What do you think about the death penalty?

Pastor J.D. discusses three common objectives people have surrounding the death penalty.

A glimpse inside this episode:

Three objections people have:

1. It is immoral (this is contradicted by ample biblical support both Old and New Testament)

Some will say, “One of the 10 commandments is, ‘Thou shalt not murder.’ So, we shouldn’t administer the death penalty, either.” But Dr. Wayne Grudem, who I find helpful on this topic, writes that this is not meant to forbid all forms of taking life. He drills down to the Hebrew word for murder, ratsach, which literally means to slay. The 6th commandment is talking about premeditated, intentional murder, which God obviously forbids OR causing human death through carelessness or negligence.

In the Old Testament, the idea of justly executing a human who murdered another human predates even the law given to Moses and the Israelites. Dr. Grudem talks about how in Genesis 9, after the flood, God told Noah, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Gen. 9:5). This was foundational to human life on earth after the flood. So, you can’t say, “Well, that’s part of the Old Testament Mosaic covenant, and we don’t have to follow that anymore.” That word for “shed” meant to pour out, or to intentionally cause someone to die. The reason this is so important is because, when you murder a human being made in God’s image, you’re destroying something that is most like God. Dr. Grudem says it’s the closest thing we can do to attacking God himself. 

In the New Testament, I look at Romans 13:4: “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he (the one in authority) does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (What does the sword mean?) Now, remember that this comes right after the end of chapter 12, when Paul was talking about never avenging yourself, and allowing vengeance to be the Lord’s. Paul’s logic: you are not the avenger; the government is. So, the answer to the question, “What right do you have to take another life?” is “I don’t, but God does. The government is God’s avenger who carries out God’s wrath on evildoers. In other words, we can see the civil government executing someone who has executed another human as God’s wrath carried out on an evildoer. 

1 Peter 2:13-14 carries the same theme — it talks about “governors sent by God to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good.” (NO human has the right to take the life of another human.) Correct. But God can commission them to. Same is true, of course, of other punishments. Punishment is not primarily restorative, but also retributive. Paul in Acts: “If I have done something worthy of death, I do not object to die.”

2. It is not effective as a deterrent

Many times, people object to the whole concept of deterrence, which I have more of a problem with. Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” This also gets back into our previous point: is civil punishment meant to deter crime, or to carry out retribution for acts of evil that have been done? The punishment is a statement about life. I would argue if the loss of your own life is not a deterrent against doing an evil act, there is no deterrent that can stop you from doing it. Is punishment a deterrent? 

Data: That’s not my area, but arguments are fairly persuasive to me: Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five, and 14). Also, the time factor: Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor.

Grudem, Politics: For each murderer executed, as many as fourteen to eighteen additional murders are deterred (David Bl. Muhlausen, Ph.D., “The Death Penalty Deters Crime and Saves Lives,” Heritage Foundation, Aug., 2007). Notes that because executions take so long, we have not in recent years been able to see a reliable evaluation of the deterrent effect if the death penalty were carried out more quickly when someone is clearly deteremined as a murderer (and cites Eccl. 8:11 as reason for doing so).

3. It is unjustly administered in our country due to past racial sins, so we should call a moratorium on it until we get stuff sorted out).

This one I’m less of an expert to speak on–I was deeply bothered by Just Mercy. But the answer is not to throw out the concept of retributive justice altogether. (1) Each case should be decided on its own merits. (2)Supreme Court- the right to require fairness in each situation. 

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