Vol. 2 - No. 3

March, 1983

Capital Punishment: Is It Scriptural?

by  Jesse G. Jenkins

This is being written on January 25, 1983. A convicted murderer was scheduled to be put to death by the state of Texas today. But a late ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court has given Thomas Barefoot a stay of execution. Barefoot has been convicted for the killing of a Harker Heights police officer in 1978.

On January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore was executed by the state of Utah by way of a firing squad. His crime was murder. He had murdered two men in their twenties, each leaving a widow and a child. According to the papers, religious leaders led an all night vigil outside his cell, praying that he not be executed. But I did not read of the religious leaders leading an all night vigil, praying for the widows and children of the men Gilmore had murdered.

Steven Judy was executed March 9, 1981, for rape and murder of a woman and her three children.

Charlie Brooks, Jr., was put to death by lethal injection on December 7, 1982. And there are another one hundred and sixty-nine people on death row in the state of Texas, three of which are scheduled to die between now and March 10.

Did the state of Utah do wrong in executing Gilmore? Did Texas do wrong in executing Brooks? I realize that there were some inequities in Brooks' case in that another man of equal guilt did not get the death penalty. But was Texas wrong in its punishment of Brooks or of the other guilty man? Should the state of Texas execute the other convicted murderers as scheduled? These are questions that cannot be answered by emotionalism. Nor, can a decision of a nine man Supreme Court be used in determining the scriptural answer. God has spoken about such crimes of which these men are guilty. What is His will in such matters?

 A Divine Law

Genesis 4:14 indicates that it was understood very early that murder was to be punished by being put to death. And Genesis 9:6 states it so plainly that it cannot be misunderstood. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man."

Under Moses

This was not a part of the law of Moses that was taken away. It was one of God's original laws to govern man for all time. This law is as long lasting as the marriage law of Genesis 2:24 and the work law of Genesis 2:15.

Though this law was not peculiar to the law of Moses, it was endorsed and regulated under Moses. The murderer was to be put to death (Exodus 21:12-15). Leviticus 24:17 states it very plainly: "And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death." From Deuteronomy 19:11-13 we learn that if a murderer did make it to one of the cities of refuge, the elders of that city were to deliver him to the avenger of blood, whom I understand to be the next of kin to the one murdered. From this passage we also learn that they were not to pity the murderer. Moreover, they were to take no satisfaction for the murderer; no bribe was to free him. The influence of his family was not to free him. He was to die! (Numbers 35:31). A murderer could not take refuge even at the altar. "Thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die:" (Exodus 21:14). "For blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it." (Numbers 35:33). So, there can be no doubt that the death penalty was God's will in cases of murder under Moses.

Under Christ

But is this divine law endorsed and regulated under Christ? Jesus told Pilate that he would not have power to put Him to death "except it were given him from above." (John 19:10-11). Paul told Festus that if he had done anything worthy of death, he would not refuse to die (Acts 25:11). Thus, Paul recognized that some acts would cause one to be worthy of death. Peter said that governors are God's agents for punishing the evil doer (1 Peter 2:14).

Under Christ, we are not to avenge ourselves; we are to leave the avenging to the Lord to mete out in His own way (Romans 12:19). And we learn from Romans 13:4 that the Lord's way to mete out vengeance on earth is by the powers that He ordained, i.e., civil government. "If thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain." (vs. 4). The only thing that bearing the sword could be a figure of is death. Thus, the civil government is to protect and praise the good, and to punish the evil, even by bearing the sword in an effective way. Therefore, we see that the law of Genesis 9:6 still stands. Just as long as man is in the image of God, it will be "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man."

No Other Punishment Will Work

Capital punishment is the only deterrent that will cause some to show any respect for human life! A few years in prison, with the state paying all expenses, even supplying color TV, will not deter criminals very much. The divine law in Ecclesiastes 8:11 is also still applicable. "Because sentence against an, evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." God's demand for the death penalty still stands. And the U.S. Supreme Court is found to be fighting against God when it overrules the decision of a state that was intending to carry out God's order! And in so overruling, that High Court is telling the murderer that he does not have too much to fear if he wants to take the life of another man. If the courts of the land would carry out their God given responsibilities in the punishment of murderers, and that speedily, it would have a drastic effect upon the murder rate in our country. But the civil government has almost reversed its God given duty. The courts, from the U.S. Supreme Court down, generally show more concern for the "rights" of the criminal than they do for the victim.

God's Way Will Out

Some years ago, Homer Hailey wrote: "And when civil government fails to carry out the penalty, this supreme penalty after a while the blood of those that were murdered is going to be washed out in the blood of the citizens of the society that tolerated the failure. I believe this to be a divine principle." Brother Halley, so do I. Numbers 35:33 lays down this divine principle.