have never been authorized to use cruelty in killing them. All animals remain the property of God and neither has He authorised that they are to be killed for sport. Likewise, God authorizes man to put animals to death if they have savaged or killed a man, and He argues that animals are not allowed in any way to interfere with man’s dominion over them, nor to harm man because man alone is made in the image of God. Man on the other hand however was and is authorized to take their life because animals are not made in the image of God.
But the statement in Genesis 9:1-6 includes Gods authorizing man to actually take the life of any human being who murders another man. Therefore we have to distinguish between somebody who unjustly takes a man’s life i.e murder, vs somebody who is authorized by God to put them to death, which obviously God does not count as murder. This very important distinction is the one God makes, not the ones many governments or human courts make. At this point it is undeniable that the God of the Bible believes and authorises man to use the death penalty.
Hence when you arrive at the 10 commandments, revealed by God to Moses (Ex 20) you will note the real internal consistency of the Bible. You read “thou shall not kill” (Ex 20:13) which has been quoted ad -nauseam in this current debate. But we know “thou shall not kill” is actually about murder only, because in the very next chapter, God instructs Moses that the death penalty is to be implemented upon anybody who does murder a fellow human. (See Exodus 20:13, Ex 21:12-14, Lev 24:2)
Moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament – did Jesus believe in the death penalty? There is one classic example where a woman convicted of adultery is brought to Jesus to force him to pronounce the death penalty (John 8:1-11). Jesus means of dealing with both justice and its flip side mercy is amazing. He never denied that the woman deserved the death penalty. After all He was the one who as the Word of God dictated the death penalty rules to both Noah and Moses, and actually authorised the death penalty for adultery. But the sin of hypocrisy in his sight was and is just as bad as the sin of adultery or murder. Hence He taught the Jewish people that if they broke the least of His commandments, they may as well have broken the lot. The penalty for breaking any of the Creator’s commandments whether it be lying, stealing, cheating or murder, is always death! Hence He reproaches the hypocritical Jews who want her stoned, and simply shames them by His statement – “Any of you who is without sin, feel free to pick up the first stone and put her to death!” When they all melt away in disgrace, He makes His classic statement of Grace to the woman; “If they don’t condemn you, neither will I. Go and sin no more!”
So did Jesus believe in the death penalty? – Yes! Did he believe in justice? Yes! But he also believed that whoever was authorised to implement the death penalty, was absolutely capable of granting mercy. Not because it was deserved: mercy never is. Not because it was demanded: mercy never can be. The giving of grace and mercy will always lie within the power of those authorised to implement any punishment, including the death penalty.
One obviously keen supporters came to a meeting and shared with me, that he had been led to Jesus Christ by one of our board members. He got ‘saved’ while he was a prisoner in Her Majesty’s prison. As we discussed what he was imprisoned for he stated: “I was in for murder”. Once he became a Christian his life really changed; the prison system had no further need to detain him and neither had it anything to offer him. His life now continues to be lived by Grace and Mercy. Firstly through Jesus Christ his Lord and Saviour, and secondly from the prison system. Which does bring us to one benefit of the penitentiary system. Its original design in the Christian west was to enable even the murderer to repent before they were executed. The chaplain’s task was to lead them to peace with the maker, so death lost its sting in the knowledge that the real Judge would accept their humble repentance and forgive their sin, thus opening heavens doors for them. Indeed as far as we can discover that’s exactly what happened to one of the executed Aussie Drug smugglers who is now better off than any of us with Jesus Christ.
And since all of us are under God’s death penalty for our sin, we all need the same solution – Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, Lord, Saviour and God. Meanwhile don’t go round claiming the death penalty is bizarre, is murder or any other nonsense – since it is the Creator you are rebuking!
And don’t make another batch of Ned Kellys from two drug dealers who got what they deserved, even if it wasn’t what they or their families or political supporters wanted!
I have noticed that any nation which abandons God’s death penalty for the guilty, almost always implements the death penalty upon the innocent i.e. Abortion
Famous killers who were let off: Cain David, Paul
Think about what penalty you deserve! Read Jesus on murder vs hate (Mt 5:21-24, 1 John 3:15)
Any soldier at war obviously has to believe the death penalty is justified, because he is actually employed to kill any people he is ordered too. The only recorded conversation with soldiers in the gospels, is God’s prophet John the Baptist teaching soldiers to not be unhappy with their pay and not complain but to get on and do a good job soldiering (Luke 3:14). The Roman soldiers he was talking to were well known for having to put people to death in battle, so the prophet John obviously didn’t make any public criticism of their role as life takers.
This author lives in a country that does not practise the death penalty and has a judicial system that thinks putting a man or woman in prison for their whole life is a better punishment. It certainly is far more expensive, but that ‘upkeep cost’ is not paid by the prisoner who is supported in fair to moderate luxury. The victims’ families are the ones who pay twice. The wages of the murderer’s sin is actually paid by those who have been sinned against.
Noah’s Flood – It was God who warned of judgment and sent them a preacher of righteousness to warn them for 100 years and he also provided a way to escape his judgment. When this was ignored, it was God who actually implemented the death penalty. (See Gen 1:6-9 and 2 Pet 2:5)
This whole discussion has little to do with the fact that it is undeniable serious errors have been made and sometimes been deliberately made, in implementing the death penalty. But that is another discussion.
Jesus and the Apostles never criticised soldiers for being soldiers. Jesus healed a Centurion’s servant, and commended the Centurion for having faith in Him. (Matthew 8:5-13) Peter went to the Centurion Cornelius’ house to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. (A Centurion would be equivalent of a Company Commander in the modern day army)
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