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Capital Punishment -- Yes or No?
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Robert writes - Is the death penalty an acceptable form of punishment from a Biblical standpoint? Note: Bible Bell will quote parts of Robert's message in the discussions which follow.

To read Robert's complete message, Click Here.
Bible Bell's Response
In several Old Testament passages, God ordained the death penalty for murder.
  Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man. Gen 9.6

He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
Exod 21.12 (see also Num 35.31)
God's authorization for governments to impose the death penalty was NOT abrogated by the New Testament.

Instead, the NT reasserts the capital authority of civil governments.
  Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for
he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Rom 13.1-4

The verses alongside quote parts of a conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, an official in the Roman government.

  • In those days, the Roman government ruled over Judea and many other areas.
  • Pontius Pilate was the sixth in the order of the Roman procurators of Judea (A.D. 26-36).
  • In Bible Bell's OPINION, the quoted verses show that Jesus recognized, and submitted to, the Roman government's authority to exact the death penalty.
  Then Pilate said to Him (Jesus), "Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?"

Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."
John 19.10-11
Partial Quote of Robert's Message
Obviously, when Jesus died, a LOT happened. First of all He took upon Himself all our sins and transgressions.
Did something also change regarding the punishment or consequence of (some) sins?
Bible Bell's response
The atonement and resurrection changed the status of humanity with respect to condemnation by God.

However, I find no Biblical basis for holding that our status was changed with respect to being punished under
human laws and civil authorities.
  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Rom 8.1
Partial Quote of Robert's Message
A point which has been made is that since the death penalty radically cuts that person's life span short, that person has less time, and therefore presumably less chance, to find salvation which would save him or her from the second death.


On the other hand, the direct confrontation with immanent death may lead a person to consider the matter of life, death, the after-life, and salvation much more intensely than any other person, and bring that person to a real decision even sooner.

Bible Bell's response
God knew that you would believe on Jesus even before you were a gleam in your Mother's eye.

  • In fact, God knew ALL His own children, even before the foundation of the world.
  God chose us in Him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love Eph 1.4

God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus
before time began 2 Tim 1.9
  • ALL whom the Father gives to Jesus will come to Jesus. None will be lost.
  • Ergo, in Bible Bell's OPINION any person who dies unsaved would never have repented, even if he or she had lived to be 200.
  (Jesus said...) All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. John 6.37
Partial Quote of Robert's Message
John 8.7 seriously disturbs my train of thought for (or at least not against) the death penalty.

Here, the Pharisees find an adulteress, and by law she would require death by stoning. Jesus, however, replies: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

For me, this is where I get stuck. It seems to me that this passage argues against the death penalty - or taken farther: any penalty?

However, Jesus had not yet died, and grace was not known to the world as it was after his resurrection.

If grace is the key issue here, was Jesus foreshadowing the effects of His death at the cross, or is grace not the real issue in His "pardon" of the woman...?

NOTE: To read the full text of John 8.3-11,
Click Here

Bible Bell's response
It was as the Son of Man that Jesus forgave the adulteress of her sins. This had nothing whatsoever to do with her guilt or innocence under civil law.

  • God's grace extends to sin. Torts, felonies, and such, are the province of human law.
  • An ax murderer who receives Jesus will go to heaven, but human law will still exact a penalty upon him.
  • Conversely, the judge who pronounces sentence on that ax murderer may be a "paragon of virtue" by human standards, but still be destined for the Lake of Fire lest he repents and believes.
  Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." John 8.11

(
Jesus said...) As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. John 5.26-27

Concerning the fact that the Lord did not support the death penalty for the woman taken in adultery...

  • The woman's accusers were scribes and Pharisees -- Jewish religious officials.
  • They were NOT members of the lawful governing authority (which was Rome).
  Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery John 8.3a
  • Since the Jews were not Roman government officials, they had no authority to exercise capital punishment.
  Then Pilate said to them (the Jews), "You take Him (Jesus) and judge Him according to your law."

Therefore the Jews said to him, "
It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death" John 18.31

Notice that this woman was allegedly caught in the very act of adultery...

  • Clearly, then, the identity of the male adulterer was known.
  They (the Jews) said to Him (Jesus), "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. John 8.4
  • The law (Deu 22.22-24) specifically states that BOTH parties had to be brought up on charges -- not just the woman.
  • Accordingly, the accusers not only lacked the governmental authority to enforce capital punishment, but were blatantly distorting the law to their own purposes.
  If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die - the man that lay with the woman, and the woman Deu 22.22a
Finally -- and most importantly -- the goal of the woman's accusers had NOTHING to do with true justice or enforcement of the law.

Rather, their goal was to trick and trap Jesus.
  This they (scribes and Pharisees) said, tempting him (Jesus), so that they might have something of which to accuse him. John 8.6a

Based on the facts presented above, Bible Bell concludes that...

  • Capital punishment, as ordained in the Old Testament, was not abrogated by the New Testament. Instead, the NT reasserts the civil government's capital authority.
  • Jesus did NOT abrogate the civil government's God-ordained authority to exact the death penalty.

Amen - 30


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Full text of Robert's message

Dear Bible Bell,

First of all, thanks for your site. I recently came across your site and find it great. Although this doesn't necessarily count for much, I have not found anything I can not agree with in your site. Your layout is very helpful, your method of quoting scripture and extracting the relevant information from it is clear, and your honesty in drawing your conclusions is exceptional. Thanks.

My question, simply put, is "Is the death penalty an acceptable form of punishment (i.e. in principle, without any legal or context-dependent technicalities) from a Biblical standpoint?" I have looked for this topic on your site and have not found it. This subject has been pursuing me for a while, and I believe to have found some clarity, but at some points I have resolved to leave it still undecided. Perhaps you can help.

Instead of just leaving you with the question, I would like to explain my situation and thoughts about the question:

The Old Testament certainly knew the death penalty. God Himself commanded it for certain transgressions. As you yourself point out, the well-known commandment "Thou shalt not kill" actually translates into "Thou shalt not murder". Therefore, in the Old Testament the death penalty was, as his other ordinances, God-given and just (but also open for God's own "exceptions" as David's episode with Bathsheba and Uriah shows).
If anything changed in this situation, it came with Jesus. More precisely, I would say the time right until the death and resurrection of Christ. Obviously, when Jesus died, a LOT happened. First of all He took upon Himself all our sins and transgressions. Did something also change regarding the punishment or consequence of (some) sins?

In my discussions with others, the addition of GRACE to the equation seems to change the matter. To kill is not to murder. And to kill a person's body (first death) - as a form of eliminating that person from a society which he threatens and not as a form of vengeance - is not to kill a person's spirit - which only God can do (second death).

A point which has been made is that since the death penalty radically cuts that person's life span short, that person has less time, and therefore presumably less chance, to find salvation which would save him or her from the second death. On the other hand, the direct confrontation with immanent death may lead a person to consider the matter of life, death, the after-life, and salvation much more intensely than any other person, and bring that person to a real decision even sooner.

The verse in John 8,7, however, seriously disturbs my train of thought for (or at least not against) the death penalty. Here, the Pharisees find an adulteress, and by law she would require death by stoning. Jesus, however, replies: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. " For me, this is where I get stuck. It seems to me that this passage argues against the death penalty - or taken farther: any penalty?
However, Jesus had not yet died, and grace was not known to the world as it was after his resurrection. If grace is the key issue here, was Jesus foreshadowing the effects of His death at the cross, or is grace not the real issue in his "pardon" of the woman - another "exception" as with David?

So far that's what I have been thinking. I hope I have made my thoughts somewhat clear to you and look forward to your response.

God bless you,
Robert, Switzerland
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John 8.3-11

Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him (Jesus) a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?"

This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

When they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."

And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"

She said, "No one, Lord."

And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." John 8.3-11
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