I’m curious. How do you handle what the Bible teaches with regard to the death penalty?
It’s a complicated issue. On the one hand, the Old Testament clearly supports the death penalty at a number of points. Particularly, passages like Exodus 21:12 ff. and Leviticus 20 are important for this discussion.
In each passage, the Bible decrees the sentence of death for a number of various offenses. Some of those crimes we would consider heinous (like premeditated murder), others we likely would not (like adultery). Still, the Bible doesn’t flinch in condemning each instance to death.
However, for as clear as those passages are, there are as many others that urge us to mercy and forgiveness. Often, in this vein, we point to Jesus’ response when the woman caught in adultery is brought to Him.
We think of the story of Cain and Abel. One cannot help but notice that the first murderer is exiled, not condemned to death. God Himself hesitates to employ the death penalty here.
Likewise, the Bible (both OT & NT) is full of the teaching to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. After all, if God has forgiven us so much, how can we not forgive one another? What’s more, Jesus suggests, God will forgive us as we’ve already forgiven others. (Yikes!)
In addition, there is the early church’s stance on pacifism. Likely, today that would include an opposition to the death penalty.
These are the two tensions found within the Bible itself. On the one hand, justice. On the other, mercy and forgiveness.
How do you reconcile the two?
Should we as Christians oppose the death penalty? Or should we endorse some measure of its use as the Old Testament does?
I’m curious to hear your response.
One caveat before I turn it over to you. For me, the Bible is the Word of God. If you want me to take your answer seriously, please treat it that way.
In other words, please don’t use the ‘that was then, this is now’ type of argument. The Bible (OT included) is a very complex, nuanced, and sophisticated book which deserves to be taken seriously. Arguments that devalue the Bible or discount the OT as primitive and archaic do not help me.
That said, I look forward to your comments. How do you reconcile what the Bible says about the death penalty? As a Christian, should I oppose it or support it?