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Why Capital Punishment is a Legitimate Form of Punishment
The issue of capital punishment has long been debated in the United States. Through the years it has been upheld, debated, suspended, and then reinstated, showing the indecisiveness which many people have towards capital punishment. Those who oppose capital punishment believe that it should never be used because it is inhumane and morally wrong. Occasionally, these critics use the Bible to support their claim , referring to things such as the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder", and Jesus Christ's promotion of love and mercy. However, by studying the Bible, it is clear that God is not against capital punishment because He instituted it in the first place. Capital punishment as illustrated in the Bible is not only a legitimate form of punishment, but also one that should be upheld for several reasons.
First and foremost, capital punishment is a legitimate form of punishment because it was established by God. In the Old Testament, God sent a worldwide flood to destroy all of the sinful people of the earth. He spared the lives of Noah and Noah's family, who stayed in a massive ark during the flood. After the flood ended and the ark landed on dry ground, God told Noah and his sons: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man." This was the first institution of capital punishment. Because everything that God does is right and perfect, He would not institute anything that is morally wrong. As Moses sang of the Lord in Deuteronomy 32:4: "The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He," and the Psalmist said in Psalm 19:7-8: "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." Because the precepts of the Lord are right, His command to punish the wicked is right. As Isaiah 3:11 says, "Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, for what he deserves will be done to him." The simple fact that God instituted capital punishment shows that capital punishment is not wrong, but rather what a murderer deserves.
Secondly, capital punishment is a legitimate form of punishment because it is morally right and just. It is morally right and just because murder is a serious crime, and murder is a serious crime for two reasons. First, God created man in His image, making human life sacred. Second, God commanded that "You shall not murder" . This command does not oppose capital punishment, which is the killing of a murderer by the government. This command is against murder, which is different than governmental punishment. To murder is to break God's explicit commandment, and in sin, destroy something sacred - a human life.
A serious crime like murder deserves a serious punishment. That is why God set up capital punishment. God instituted it first to Noah and his sons, establishing a principle for all mankind to follow, and, years later, to the Israelites as part of the Mosaic Law. In Numbers 35, God said, "These things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. (vs. 29-31). God further specified that a person is not a murderer unless he kills intentionally, thereby limiting capital punishment to true murderers. When God told the Israelites to put to death murderers, he gave them a reason: "So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it" (Numbers 35:33). Therefore, God said that the execution of a murderer is the morally right and just thing to do.
Critics may argue that using the Old Testament to prove that God upholds capital punishment is not a good argument for two reasons: First, we are no longer under the Mosaic Law, and God's command to institute capital punishment is not a command for us. Secondly, when Jesus came, He promoted mercy and love, saying to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". These arguments bring us to our third point: capital punishment is a legitimate form of punishment because it is not limited to the Old Testament.
Both of the above statements made by critics are true, but they do not denounce God's support of capital punishment. Although we are no longer under the Mosaic Law, the principle of capital punishment still applies. Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, and He has not changed His mind as to whether or not capital punishment is right. God has indirectly upheld capital punishment through the human authors of the New Testament because "all scripture is inspired by God." For example, the Apostle Paul, author of several New Testament books, upheld capital punishment. When speaking of a Christian's response to governmental authority, he said: "Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God...for rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior...for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil." Also, when false charges were brought against him, he said: "If then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die." In this statement, he supported the fact that some crimes are worthy of death. Capital punishment, then, is not limited to the Mosaic Law or the Old Testament.
Also, Jesus' command to " love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" does not oppose capital punishment because it is not a new command. It is important to understand that God is unchanging; He is the same in the Old Testament as He is in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, He said, "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord" and "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink." These commands were made while the Israelites were still under the Mosaic Law, which commanded them to uphold capital punishment. The reason these commands don't contradict the command to uphold capital punishment is because when God said to love your enemies, he was talking to individuals, and when he commanded capital punishment, he meant it to be enforced by the government. Individuals are not to take the law into their own hands and kill a murderer out of revenge, because that is the responsibility of the government. Individuals are to love their enemies and leave capital punishment to the governing authorities.
However, it is true that God is merciful, and He has not always used capital punishment on people who deserved it. For example, God did not kill King David after he murdered Uriah. This fact does not undermine the fact that capital punishment is a legitimate form of punishment, but it does create another question. We know that capital punishment is legitimate, but is it required? Since, being no longer under the Mosaic Law, we are not explicitly commanded to uphold capital punishment, should we uphold it?
We know that God supports capital punishment, and the principle he instituted is a right, just, and good. Perhaps he showed mercy to King David because David saw his sin and was repentant, but perhaps not. We cannot know exactly why God chose to show mercy to King David, but we can know that God's decision was one that only He could make. It is up to God to show mercy to whom He will have mercy, and it is up to us to uphold the principle of capital punishment that He set up. It would be too difficult for humans to decide which murderers are worthy of capital punishment and which ones are not. Because we know that God said that murderers are worthy of capital punishment, we should uphold that standard, following the guidelines that He set up. "So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it" (Numbers 35:33).
By studying the Bible, we can see that God is not against capital punishment. Capital punishment is a legitimate form of punishment because it was instituted by God, it is morally right and just, and it is not limited to the Old Testament. To follow the principle set up by God in upholding capital punishment is the right and just thing to do, and it will bring good results if done according to the example God set up.