Capital Punishment
Under Three Dispensations

by Kenneth E. Thomas

March 22, 2001

     This subject has become a hot topic in the last few years in society in general and has also reached into the church of our Lord. Some brethren are opposed not only to capital punishment, but to voting or serving in the military. Some are even opposed to self defense or the defense of one's own family. Well, if they practice what they preach they are at least consistent, but I believe with all of my heart they are totally wrong who take such a position. Still, I must respect them for not acting in violation of their consciences (Romans 14:23). If however, they begin to push their pacifism on others, or cause division in the local church, rather than just holding such as their private opinion, then they must be dealt with and not allowed to bind where others of us truly believe God has not bound (Titus 3:10; Romans 16:17-18).

     It is bad when a society becomes so corrupted that those with money stand a much greater chance of getting away with murder and not paying with their own lives than do those who have not much of this world's goods! It is also indeed very sad and unfortunate when an innocent party is put to death. However, with the appeals process in place in our country it is highly unlikely that an innocent party will be put to death. If it happens one time, that's too much, but it isn't sufficient reason to go against what God's word instructs, due to human failures. In our state of Illinois the Governor has put a moratorium on the death penalty due to so many mistakes having been made in the judicial system by over zealous prosecutors seeking to enhance their own reputations at the expense of unfortunate people, in my opinion.

     The basic reason why God commanded capital punishment under the Patriarchal period as well as under the law of Moses and in the gospel dispensation is because man is made in the image of God (Genesis 9:5-6). As long as the principle that man is made in the image of God lasts-that's how long the law of Genesis (9:5-6) stands. Taking life under law is not murder. Just like commanding Moses to make a serpent of brass and raise it on a pole to cure those who looked upon it wasn't idolatry since it was what God commanded. God has commanded capitol punishment in all three dispensations, therefore capital punishment isn't murder even though lives are taken by the process.

Sins Demanding Capital Punishment Under The Law

f Murder (Genesis 9:5-6; Numbers 35:16-21;30-33; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:11-13).
f Adultery (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:24).
f Incest (Leviticus 20:11-14).
f Bestiality (Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 20:15-16).
f Sodomy (Leviticus 20:13).
f Incontinence (Deuteronomy 22:21-24).
f Rape (Deuteronomy 22:25-26).
f Perjury (Zachariah 5:4).
f Kidnapping (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7).
f Fornication (Leviticus 21:9).
f Witchcraft (Exodus 22:18).
f Offering human sacrifice (Leviticus 20:2-5).
f Striking or cursing father or mother (Exodus 21:15, 17; 20:9).
f Disobedience to parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
f Theft (Zachariah 5:3-4).
f Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:11-14, 16,23).
f Sabbath breaking (Exodus 35:2; Numbers 15:32-36).
f Prophesying falsely, or propagating false doctrine (Deuteronomy 13:1-10).
f Sacrificing to false gods (Exodus 22:20).
f Refusing to abide by a decision of court (Deuteronomy 17:12).
f Treason (1 Kings 2:25; Esther 2:23).
f Violation of law concerning oxen (Exodus 21:28-29).

Modes of Carrying Out Capital Punishment Under The Law

f Burning (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 20:14; 21:9; Jeremiah 29:22; Ezekiel 23:25; Daniel 3:19-23).
f Stoning (Leviticus 20:2,27; 24:14; Numbers 14:10; 15:33-36; Deuteronomy 13:10; 17:5; 22:21,24; Joshua 7:25).
f Hanging (Genesis 40:22; Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Joshua 8:29).
f Beheading (Matthew 14:10; Mark 6:16, 27-28).
f Crucifixion (Matthew 27:35,38; Mark 15:24, 27; Luke 23:33).
f Sword or spear (Exodus 19:13).

The Manner of Practicing Capital Punishment Under the Law

f Executed by the witnesses (Deuteronomy 13:9; 17:7).
f Executed by the congregation (Numbers 15:35-36; Deuteronomy 13:9).
f Not executed except on the testimony of no less than two witnesses (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15).
f Executed speedily (Ecclesiastes 8:11; Leviticus 10:1-2; 2 Samuel 6:3-7).

Accidental Killing And Capital Punishment.

     Under the law of Moses God made provision to spare the life of one who had killed "unawares" or "accidentally" (Numbers 35:9-29). God provided six cities of refuge (Numbers 35:13). The manslayer could flee to one of these six cities of refuge for safety and protection (Numbers 35:15). The individual who had killed "unawares" was to remain in the city of refuge until he stood before the congregation in judgment (Numbers 35:12, 26-28). There are other conditions as well. If one went outside of the city of refuge he was "fair game" for the next of kin to take his life. He was to stay there also until the death of the present high priest (Numbers 35:25; Joshua 20:6).

The New Testament & Capital Punishment

     Christians are to be a peaceable people. Jesus and His inspired apostles teach us to love and do good even to our enemies. We are to "turn the other cheek" and seek what is best for everyone. We are not to be vengeful people but gentle and forgiving. (Matthew chapters 5-7; Romans 12:17-21) etc. These are principles that will generally govern the lives of Christians, however they are not a code of laws to be followed without exception, if so, self defense would be ruled out and evil people even maniacs would have the upper hand over the Christian. The Christian would be obligated to stand by and observe the maniac rape his wife, mother, or daughter while he obeys the instruction to "turn the other cheek" or refuses to "return evil for evil." Some brethren actually have been heard to say and some have put it in print that this is exactly what they would do if placed in such a situation. I say that such a person has "denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." Why do I say such? Because that it what inspiration says about the person who will not "provide for his own, especially those of his own household" (1 Timothy 5:8). A part of providing for one's own, in addition to their spiritual well being, is their physical well being. Food, clothing, medicine, protection, etc.! If not, tell me why not? These general principles by which the faithful Christian is to live his life and make his decisions have their exceptions, just as does Proverbs 22:6, which says "train up a child in the way that he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." If you make a strict law out of this principle, every parent whose son or daughter departs the faith can blame their ungodly lifestyles later in life on their parents, for indeed if they depart, the parents failed to obey the passage under consideration. Some, very few will take that view but be careful, for when you do, you must blame God for the failures of Israel. Surely He failed to instruct them properly or they would not have suffered the fate they have over the last generations as was prophesied for their failure to remain faithful to God (Deuteronomy 28:1-68).

Taking Life Under Law In New Testament

     One of the strongest arguments in favor of both capital punishment and self defense as well as defense of one's country in a just war of defense, not aggression, may be found rooted in what Paul wrote. Let us read it: "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you then want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same (obviously there are exceptions to this rule as well ket) For He is God's minister to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain (an illustration of capital punishment); for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who does evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor" (Romans 13:1-7). Paul who wrote this by inspiration once said to the authorities, "...If I have done anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die"(Acts 25:11). This acknowledges their right to take his life under law if guilty of a capital crime.

Not Two Laws-One For Alien And Another For Christians!

     In their attempts to "get out from under" the full force of the instructions found in these passages some brethren have argued with me that the "he" and "you" refer to two different classes of people, the "He" civil law and the "you" refers to Christians. They say, "he" may engage in such activities (the alien sinner) but "you" (the Christian may not). They seemingly fail to see where such reasoning will take them. It means there are two laws one for the alien and another for the Christian. If they are consistent, they will not recognize the marriages of aliens (as some do not) and they will be hard pressed to tell us how an alien becomes such if he isn't amenable to the laws of Christ until he puts himself under the same! Yet, some at Corinth stood guilty before God as "thieves, covetous, drunkards, fornicators, idolaters, and adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals and sodomites" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). To the Colossians Paul wrote of the time when they "lived in" the sins of fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness (Colossians 3:5-7).

     Akin to the above instructions we read what Peter wrote: "Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For so is the will of God that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men...Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" (1 Peter 2:13-17). Some conclusions:

f If an alien can be a policeman - A Christian can be a policeman.

f If an alien can be a soldier - A Christian can be a soldier.

f If an alien can take life under law and not be a murderer - A Christian can take life under law as well without being a murderer.

f If an alien can fight and kill to protect his country - A Christian can fight and kill to protect his country.

f If an alien can protect himself and his family - A Christian is can to do the same.

We Are To Pray For Official's Success

     Another argument which to me is ungetaroundable is the fact that we are told: "...I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Notice the nature of these prayers. If we are authorized, yea commanded to pray for the stability and well-being of our government, pay our taxes, which are used for their salaries, look to them for our protection under God's providence, surely a Christian may be a part of said government is he so chooses with Christ's approval.

Well Meaning But Misguided Folks Contribute to Chaos

     Misguided ultra conservative brethren and "the bleeding heart liberals" have brought this country into chaos. We have reached a point where the "bad guys" have more rights protected under the present interpretations of our laws than do "law abiding citizens." The moment a person says that capital punishment doesn't deter criminals, that person is flying in the face of God who says, "Oh yes it does." The moment a person is pro-abortion on demand, that person is either of the view that killing babies isn't murder or is at odds with his own liberal ideas that taking life under law is murder! The moment one says that homosexuality isn't an abomination and isn't wrong, they are denying that God is right in this matter. See the sins above and the crimes for which God demanded the death penalty!

by Kenneth E. Thomas

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