STUDIES ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Davis W. Huckabee
In almost every annual election there is on the ballots somewhere the attempt to abolish capital punishment. And tragically this has been accomplished in many states, and in time, will perhaps be done in every state in the Union. And in many nations around the world capital punishment has already been abolished. And the tragic thing about this movement is that there are many professed Christians that are laboring for this, that is one of the earliest and most basic laws that God gave to man. And in their opposition to this law that is based on justice, all that do so are putting themselves under the judgment of God. Christians ought to have definite convictions on this matter, and to be irrevocably opposed to the abolition of capital punishment since God has decreed it.
There is a great deal of debate pro and con about this, but most of the debating and talking has been done purely from the standpoint of human reason. That is, men have reasoned out the matter and have come to their respective conclusions based purely on the fleshly mind that cannot reason correctly until it has been renewed by grace. Reasoning might be all right if human reason were infallible, or even if all menís minds worked in the same manner, but such is not the case at all. The fact is that every personís mind is by nature alienated from God and so disordered that it cannot come to right spiritual truth apart from the Divine revelation of the Word of God. And even after a person has been born again so as to become a Christian, it does not naturally follow that he reasons from right principles and will come to a correct under-standing of Godís will by mere reasoning. For this reason we do not propose to argue the matter from the standpoint of human reason, but we propose to simply look to the Scriptures and be guided solely by what is therein declared of the matter. Anything else will be in opposition to the revealed will of God.
The Scriptures are Godís infallible Revelation of His will for mankind, and they are that by which man is to be judged. And so, for all men they should be the end of the matter, and should decide any matter beyond any question or debate, and this is even more certainly the case for the Christian. For any person to allow weak, fallible human reasoning to take precedence over the Divine Revelation is to actually take the position that the devil himself does, for he was the first creature to ever deny point blankly the Word of God, and to exalt reason over it. And he has been the inspiration of every such act since that time, Gen. 3:1ff. Cf. John 6:44.
The first recorded divine decree made for capital punishment is found in Gen. 9:5-6. "And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of ever beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every manís brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth manís blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." Note the things here set forth: (1) God takes every such act personally, and will "surely" require justice to be done. (2) Every act of violence to man requires accountability by some one. (3) Even animals are held accountable for taking a human life. (4) This punishment is to be executed by someone that is a "brother" of the slain. (5) There is to be a correspondence between the bloodshed of the victim, and the bloodshed of the perpetrator. (6) This is not merely because this is an assault on a fellow creature, but because man is made in the image of God. (7) All murder is ultimately sacrilege, for it is destruction of the image of God.
However though this is the first recorded decree of capital punishment, we find clear evidence that this law was in existence many centuries before this, even from the very fountainhead of the human race. Cain knew of it, and feared that it would be executed upon him. "And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou has driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me," Gen. 4:13-14. Cain had maliciously murdered his brother, and he feared that this law would be executed upon him. And so certain was this law that it was only the Divine setting aside of it for reasons not explained that prevented it being executed upon him. Cainís fear finds explanation only in the fact that there was from the very first a Divine decree of death for every murderer, for where there is no law, sin is not charged against a person, Rom. 4:15; 5:13.
Again, we find that the first polygamistóLamech ó took comfort that he would not be executed for killing in self-defense, since the law had been Divinely set aside in the case of the deliberate murder of Abel by Cain, Gen. 4:23-24. The thought that death would result from his having killed another human being would never have entered into Lamechís thinking had there not been a Divine law against it that decreed the death penalty for it.
Then we read in Gen. 27:45 that Rebekah sent Jacob away lest Esau murder him for stealing his birthright. The reason was that she feared that if this happened Esau would be put to death the same day, and so she would be deprived of both sons in one day. Nothing else explains her fear but the fact that the law of capital punishment for murder existed and was well known.
God had from the beginning declared the essence of the Moral Law to mankind. It is declared in Rom. 2:15 that even the Gentile nations that had never had general access to the Mosaic Law "shew the work of the law written in their hearts." So all mankind has an innate consciousness of right and wrong until they efface it through their willfulness and false worship. When they do this, they becloud their own understanding of their duty without excusing their failure to do it in the least. In considering this subject, the following things must be noted.
THE ORIGIN OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
As Gen. 9:6 clearly declares, this law originated with the Lord Himself. It wasnít something that man reasoned out for himself, nor did it originate in the brutal and hard-hearted passions of man. Many hold that this law of capital punishment is purely human in origin, and that it is a holdover from the barbaric past. Such betrays an abysmal ignorance if not actual unbelief of all Scripture Truth on the part of the one that holds this theory. For such assumes that the Bible is nothing more than a mere human composition, containing only human laws, and possessing only human authority, and that authority presumably vastly inferior to the "human scholarship" of today. Even those persons that recognize that the New Testament is the rule for creed and conduct too often repudiate anything written in the Old Testament as if it had no relevance whatsoever. But it should be remembered that Christians of the New Testament looked to the Old Testament as authoritative, and until long after the close of the New Testament, it was never questioned that most things contained in the Old Testament were still of binding authority. In fact, the Book of Revelation is made up in large part of quotations from and references to the Old Testament.
Again, some assume that the Old Testament contains mistakes and errors and hence, that man can do as he pleases with the doctrines that he finds contained therein. But none of these things are so, for II Tim. 3:16 declares that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." The "all scripture" not only contains the Old Testament, but, at the time it was written, referred to it primarily, for much of the New Testament was not yet written. Not only so, but Peter declares that "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," II Pet. 1:20-21.
These and many other Scriptures set forth the Divine origin and authority of the Old Testament, which shows that the law of capital punishment was originally given from the Lord, and so was of Divine authority. But some will perhaps say that though this is so, yet it has been abrogated since then. However, what is clearly commanded cannot be assumed to have been abrogated without a positive command to that effect, and no one can show such an abrogation of the death penalty anywhere in Scripture. Some assume that this law of capital punishment is no longer in effect because it is some-how inconsistent with Christian principles since the death of Christ on the cross. But we will clearly show rather the contrary later on in this study.
As to the origin of this law, though we find it first recorded in Gen. 9:6, with evidences that it existed from the very beginning of human history, yet we find it not spelled out in detail until the giving of the written law to Moses on Mount Sinai. In Exodus chapters 21-22, God decrees death in no less than ten different instances. This was immediately following the giving of the Moral Law, and all these decrees of the death penalty were for violations of the Ten Commandments. It is noteworthy that both the number of the commandments and the number of times the death penalty is here decreed, is ten.
Completeness of order, marking the entire round of anything, is, therefore, the ever-present signification of the number ten. It implies that nothing is wanting; that the number and order are perfect; that the whole cycle is complete."ó E. W. Bullinger, Number In Scripture, P. 243.
When we consider all references to the death penalty, we find that it was decreed for six different general crimes, with distinctions made within each of these general areas. May we note these, and what is said of each.
The first crime for which the death penalty is decreed is, as we might expect, the crime of murder, or the killing of a fellow human being because of hatred and malice, or for some sort of personal gain. What is here forbidden is always characterized by an element of utter selfishness. Thus, as Scripture shows in other places, not all killing fits this criteria, for God Himself makes distinctions in the different forms of taking human life. As Biblical scholars have long held, the sixth commandment means "Thou shalt not commit murder." It does not indict all taking of human life, for God commands this in some instances, and those that refuse to obey God are found to be rebels against Him. "He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to deathÖ But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die," Exod. 21:21. "And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death," Lev. 24:17. "And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. Of if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him," Numb. 35:16-21. "But if any man hate his neighbor, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities; then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee," Deut. 19:11-13. And even those that hire out their services to murder others come under the same curse of God, as shown in Deut. 27:25, and all the people were called upon to voice their agreement to this. God allowed no personal opinions that were contrary to His Law. Those that would do away with capital punishment would do well to consider this.
So reads several principle passages that relate to this law, and the following things may be observed from these. (1) When a person was indeed guilty of presumptuously killing another, nothing was to prevent his own execution, not even his fleeing to his city of refuge and taking hold of the horns of the altar there. He was to "surely" be put to death. This exact word is used six times concerning this law. (2) The use of any weapon capable of killing made the act presumptive of murderous intent. (3) The act of killing out of hatred, after laying in wait, or through enmity, made the act one of premeditated murder, and automatically condemned the murderer to be put to death. The New Testament also equates hatred with murder. "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murder hath eternal life abiding in him," I John 3:15. This suggests that a true child of God cannot commit murder, and those that do so are actually children of the arch-murderer, whatever their profession or pretense may be, John 8:44. (4) Cities of refuge were provided so that those that had accidentally killed someone could flee there and be safe until a judgment was made concerning the matter. But if a deliberate murderer fled to one of these, he was not to be sheltered from justice, but was to be delivered up to be killed by the avenger of blood. (5) No pity was to be wasted upon a murderer, but he was to be immediately delivered up to be put to death. (6) There was guilt imputed when the murderer was not put to death, and every citizen of the land was personally accountable to see that all murder was punished. No allowance was made for anyone to try to get murderers off from being put to death. (7) And though one might not kill out of malice or hatredóyea, might be totally indifferent toward the victim, yet if he killed for hire he was accounted a murderer and must be executed for his crime.
But the death penalty was also decreed in some cases that did not involve premeditated murder, strictly speaking. For instance, if two men got into a fight, and this resulted in the pregnant wife of one of them having a miscarriage but no other harm resulted, then the other man had to pay damages to the husband of the woman. On the other hand, if the miscarriage resulted in the woman's death then the man was to be put to death, Exod. 21:22-23. This showed that a man was not only accountable where death was deliberately caused, but also if accidental death resulted from evil actions.
The same principle obtains also in cases of accidental death caused by the neglect of an individual. "If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit [innocent, as the Hebrew word is more commonly rendered]. But if the ox were want to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he had not kept him in, but that he had killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death," Exod. 21:28-29. Thus, a man was accountable for any death caused by any of his property to the extent of losing the value of that property. But if he had been warned of the danger involved, yet refused to take precautionary measures, his very negligence made him guilty of blood if a death resulted, so that his blood must go for the innocent blood.
There were exceptions made to this law of capital punishment, and other provisions also entered into it, which mitigated it to a certain extent. We shall consider these subsequently in this study, but for the time being, we must pass on to consider yet another reason for capital punishment being decreed.
The second crime for which death was decreed had to do with certain cases of disrespect to parents. "And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death," Exod. 21:15. "For everyone that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him," Lev. 20:9. Also Exod. 21:17. "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: then shall his father and his mother bring him out unto the gates of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die; so shall thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear; and fear," Deut. 21:18-21.
These seven verses set forth the fact that God will not tolerate disrespect of a man toward his parents, but decrees the death penalty in every case of stubborn disrespect. This punishment is implied in Eph. 6:3 that promises long life for the opposite practice of honoring parents. Note again the repetition of the word "surely," which not only suggests the certainty of the punishment being imposed, but also the speediness of execution as well.
It is to be carefully noted that the death penalty in this instance was nor for murder, but only for disrespect as evidenced in smiting, cursing or disobeying oneís parents. Perhaps the reason for this is that parents stand in the place of God to children in their early lives, and submission to parental authority is actually a preparation for submission to Godís authority. So when they have grown up with contempt of parental authority they will invariably have a like contempt for Divine authority. The execution of this death penalty upon disobedient children is clearly not for minor children, but only when a child has grown to adulthood in rebellion to all kinds of authority in spite of their parents teaching and chastening. It is sad but true that many parents are monster-makers in that they allow their small children to violate parental rules with total impunity. That only hardens children and teaches them that they can do as they please if they are but stubborn enough. What sorrow it will be in eternity for those that were parents on earth to continually hear the just accusations of children that they are in hell in part because their parents did not strictly discipline them.
The third crime for which the death penalty is decreed is that of kidnapping. This was a capital offence long before the famous Lindberg law was enacted in the United States. "And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death," Exod. 21:16. "If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you," Deut. 24:7. Kidnapping has always been based upon contempt for others, and a desire to make a personal gain of them, so that the death penalty is decreed for such callous indifference to others. It is to be noted that the death penalty was to be executed even if the kidnapped person was still found alive in the possession of the kidnapper. It did not depend on whether any harm had befallen the kidnapped person, or whether he had already been sold. The act itself was sufficient to bring immediate death.
The fourth sort of crime for which the death penalty was decreed had to do with various sexual crimes. These were: (1) Fornication by a maiden. If after a man had married a maiden, he suspected that she had not been a virgin when he married her, and could prove this, she was to be stoned. In what light does this place all of the sexual looseness of our modern world? On the other hand, if it was proven that she had been a virgin at the time of the marriage, and he had only slandered her, then the man was to be chastised by the elders of the city, fined and the money given to the father of the woman, and he could not divorce her, Deut. 22:13-21. Fornication committed by a betrothed maiden resulted in both the maiden and the man being stoned, Deut. 22:23-24. (2) Adultery was also punishable with death, Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22, and both parties were to be put to death as surely as was the murderer. (3) Bordering upon this same sin, is the sin of incest, which also had the death penalty pronounced against it, Lev. 20:11-12, 14. (4) Harlotry or prostitution by the daughter of a priest is viewed in a particularly bad light, and an unusual form of capital punishment was ordained for it, Lev. 21:9. God has never bought into this modern prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment." No worldly punishment can equal the guilt of almost any sin. (5) In Deut. 22:25 the death penalty is decreed for the forcible rape of a betrothed maiden. Express provision was not made for the rape of a damsel not betrothed. But if a man seduced a virgin, he had to take her to be his wife, or, if the father of the woman did not wish to give his daughter to the man, the man had to pay the same amount of money as the dowry of virgins, Exod. 22:16-17. And thus he was, in effect, fined the cost of a wife. (6) Death was decreed for the sin of sodomy, Lev. 20:13. God has always viewed homosexuality as a peculiarly repugnant sin. (7) Any person, man or woman, that committed sexual acts with a beast was to be put to death, Exod. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16. It is interesting to observe that every sexual sin is a violation in some form of the principle that sexual pleasure is based on a "one flesh" principle only, as first set forth in Gen. 2:24, and reiterated in Matt. 19:4-6. When any person refuses to abide by this rule, he shows himself to be in rebellion against Godís revealed will, and this in itself is sure to bring on the spiritual death penalty.
The fifth crime for which the death penalty is decreed is that of general lawlessness and rebelliousness against the constituted authorities of the land. None could presume to overthrow the civil or religious leaders of the land. This moves upon the truth that no one comes to a place of authority apart from Godís will, Job. 12:17-19; Ps. 75:6-7; Dan. 2:20-21, and even if an evil man rules, he may be there as a judgment upon those whom he rules. "And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously," Deut. 17:12-13. Christians more than any other people have a duty to be subject to the powers that be, Rom. 13:1-6; I Pet. 2:13-15. Only in case of a clear attempt to compel disobedience to God can a Christian refuse to obey, Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29. But even here, they could not actively rebel, but only be passively resistant. This duty is most commonly violated in regard to pastoral authority by Christians. If this law were enforced only in regard to religious leaders, how many church members today would be deleted from the church membership roll because of death. The duty is clear in Heb. 13:17 and a solemn warning sounded in Ps. 105:14-15. It is common today for a faction in a church to mount a campaign to get rid of the pastor when he is guilty of nothing more than faithfully preaching messages that convict the worldly and wicked in the church. Such must one day answer to God.
The last general category for which the death penalty was decreed is that which related to false worship, idolatry, or blasphemy. Thus, this last law demanding capital punishment deals with that part of the Decalog that relates to manís responsibility to God. First, the offering of any sacrifice to any false god, or any attempt to seduce others to do so made one subject to this death penalty, Exod. 22:20; Deut. 13:6-10; 17:2-7. Israel was specifically Godís covenant people, to whom He had revealed Himself, and so He interdicted any worship except that of Himself. Second, any person that violated the Sabbath set aside to worship the Lord was subject to the death penalty, Exod. 31:14; 35:2. Third, any person that cursed God or blasphemed the name of the Lord incurred the death penalty, Lev. 24:10-16. If God held this to be so heinous as to merit this solemn punishment, can we believe that it is now a matter of no consequence for men to misuse God's holy Name? Fourth, The sacrificing of children to false gods was also a capital offence, Lev. 20:2-5, being a two-fold offence. First, being sin of idolatry, and secondly, being the sin of murder. Finally, any kind of witchcraft, divination or attempted communication with the dead were forbidden under penalty of death, Exod. 22:18; Lev. 20:27. The reason underlying this law was the fact that all such practices had to do with idolatry and involved demons as the means of achieving the ends desired. These things all still have to do with demons today. Any person that seeks to communicate with the dead or delve into any of the "black arts" manifests that he is not satisfied with Godís perfect and complete revelation in Scripture, and so, is not only an unbeliever, but also a rebel. "Sorcerers" are one of several categories of people that are to be confined to the Lake of fire, Rev. 21:8; 22:15, for they deceive gullible people and lead them into false worship, Acts 8:9-11; 13:6-10. However, the Greek word is the word from we get our English word "pharmacy," and relates to drug use, for in 1611 when the English Version was made, sorcerers were the only ones known to use drugs. Today it is sadly otherwise.
With all these Scriptures before us who questions either the Divine origin of capital punishment, or the broad expansiveness of this law. Not only are there six general categories of crimes for which death has been degreed, but each of these is broken down into specific and detailed cases. But it is not enough for us to note the command to exercise the supreme penalty upon certain persons for their crimes, we must also note another important thing, which isó
THE OBJECT OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Here is where a large portion of those that desire to abolish capital punishment go astray. They have inadequate views of it, and misunderstand not only its origin, but also the object for which it was instituted. Thus, having wrong views of its purpose, it is easy to look upon it superficially and conclude that inasmuch as it is not fulfilling the purposes for which one supposes that it was first ordained, it might as well be abolished as not. But most of the objections that are lodged against capital punishment are not valid, as we shall note under the third division of this study.
It is to be observed first of all that capital punishment must be exercised upon certain persons in order for justice to be done. Equity and justice demand that certain crimes be punished capitally. The punishment must always correspond in kind to the crime. "And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor, as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death. Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God," Lev. 24:17-22. This has been disparagingly spoken of by man as the lex talionisóthe bloody law of tooth and claw, and treated as if a vengeful invention of hard-hearted men. It is not, but is the declaration and decree of the Lord God. Not only so, but it is also a law that was not just for Israel, but is specifically said to be for the "strangers"ónon-Jews as well. It is a just law, requiring that those that do evil to others have the same done to them as a just recompenseóa pay-back in kind. Not only so, but this was to be exercised by them for their own good order. Even the beasts came under this demand for justice if it had slain a man. "And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth manís blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man," Gen. 9:5-6.
It is in ignoring these claims of justice and equity that the world goes astray in this matter, for weak sentimentality perverts justice by showing more concern for the criminal than for the victim. But it was not so when God first decreed these laws, for when any person committed a capital crime he immediately forfeited all rights until he had either been cleared of the charges, or else had had the capital punishment executed on him. But in our day a man can commit a capital crime upon another fellow being and immediately he has more "rights" than anyone else, while the rights of the victim and his family, yea, and the rights of justice itself are completely for-gotten. Only by the grossest perversion of justice and equity can these things be.
But a second object of capital punishment is to be seen in the last phrase of Gen. 9:6: "for in the image of God made he man." This relates specifically to the crime of murder, but it applies in equal degree to other crimes also. Any crime that a person commits against man, who is made in the image, manifests that the criminal has no respect for God that made man, and whom man represents. An assault upon the image is also an assault upon the true Substance that the image represents. This is clearly intimated as the reason why manís blood must be shed for the crime of shedding manís blood.
A third object of capital punishment is to teach the inviolability of other peopleís property and rights. For if every person realizes that he must personally lose to the same extent that he tries to take from another person he will have very solemn pause for reflection before he attempts to violently take from another. God has clearly commanded that man must never take from another person what is his. And any time he takes that which he cannot return, then his own life must go for it, either in being capitally punished, or, as in certain cases himself being sold into slavery to pay for what he took. Man could never return life, honor, hope, chastity, position or glory once these have been taken, and therefore death was decreed for anyone guilty of taking any of these.
In the fourth place capital punishment was necessary in the case of blood shedding in order to cleanse the land of the guilt of innocent blood, as it is written in Numb. 35:33. "So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: 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." The blood of the guilty alone can erase the stain left by the shed-ding of innocent blood. And if this be so, then how fearfully must our land be polluted by the blood of the many innocent victims whose blood has gone unpunished because of the jugglings of the law by lawyers and the leniency of the courts.
So necessary was it for people to feel the guilt of blood when someone had been slain that the Lord decreed that when a murdered person was found, the nearby cities were to come forth and measure to see which was the closest. This one would then be named the city to which the guilt would attach if the murderer could not be found and punished. The elders of that city then were to offer a heifer on the spot, and there proclaim their innocence concerning the crime, and thereby the guilt would be forgiven to their city, Deut. 21:1-8.
The reader will observe that we have not as yet mentioned deterrence as one of the objects of capital punishment. Much has been made of the fact that capital punishment does not deter capital crimes, but we have not set this forth as yet for the simple reason that this is not the primary object of capital punishment. But it is a brazen and bold-faced lie to say that capital punishment does not deter crime, for there has never been a single instance of anyone being put to death for a crime that repeated his crime later. But there is a high rate of recidivism among those that committed capital crimes but that received only jail terms for their crime. Some even killing two or three or more times later or repeating other crimes. Deterrence as a reason for capital punishment only follows after several more important objects, all of which would still require the death penalty for the above crimes, even if not a single person was ever deterred by the fear of capital punishment. But if this is a valid reason for abolishing capital punishment, then it applies with equal force to incarceration in jails, penitentiaries and all other forms of penal restraint, for none of these deter crime, but generally those incarcerated come out worse criminals than before.
However, it is true in one sense that capital punishment does not deter capital crimes, and we will answer the objection that it does not when we come to the third division of this study. In proof that there is a deterrent value in the proper exercise of this law we cite the following. "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you," Deut. 17:6-7. This is a general statement, but there are also specific statements to the same effect concerning the six general categories of crimes that merit death. See Deut. 13:5, 11; 17:12-13; 19:19-20; 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:7. Capital punishment, while it does not put away the evil nature in people that causes them to commit such crimes, does put away from society the evil person that gives in to his evil nature so that he cannot repeat his crime. It is also to be noted from these references that in four of them there is also the statement "And all Israel shall hear and fear," or an equivalent statement.
With these Scriptures that so clearly demand the death penalty, and that show such sound reasons for it, it is appropriate to ask why so many well meaning people object to it, and to consider the reasons that are put forth for the abolition the death penalty. Therefore we noteó
OBJECTIONS TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Many and sundry objections are lodged against the infliction of the death penalty, yet not a single one of them has any valid force, for every one of them is based upon a false premise. For example, one of the most oft cited reasons for the abolition of the death penalty is the Lordís command that "Thou shalt not kill." Yet this has no application to the matter at hand, for the same Divine authority that said "thou shalt not kill" twice in the Old Testament, Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17, said several times that "the murderer shall surely be put to death," or an equivalent statement. God does not contradict Himself, nor does He ever make it necessary for a person to violate one of His laws in order to obey another. So it is evident that the execution of the death penalty upon one that is guilty of a capital crime is not considered murder in the eyes of God. In fact, God declares this to be the case, as we shall shortly see. And it is a tacit confession that one has no real scriptural basis for his theory when he must try to make one commandment of God antagonize with another in order to justify his theory.
That God does not view as murder the execution of the death penalty, and that it has no guilt attached to it, is based upon more than mere human reasoning. After almost every pronouncement of the death penalty, Scripture makes a statement concerning the guilty party that exonerates the ones that execute the penalty. This statement is, "His blood shall be upon him," which is a biblical way of showing where the guilt lies in a given matter. Remember that in the original decree of the death penalty in Gen. 9:5-6 the reference to the shedding of blood refers to an unnatural death as opposed to death from natural causes. Thus, when anyone kills another he is guilty of blood that cannot be purged except by the shedding of the blood of the violent blood shedder. But the shedding of his blood involves no guilt to those that take the murdererís life. This principle also applies in other ways as well. Paul disclaimed any guilt concerning those to whom he preached, saying "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God," Acts 20:26-27. He had discharged his duty to them by showing them the way of eternal life, and the fact that so many had refused to heed this made them alone guilty before God. In at least eight different instances this statement that "his blood be upon him" is made concerning someone that committed a capital crime, and for whom death is decreed. See Lev. 20:9 (for cursing parents), Lev. 20:10-16 (four times for various sex crimes), Lev. 20:27 (for wizardry), Ezek. 18:13 (for various crimes), Ezek. 33:5 (for ignoring the warning of coming judgment.
Not only so, but even the kinsman redeemer was declared to be innocent of guilt if he slew a man that had accidentally killed another, and who failed to stay in the city of refuge appointed unto him. The reader will recall that according to the law given to Israel, whenever any person killed another accidentally, he could be killed by a near kinsman of the dead man if he was caught before he reached a city of refuge. But once he reached his city of refuge, he was tried for the death of the victim, and if he had indeed accidentally killed another, he was allowed to live safely within the city of refuge. But he could not leave the city of refuge until the death of the current high priest without risk of death at the hands of the kinsman redeemer (the blood avenger). If he left his city of refuge before the death of the current high priest then he could be killed, and no guilt attached to the kinsman redeemer for doing so, Numb. 35:9-28. This can in no way be reconciled with the idea that all killing is murder, for God makes distinct-ions between different kinds of killing.
Once again, we find God vindicating the official execution of one guilty of a capital crime, and actually promising to bless the nation for so doing. "But if any man hate his neighbor, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities: then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he die. Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee," Deut. 19:11-13. If one does not recognize the Divine authority of the death penalty then one is trying to indict God as an abettor of murder. Dare you do that?
The command "Thou shalt not kill" is a prohibition of the taking of a human life by an individual for personal reasons of hatred, malice, greed, or other selfish reasons. It has never had the least application to the death penalty as executed by the civil authorities of a nation, for this authority is clearly declared to be "ordained of God," and to be fearful only to evildoers, Rom. 13:1-5. Let the reader meditate upon this Divine declaration and see if he is in rebellion against the decree of God in this matter, then repent of his presumption.
Our Lord Himself silently submitted to be put to death as a malefactor, though He was the ultimate innocent victim, and we hear Him uttering not a single syllable against the constituted authorities that executed Him. Conversely, He actually declared that the power to execute the death penalty had been given to the civil authorities of the land. When Pilate said unto Him, "Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" Jesus answered him, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee FROM ABOVE," John 19:10-11. Where is "above"? From the throne of God in heaven! Pilate, as the civil ruler in the land had Divine authority to execute all those found guilty of capital crimes. His sin lay in not having the moral courage to stand by his convictions that Jesus was innocent of the charges laid against Him, but had been delivered up by the religious leaders because of their jealousy and hatred of Him.
This brings us to consider a second objection to the death penalty. Many state imperiously that "It is incompatible with Christianity." Where in Scripture does it say so? Nowhere! If the Lord Jesus Himself silently endured the death penalty that was being executed upon Him, yea, He even exonerated Pilate of any abuse of power in doing so, then all those that would abolish the death penalty had best put their hands upon their mouths. Such are guilty of the very sin that is expressed prophetically in Ps. 2:1-3 and God will respond in like manner as He foretold that He would do in V4. Not only did Jesus remain silent at His own execution when He might have once-for-all laid down the rule that the death penalty was hereafter to be abolished, but He actually established capital punishment even as He was about to go forth to his own unjust death. Jesus had already established that the law of Gen. 9:5-6 was still in force, for when Peter whipped out his sword and took a deadly swipe at the high priestís servant, intending to defend his Lord, Jesus rebuked him. "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword," Matt. 26:52. In so saying, He reiterated in principle the original law for capital punishment: viz., "Whoso sheddeth manís blood, by man shall his blood be shed," Gen. 9:6. Not a single New Testament writer ever utters one syllable that would conflict with this principle, and thus, no one is at liberty to sweep away an established law simply because nothing is said to reestablish it. An established law never needs to be reestablished in authority, but remains in force until an equal or greater authority abolishes it. So far from the death penalty being abolished in the New Testament, it is even more fully established. The foremost apostle himself acknowledged that there are crimes deserving of being capitally punished when he himself was on trial, and in danger of being executed. "If I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death. I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar," Acts 25:11. Paul was willing to use any legitimate means to prevent his unjust death, but he says nothing against the law of capital punishment, but rather fully acknowledges its legitimacy.
A third objection, that is often thought to be the one great unanswerable objection to capital punishment is that, "It doesnít deter crime." This is a very lame objection, and we must answer that neither does any other law deter crime when it is seldom if ever enforced, which has been the case with this law for many, many years. Nor does any law deter crime in every case, for if there is even the smallest chance of escaping punishment, some will commit the crime in the hope that he will get by with it. At the same time, some will also commit crime while in an unreasoning rage even if he knows that he will be shot to death in the very act. So irrational is sin! Yet this in no way excuses sin nor is it a reason to abolish the law of capital punishment. In our nation today men are seeking to abolish the death penalty on the plea that it doesnít deter crime, yet they conveniently forget or ignore the fact that in only about one case in twenty-six where a capital crime is committed, is the criminal ever put to death. This means that the criminal has a twenty-six to one chance of escaping the death penalty, and only less than a four percent chance of being executed. These are the kinds of odds that any one would be willing to gamble on if the stakes were anything of consequence. Add to that the chance that he may not even be detected in his crime, in which case he would go scot-free. Plus the chance that even if he is caught he may be released on some technicality, which is now a very common thing. Then again there is the chance that he may get off with a few months in a mental hospital if he pleads temporary insanity. And again there is the chance that delays in trials, hung juries and retrials, and stays of execution may delay the sentence being carried out for many years until he dies a natural death. Thus, all in all, one that commits a capital crime has better odds in his favor of never really being punished in this world for his crime than in any prior age or nation. How could such a system deter crime? It is an insult to any thinking person to even use this objection. But we reiterate. Where there has been the speedy execution of one guilty of a capital crime, it has always deterred him committing further capital crimes. And sad to say, this is the only thing that prevents some people from continually repeating their heinous crimes. Failure to put to death the murderer leaves the voices of many innocent bloods crying out from the ground for justice, and they will, in the Day of Judgment accuse all those that have tried to abolish this law that demands the death penalty.
Advocates for the abolition of capital punishment declare that it doesnít deter crime, and that what is needed is the gentle dealing and education of the criminal in order to lessen capital crimes. Yet they ignore the fact that capital crimes have steadily increased as the punishment has become more lenient, or has been delayed in its execution. So far from this gentle dealing with capital crimes making the criminals less likely to commit crime again, it has emboldened them and made them repeaters of the same crimes, as well as going on to worse crimes where possible.
But as we have before said, even if capital punishment never deterred a single crime, it would still be just as much in force and as necessary as if it deterred all crime. For the primary purpose of this law is not to deter, but to deal justly with those that have scorned Godís law and human rights.
But at the same time, it is not true that the faithful and speedy execution of capital punishment does not deter crime for Scripture declares in several instances that this will be the result of executing this death penalty upon those guilty of capital crimes. It has always been the failure or the delay to execute this law that has caused it to be held in contempt, for very few people are fools enough to commit a crime if they know that they shall surely and speedily be punished for it. Scripture declares what the natural result of delay in punishing the guilty will be in Eccl. 8:11. "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." And one sees this regularly in those whom the law has not speedily punished for their crimes.
Observe how the death penalty is declared to have a deterrent value as set forth in the following verses. "And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee," Deut. 13:5. "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you." Deut. 17:6-7. "And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously," Deut. 17:12-13. "Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall hence commit no more any such evil among you," Deut. 19:19-20. "And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear," Deut. 21:21. "If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel," Deut. 22:22. See also Vv21 and 24 where the same thing is said about two similar sins. "If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you," Deut. 24:7.
Thus, nine times this phrase is used, one of which (Deut. 17:7) is a general statement relating to all capital crimes, while the remaining are specifically related to the crimes of idolatry, rebellion against constituted authority, false witness, disrespect to parents, sex crimes, and kidnapping. Let him that denies that capital punishment deters stand ready to answer to Almighty God for making Him a liar by the denial of the deterrent value of the death penalty, for assuredly he shall have to answer to Him. The only reason why the death penalty loses some of its deterrent value is because so many people try to abolish it, or delay its execution. Thus, it is the advocates of abolishing this law that remove the fear of it, and rob it of its deterrent value for they encourage wicked men to believe that they can escape the Divinely ordained consequences of their evil. But God has clearly declared numerous times that the evil doer is to be put away from society by death. And this, when consistently practiced will cause others to fear and not do the same. There is no way to deny this, and it is blatant unbelief of Godís Word to take any other position.
A fourth objection that is very popular with advocates of the abolition of the death penalty is the objection that "many innocent people are put to death." And while we have already noted that the ultimate innocent victimóJesus Christówent to death willingly, and it is acknowledged that occasionally there may be one put to death that is innocent of the crime of which he is accused. However, very, very few criminals are honest enough to admit their guilt any more for criminal lawyers tell their clients to protest their innocence in the face of all evidence to the contrary. But according to the clear teaching of Scripture there are no absolutely innocent persons on earth, for the Divine indictment is that, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God," Rom. 3:23. And Godís declaration is that "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die," Ezek. 18:4. Thus, if one not guilty of the crime he is accused of is put to death, he is still deserving of death for the many other death deserving sins that he has committed against God throughout his life.
And another fact is, that no one dies before Godís appointed time, so that if God allows one to die falsely accused, it was simply Godís time for that person to leave the earth, and in His sovereignty God determined to use this method to bring him to an accounting. Such a person has suffered nothing worse than what Jesus suffered on the cross, and if he is a saved person his death will be the means of immediate entrance into glory. But if he is not saved, then he dies under the curse of Gal. 3:10, and is fully deserving of death and all its consequences. Scripture says that "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die," Eccl. 3:1-2. God works His will in all things, and death is no exception, and if He allows one not guilty of the crime that he is accused of to be put to death then God has a good purpose in allowing this. It is no oneís right to challenge Godís purposes, and He has made it clear beyond all denial that evil doers are to be put to death. So let no one further damn his soul by denying Godís decree of the death penalty.
Inasmuch as some find fault with the execution of the death penalty because some instances of miscarriage of justice have occurred, we must needs consider that God has also put certain safeguards about the administration of capital punishment to prevent, as nearly as possible, any perversions of it. Thus we noteó
THE ORDER OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
First, it is to be noted that God commanded that the fact of a capital crime had to be fully established. It takes two witnesses at least to establish the fact of murder. "Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die," Numb. 35:30. However, once this fact was established, there was to be no delay in the execution of the sentence. No less than five times in Numb. 35 alone the statement is made concerning the murderer that he "shall surely be put to death." See Vv. 16, 17, 18, 21, 31. Not only was there to be no delay in the execution of the sentence, but Scripture expressly forbade any bribe being taken to commute the sentence. "Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction (Hebrew, kophar) for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall surely be put to death. And ye shall take no satisfaction (kophar) for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land until the death of the priest," Numb. 35:31-32. Only in these two verses is this Hebrew word so rendered. It is much more commonly rendered "atonement," or "ransom," and is rendered "bribe" in I Sam. 12:3 and Amos 4:12.
But this related to cases that were clearly premeditated murder. In cases where there was a question about motive, or where the murderer had fled to his city of refuge, the congregation judged whether the man was guilty of murder. And if he was not, he was allowed to live free from fear of reprisal in the city of refuge until the death of the current high priest, after which he could return to his own city. This rule even applied where the death was clearly the result of an accident. "But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait, or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm: then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments; and the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil. But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled; and the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood," Numb. 35:22-27. See also Vv. 11-15 and Deut. 19:4-6. From this it is clear that even accidental deaths were serious matters, and the negligent person lost some personal freedoms as a result of this. And those that held these provisions in contempt could lose their lives at the hands of the revenger of blood if they did not respect their incarceration in the city of refuge.
One other thing: the revenger of blood was not held guilty before God for executing the slayer if he refused to honor his incarceration in the city of refuge. This is clear evidence that God would have even the accidental taking of life to be recognized as a solemn matter and one to be duly punished with a certain loss of liberty. These laws for the punishment of capital crimes were not heedless of human life. On the contrary they are based upon the sanctity of human life. But not the life of those that have violated the laws of God and human rights, but rather the sanctity of life of the innocent, so that they demand a speedy and sure execution of the death penalty on all that have committed crimes worthy of death. Thus, justice is served, and the presumptuous warned. It has become the practice in our degenerate age to completely forget the rights of the victim and to protect the supposed "rights" of the criminal even when it means the perversion of all justice and right. This only proves the biblical doctrine of the total depravity of every person by nature.
According to the Lordís commandments, when one committed any capital crime, he immediately forfeited all rights, and became "worthy of death" which was speedily executed upon him without delay or debate. He was not to be pitied in any wise, Deut. 13:8; 19:13, 21. Indeed, God permitted a near kinsman to execute the criminal if he could catch him before he reached his city of refuge. Not only so, but even in some non-capital crimes, it was permitted that the criminal be killed while in the act of his crime by the one upon whom the crime was being committed. Thus, "If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft," Exod. 22:2-3. This law is perhaps based upon the facts, (1) That one cannot be sure at night whether the intruder is simply a thief, or whether he might be bent upon murder, rape, or some other capital crime. (2) Even if he is only a thief, desperation and the cover of darkness might drive him to murder his discoverer. (3) The cover of darkness would conceal any weapon that he might have in his hand, and his discoverer could never be sure how dangerous his adversary might be, and so, he is justified in assuming the worst of him. (4) If the theft occurred in day-light, and the thief was killed, then the slayer incurred guilt since he could see clearly whether "deadly force" was necessary to defend himself or if he could defend himself without having to kill the intruder.
Lesser crimes were punished with lesser degrees of severity, such as whipping with up to forty lashes, Deut. 25:1-3, fines in amounts from double the amount of the stolen item to five times, Exod. 22:1-4. If the thief had nothing to pay his fine with, his poverty did not excuse him, but he was sold into slavery to pay his fine, Exod. 22:3. In crimes where the criminal could restore what he took, he was compelled to do so in various multiples of the cost of that which was stolen. In other cases it was to be done to him exactly as he thought to do to his victim, Deut. 19:19-20. It is to be noted in every one of these laws that the criminal had nothing to gain, and much to lose in committing the crime. How different it is in our days when the exponents of the law have so misinterpreted and perverted the law that the criminal often has all to gain and very little to lose in committing crime.
The Scriptures also require that man be dealt with justly so far as every man being personally responsible for his own sins. Thus it is written, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin," Deut. 24:16.
Let one other observation be made concerning the death penalty. And this is that God has also decreed a spiritual death penalty for all that have a sinful nature. For it is written, "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die," Ezek. 18:4. "For the wages of sin is death," Rom. 6:23. Couple these verses with Rom. 3:23, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," and one must realize that all rational persons are under this decree of eternal death. What then? Must all men be doomed to an everlasting perdition? No! For the second half of Rom. 6:23 goes on to say that, "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Life cannot be earned or in any way merited, but it can be had as a free gift.
The means of escaping this death penalty that is decreed upon every son of Adam is clearly set forth as follows. "But thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not," Neh. 9:17f. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him: and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon," Isa. 55:6-7. These promises are not made to sinners indiscriminately, but only to those that will be honest with themselves and with God and confess their sinful-ness and inability to change that, and trust the Saviour to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. This is what grace does.
LAW V: HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER