All too often we hear the famous Biblical scripture, "An eye for an eye" quoted when referring to the death penalty. During the jury selection for a capital murder trial I attended, countless potential jurors gave the wide-eyed, innocent look with the answer of, "Because the Bible says so." when asked why they believe in the death penalty.
I checked, and just did so again, and my Bible has a New Testament in it. To my understanding, along with Jesus' miraculous birth, life, death, and resurrection, He also came to teach us mercy, forgiveness, and love. These are values, Christian or not, that we all should strive towards. The Biblical view on the death penalty intrigued me, so I asked a minister about it. Here's a condensed version (his was 10 pages) of what he had to say about it...
The first murder in the Bible occurred in Genesis 4:3-15. The story of Cain and Able. Cain never actually repented for killing Abel in cold-blood, yet God (the chief authority), only cast him out of the land that had "accepted" the blood of Abel, rather than killing him as justice demanded. In fact, God puts a "mark" on Cain as a sign for people to NOT kill Cain.
Now, Moses, one of the most beloved and revered men of the Old Testament, and who even SPOKE TO GOD, face to face (Exodus 34:10), was a murderer and fugitive, when he killed the Egyptian and fled to Midian (Exodus 2:12), yet he is a man called by God.
What about king David, whom the prophet Samuel called, "...a man after God's own heart." (1 Samuel 13:14)? King David not only committed adultery with Uriah's wife Bathsheba, impregnating her and attempted to fool Uriah to believe the child was his, but he also had his loyal soldier killed in battle.
And then there's Paul. Saul, later known as Paul, did in fact imprison and have killed many Christians simply for their BELIEF in Jesus. Yet, in Acts 9:15, Jesus Himself calls Paul, "...a chosen vessel of mine...". The entire account is in Acts 9.
In 1 Timothy 1:12-16, Paul states that he did those things out of ignorance, but that NOW, Jesus Christ would show his long-suffering (patience) with other people, by showing Paul as an example; a murder of Christians, yet now chosen by Jesus and a Christian, to carry the Gospel Of Salvation to the Gentiles. Forgiven indeed...
The point of this? Only to cause you to think and delve deeper into Scriptures concerning judgement, mercy, the law of punishment, and the law of forgiveness, AND...the death penalty.
Justice in the Bible, is not merely punishment, but rather equality. Meaning that God holds everyone to the same standard; rich or poor, powerful or weak, male or female, GOD IS FAIR, as in just, with all. He not only expects the same from us, but COMMANDS it (Deut.10:17-18 & Lev. 19:15-16). Now I address this specifically to Christians, who state that they support the death penalty BECAUSE the BIBLE says so. Yet, you will claim for yourselves that, "I am...'a new creation, old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.'" (2 Corinthians 5:17) and, "...'now there is no condemnation..." for me, since I'm in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1). All true, but when another person, whether innocent or guilty, is charged with a crime and taken to trial, my fellow brethen will demand the death penalty, because, "The
Bible declares it so."
I ask, are you a Jew? One who follows the letter of the law? If so, you must follow the ENTIRE letter of the law or be condemned. Homosexuality (Lev.20:10-12 & Deut. 22:22), fornication (Deut.22:20-21), disobedience to ones parents (Deut.21:18-21), working on the Sabbath (Deut.5 12-15), rape of a betrothed woman (Deut.22:25), idolatry or one who leads others to idolatry (Deut.17:2-7), mediums or those "familiar spirits" (Lev.20:27; (as well as those who say they are merely into the "occult" and the 1-900 numbers to fortune tellers, palm readers, etc.) and even cursing your parents (Lev.20:9) or God (Lev.24:10-16) are ALL punishable by death, according to the Old Testament. Think of the above "crimes" as they apply today. How many fornicators (premartial sex), "rebellious" children, adulterers or homosexuals, just to name a few, have been tried for any of these offenses as a crime deserving capital punishment in todays modern times? Rather, it has been narrowed down to specific terms for murder, for a specific class of people, that DIFFERENT STATES define as crimes where the death penalty may be exacted. And in the majority of instances, it is the poor, who cannot AFFORD to hire their own attorney, that end up tried and sentenced to death. Remember, if you claim to be in support of the death penalty, because "the Bible says so, " then you MUST follow the ENTIRE letter of the law or be accursed (Galatians 3:10-12). BUT if you make this claim, then you're NOT actually a CHRISTIAN, reread the entire third chapter of Galatians and you'll SEE why.
Now, lets see what JESUS thinks of the death penalty. In John 8:1-11, a woman caught in the very act of adultery, was brought to Jesus by religious leaders, in order to TEST Him. Jesus did not dispute that adultery was punishable by death, but merely said, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." (v.7). No one did. Jesus said to her,
"I do not condemn you either." (v.11).
A higher law went into effect when Jesus arrived...MERCY. Beginning in Matthew 7:1-2, we are told that the measure with which we measure (judge) others, will be dealt in the same manner to us. Compare that with the story in chapter 18:23-35, of a man who owed a great amount of money (about 10 million) to his king. He could not repay it and was about to be sold, along with his wife, children and all he owned. Falling upon is knees, he begged the king for mercy. The king had compassion on him and forgave his debt. Yet, right after this merciful deed, a fellow worker ran into this man. The worker owed him a much smaller debt (about 20 dollars), the ungrateful man who had just been forgiven his debt, grabbed him by the throat and demanded his money. Now this poor fellow, fell upon his knees and begged for more time to pay off his debt. The man had the worker thrown into prison until the 20 dollar debt was paid off When the king heard this, he was angry with the man whom he'd just forgiven such a huge debt, yet this man couldn't forgive such a small one from his fellow worker? In the kings wrath, he had him put into prison until his huge debt could be paid off.
Jesus then sums it up in verse 35, that His Father in Heaven will deal with everyone of us in like manner if we do not freely forgive.
How does this apply to the death penalty? First off, Romans 3:23 states that we've ALL sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, hence, everyone owes God a debt that we can never repay. Therefore, JESUS paid off this great debt and when one cries out to God for mercy, your sins (debts) are forgiven and the BLOOD OF JESUS fully cancels out the record of those, and every future debt. But should ANOTHER fellow human being be caught in a trespass (breaking the law), you DEMAND the fullest extent of punishment to be exacted, claiming that "justice must be served," adding that the Bible supports such an attitude, "eye for an eye."
And, lest some should say, "Well, I've sinned, but have not committed MURDER. That is the ultimate crime, so it SHOULD require the ultimate punishment." , go to James 2: 10-13. As Scripture CLEARLY states, if you claim to keep the law, then you're bond to ALL of it's requirements. And, if you've sinned in what you regard as a "minor infraction," THE LAW considers you to be guilty of the WHOLE LAW (verse 10-11). Go ahead and read that again.
Matthew 9:11-13 is similar, in that when Jesus was condemned by self-righteous individuals for eating and fellowshipping with people they regarded as sinners, therefore unqualified, The Lord relied that," the well do not need a physcian but the sick do," and for them to LEARN what it means, "I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE."
So learn what mercy truly means because when YOU are crying out to God to have MERCY on you and your loved ones, remember, have YOU shown mercy to others?
Prisons ARE necessary. That's a fact of life in this world. But God has MUCH to say about prisoners! Please take the time to read these passages of scripture, because even YOUR well-being and salvation depend on it. How? Recall to mind what Jesus said about prisoners in Matthew 25:36-46; which are you, a "goat" or a "sheep."
Begin in Job 36:8-15, Psalms 68:6, 69:33, 107:10-16, 146:7, Isaiah 42:6-7, 61:1 and Luke 4:18-21. But Psalms 102:18-20 sums it up best, "Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: The Lord looked down from His sanctuary on high, from Heaven He viewed the earth to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death."
Lest any should say that these verses only apply in a "spiritual sense," reread ALL of Psalm 107 and it's evident that every affliction was physical. The rest reaffirm this, in their entire context as well. Notice that I cited Scriptures pertaining to prisoners who did NOT obey God or His commandment, which is WHY they're in prison (Job 36:8-15 & 107:10-16), and didn't use verses applying to those wo were imprisoned for DOING the will of God, such as Joseph, Daniel, Jerimiah, Peter, Paul Silas, and others. Rather, the verses up above refer to individuals who did WRONG. Yet the common theme in them all, is that GOD IS RICH IN MERCY.
It grieves my heart to hear my "older brothers and sisters" telling our Father that I don't deserve His mercy or kindness. My heart breaks when I hear you telling Him that you've always been obedient to Him and I've only wasted His good gifts. But I rejoice within myself when I hear Him say, "But it was fitting to make merry, for this brother of yours was dead and is now alive! He was lost and is now found!" (Luke 15:11-32; verse 32 cited). You see, I and many others here in prison, are your "little prodigal brothers and sisters." We wasted our Fathers goods and find ourselves in the mire of our sins. But we've "come to ourselves," REPENTED and have finally RETURNED to our Fathers House. Although we would GLADLY be accepted as servants, just to be NEAR HIM, our MERCIFUL DADDY ONLY accepts us as His own CHILDREN... But we hear your words AGAINST US and it hurts...deeply. We're all too aware of what we've done wrong. Believe me, it's always before us, here in prison And although it hurts for you to remind our Father of all we've done wrong, we love you anyways. WE'RE FAMILY, that's what we do...
One last story please...
There was a man who had never done anything wrong in his life, committing himself to serve and help his fellow man. In fact, that was his purpose for living. But he was condemned to death, simply because the authorities could not stand his words of truth and manner of life. He was arrested, beaten, mocked, and through the most civilized court system in the word at that time, he was sentenced to death. Even the judge presiding over his case KNEW this man was innocent. After being whipped and placed on the instrument of his torturous execution, one of the two condemned men near him also mocked this poor man. This unjustly condemned man looked up to Heaven and said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34). But, we, as Christians, DO know what we are doing. And the FIRST PERSON to enter Paradise, WITH JESUS, was that OTHER CONDEMNED and dying criminal on Jesus' other side...a prisoner.
And that is what this minister had to say about the Biblical views on the death penalty. Jesus spent a night as a death row prisoner and that is where this study came from...death row. That minister, is my husband, and is on Texas death row. God uses His people, sinners and "saints" alike, for His good.
In the love of Christ,
George & Marybeth Rivas