The Death Penalty

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In the United States of America, 18 states have voted at some point in the past to abolish the death penalty. That leaves 32 states that, at least legally, still allow it. Maryland was the most recents state (2013) to abolish.

My question is simple: Should a Christian be for or against the death penalty?

I am under no delusion that I do not speak on behalf of all Christians. There are opposite views from people more spiritual and more intelligent than I. However, every Christian should take time to figure out what the Scriptures (last time I checked, God expects a Christian’s worldview to be shaped by the Bible) say about current issues, whether they be political, sexual, moral, relational, ecclesiastical, global, environmental, etc.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf cautioned Frodo to not be so hasty in his desire to kill Gollum. He told Frodo, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death…” When I read this years ago, my thoughts immediately turned to the death penalty. I am a Texas boy, born and raised. Since I have lived in Kansas City for 5 years and now southern Mississippi for 8. In the year 2010, Texas executed 17 people. This was only 12 short of the total executed by the remaining 49 states combined. Trigger happy?

After much thought over the past few years, here is my current position: As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe it is morally (thus, spiritually) wrong to enforce the death penalty. I do not have a problem with life-time imprisonment. There are consequences to our actions and our officials do indeed have the responsibility to protect. However, a human being does not give life. Yes, two people have sex, but ultimately, every life has its origin in God. God gives life. That being said, if God gives life, who are we as humans, especially Christians, to support a law/policy that allows we has humans to take life? We cannot begin a life but we can end it? This ethic seems hypocritical and unbalanced.

Consider this: When we execute a person, we are cutting short their life. This person might have lived another 1, 5, 20, or even 50 years. During that time, as has happened on many occasions, the person could have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Translation: The individual would spend an eternity in Heaven rather than Hell. In my humble opinion, the Death Penalty seems to rob a person of many more opportunities (days, months, years, or decades) in which he/she might eventually turn their life over to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The problem is that far too many Christians have the attitude, “Well, the death penalty is what they deserve. They might have even killed more than one person. An eye for an eye.” Yet, under the New Covenant, the “eye for an eye” principle has been abolished. Of every Christian, two things can be said: (1) He/she did not get what they deserve (horrible punishment), and (2) He/she got more than they deserve (forgiveness, restored relationship, peace, joy, hope, purpose, community, etc.). I fear that many Christians favor the death penalty for the wrong reason. Never should the idea of “deserving” enter into a Christian’s deliberations of any sort. We are a people of mercy. Mercy does not mean that we do not enforce consequences, but to take a life because a person “deserves” it shows a tragic misunderstanding of Christ, His teachings, and the overall spirit of Christianity. Should the person be locked up? Yes! Punished? Yes! Kept from society? Yes! But killed? No.

But didn’t Jesus tell his disciples at one point to take a sword? Luke records that He did. Look at the following passage:

Luke 22:36-38 NKJV
[36] Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. [37] For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.” [38] So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”

Yet, Matthew records,

Matthew 26:50-53 NKJV
[50] But Jesus said to him, “Friend, why have you come?” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. [51] And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. [52] But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. [53] Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?

I have not yet reconciled these two passages in my thinking. I and my worldview are still a work in progress. But I will say this. Even though Jesus says in Luke for his disciples to have a sword, he definitely tells them not to live by it. Do not let violence be your first, or second, or even third thought. And another thought is this: that these are words to individuals, not nations. It is hard for me to imagine a scenario where Jesus would encourage a policy/law that would allow for a person’s life to be short circuited if it means less time for them to make a decision in His favor. Don’t forget, the highlight of Jesus’ last day was telling a sinful criminal that he within a few hours he would share the same paradise. Granted, the cross was the Roman death penalty at the time of Christ. And, Jesus took the opportunity to rescue this person. However, many others that day probably were hung on a cross somewhere in Palestine and thus did not get another chance to make a decision for Christ. How many of them, upon hearing of the resurrection three days later, would have make Christ Lord? I do not know. All I know today is that, as a Christian, I believe that the Death Penalty is overstepping our boundaries as human beings. Lock a person away, fine. But kill them? Take their life? Could this be societal murder? Did we send them to Hell? Was their day of salvation right around the corner sitting in some cell next to someone else who found The Lord?

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3 thoughts on “The Death Penalty

  1. I’m with you on this one. From what I’ve read, some theologians and scholars believe Jesus telling the apostles to go get swords so that the Romans would have cause to arrest Jesus. When the apostles point out, “we have two swords” Jesus responds “it is enough.” How is 2 swords among 13 men “enough?” The theory goes, that if a couple of his followers were armed, then the Jews could claim that Jesus was trying to raise up a movement against the empire. But, the Romans would not have believed this were the case if the apostles were not even armed. So Jews bring Romans to garden to arrest Jesus. Romans see swords and give them probable cause. Not to mention Peter taking a swing at one. And therefore they can arrest Jesus. So Jesus basically tells the apostles to buy swords so that God’s plan can be carried out. I find this plausible enough. But, you really hit the nail on the head. Even if Jesus said to buy a sword, he never commanded them to live by the sword, or even use them for that matter.

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  2. QUESTION- WAS THERE THE HANGING OF THIEVES, MURDERERS, ETC… AFTER CHRSIT DIED ON THE CROSS. IF THERE WAS, IS THERE A PLACE THAT STATES THIS SHOULD NO LONGER HAPPEN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.
    I WANT TO AGREE, ON ONE HAND HE TOLD THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS , THEY WHO ARE WITHOUT SIN CAST THE FIRST STONE, THE LAW OF THE LAND SAID THAT A PROSTITUTES JUDGEMENT IS DEATH BY STONE, ON THE OTHER HAND, THE VERY THING THAT YOU SAY TO ABOLISH, IS THE VEHICLE THAT GOD USED TO ACCOMPLISH HIS ULTAMATE PLAN, THE DEATH PENALTY, VIA THE CROSS. THE DEATH PENALTY FOR THE GUY BESIDE JESUS WAS THE VERY THING THAT GAVE HIM THE OPPORTUNITY MAKE IT TO PARADISE. WE ARE TO ABIDE BY THE LAWS OF THIS LAND, HOWEVER NOW MANY OF THE LAWS GO AGAINST THE MORALITY THE WORD OF GOD SAYS WE ARE TO LIVE BY . THIS IS TRULY A QUESTION, I DONT KNOW YET, YOUR POST GOT ME TO THINKING, SO ITS INTENT CAN CELEBRATE A VICTORY, GREAT POST, I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW MY FRIENDS, WAS DEATH ABOLISHED AFTER CHRSIT ON THE CROSS, AND IF IT WASNT, DID JESUS OR HIS POEPLE STAND UP AGAINST IT BECAUSE THEY FELT IT WENT AGAINST HIS TEACHINGS!!! PROVE -IN-WORD

    WordPress.com / Gravatar.com credentials can be used.

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  3. Thanks for your response Clay. One thought that we discussed over the phone: Though The Lord used a moment hanging on a cross to save a criminal who was also being ministered the death penalty, this still cannot be construed as a Divine endorsement of the Death Penalty. As we discussed, just because God can bring good out of something does not necessarily imply that that “something” is good. It only means God is good. Great conversation bro! Thanks for input!

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