Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How Should Christians View Capital Punishment? Spotlighted Author Sylvia Bambola Responds...

How Should Christians View 
Capital Punishment?

by Sylvia Bambola

This is a tough one.* There are sincere Christians on both sides of this issue. I think the reason is because Christians are generally tenderhearted and believe in redemption. They want everyone to have a “second chance.”

Before diving in, I’d like to share three Scriptures. In Isaiah 55:9 God said, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Our minds are incapable of grasping the mind of God. His way of thinking is not ours and may often seem out of line. But we should understand that God does all things well, and His ordinances, His commands are only for our good. 

The second Scripture is from Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Our job is to trust God and not our own understanding. His is to direct our paths. 

And finally, when we don’t, when we, instead, follow our own inclinations, the path is disastrous. Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

From the above, I think it’s safe to say we don’t always know what’s right or best, but God does. And when we try to figure it out independently of Him, we can get into trouble or make a mess. I believe this applies to the issue of capital punishment. Our opinions will differ because we come from different backgrounds, have learned different life-lessons, and carry our own share of misconceptions and faulty thinking. That’s why it’s always necessary for Christians to defer to the Bible.

So, the important question is, what does God say about this issue? I don’t believe the Bible can state God’s position on capital punishment any clearer than in Genesis 9:5-6. He commands that if a beast or man takes the life of a man, the blood of that man or beast will be required. He then states His reason. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Only blood was payment for blood because man was made in God’s image.

But this command is repeated throughout the Old Testament, including in the sixth command which states, “Thou shall not kill.” That word in the Hebrew is ratsach and literally means, “to dash in pieces, to murder, the shedding of innocent blood.” This does not include the killings in war, in self-defense or in an accidental killing (manslaughter). The Old Testament dealt with the last two cases by creating six cities of refuge in order to protect the killer from the “blood avenger”. But in the case of murder--the willful taking of innocent blood--the blood avenger was required to take the life of the murderer.

In Exodus 20:13, Exodus 21:12-15, Leviticus 24:17 and Numbers 35:6-21, God, Himself, gives Moses the ordinances regarding capital punishment. Moses represents authority/the law/the head of a nation/the government. In other words, God is instructing the governmental authority to keep this law. And what He is says is, “he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.”

God also warns, in Numbers 35:29-34, what will happen if these murderers are not put to death. “So, these things shall be for a statue of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witness: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die (Here the criteria was set up that it must take at least two witnesses to convict a murderer) Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction (ransom) for the life of a murderer guilty of death; but he shall surely be put to death . . . So, you shall not pollute the land wherein you are: for the blood it defileth the land; and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein among the children of Israel.” So, here we understand that if we don’t put murderers to death, we pollute and defile our land.

God also cautions us in Deuteronomy 19: 11-13 and Deuteronomy 19:18-21,“Thine eye shall not pity him (the murdered—God calls us to walk, not in sentimentality, but in His ways, His laws) but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel that it may go well with thee.” Again, if the murderer is not made to pay with his blood, it will not go well with that nation!

So, we know that 1) God Himself instituted the death penalty. 2) That only blood could pay for the shedding of innocent blood. 3) That if a murderer does not pay with his blood the land becomes defiled and polluted, and it will not go well for that nation. 4) We are not to pity the murderer. 5) A murderer must be convicted by at least two witnesses. 6) If a witness falsely testifies against someone charged with murder, that witness must forfeit his life. 7) The execution of a murderer will serve as a deterrent against further evil.

Ah, but that’s the Old Testament. Surely, Jesus doesn’t expect us to execute murderers today! Well, murder is still forbidden in the New Testament (Matthew 19:18, Romans 13:9, 1Peter 4:15, 1 John 3:15) and since “God changes not”(Malachi 3:6) and Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrew 13:8) and He said that if you see Him you see the Father (John 14:9), we can correctly deduce that God the Father is also the same yesterday, today and forever, and thus assume that the same blood criteria applies to murder in the New Testament.

In addition, Jesus spoke these sobering words in Matthew 5:17-19, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” Oh, dear!

As we delve more into the New Testament, it’s important to remember that the Old Testament Scriptures regarding murder were Scriptures in which God was speaking to Moses—who represented the law/authority/government, and as such He was laying a pattern. In other words, God was establishing national law for Israel and all future Godly nations.

Opponents of capital punishment often use Matthew chapter 5 to build their case. But here Jesus is talking to the multitudes. (Matt 5:1 “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain . . . and said”) Jesus is not speaking to the lawmakers, authority, government. He was speaking to the masses, the common man. The substance of what He said also makes it clear that He was addressing two very distinct groups of people: the law breaker or criminal and the victims of crime.

First, let’s look at what He said to the “criminal,” the breaker of God’s law. Jesus said that in the “old time” under the law of the Old Testament, the law says, Thou shalt not kill. However, under the “new” Testament Jesus is now coming down even harder. He said if you’re even angry with your brother without cause or if you speak evil of him, you’re in danger of judgment. Jesus has raised the bar. He is now saying that hatred and slander are akin to murder! He is saying that the standards are even stricter than they had previously thought! Who hasn’t heard an angry person assassinate someone’s character with his words! And 1 John 3:15 further confirms this, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.”

Now, let’s look at the second group—the victims of crime. He said it used to be an eye for an eye (a punishment that fits the crime). But now He says don’t look for revenge or retaliation, but forgive, forgive, forgive! If someone steals your shirt, give him your coat too (forgive, forgive, forgive) and if someone forces you to go a mile with him, don’t just stop there, go two. Jesus is saying that the victim’s attitude (NOT the state’s attitude or the law’s attitude or the government’s attitude) toward the criminal must now be one of forgiveness, meekness, and forbearance.

Having said that, is there no way out for murderers other than the death penalty? Hasn’t a “new” dispensation come with the “new” covenant? That answer is both yes and no. Here’s why. Remembering that sinners are saved by grace and that the blood of Jesus covers our sins, then one can say with assurance that if someone murders (sheds innocent blood) and comes into the saving knowledge of Jesus and repents and puts that sin under Jesus’ blood, then the blood requirement of the blood avenger is fulfilled. Jesus’ blood, in that instance, is the perfect fulfilling of the law. It becomes the substitute for the blood of the actual murderer. It appeases the outcry of the innocent blood that was shed. And Jesus’ blood appeases God the Father’s sense of justice. 

That’s why I wanted to see Carla Fay Tucker pardoned by then Governor of Texas, George Bush. Carla had come to the Lord (I’m not talking about a shallow “jail-house” conversion that sometimes happens because a prisoner wants the benefits for appearing “reformed” like early parole, etc.). Carla had repented, and she had put her sins, though serious and horrible, under the blood of Jesus. But she was not pardoned and went home to be with the Lord.

However, when a murderer has NOT come to the Lord, has not put his murder under the blood of Jesus, then the blood requirement still stands. That person is, in effect, under the Old Testament law and his blood is required. If that blood requirement is not met, then it contributes to the defilement of the land.

I know our court system is not perfect; that sometimes the poor don’t get the representation they deserve; that mistakes are made; that two witnesses (DNA, eye-witnesses, etc.) are NOT used, and circumstantial evidence will convict someone, which I don’t believe is scriptural. These issues need to be dealt with. However, just because they exist, they do not negate the validity of capital punishment. Capital punishment is an established law of God. A law valid throughout both the Old and New Testament.

Do Christians have a role in ministering to prisoners, even murderers? Yes. We can pray for them and/or minister God’s love to them. And that especially includes ministering God’s word so they can come into the saving knowledge of Jesus, which means that even if they are executed, like Carla Fay, they will be with our Lord for all eternity. But trying to keep a convicted murderer—who has not repented and accepted the Lord and put his sin under Jesus’ blood—from being executed, is not scriptural and is in fact—wrong.

God will never contradict Himself (His Word). If something in His word sounds contradictory the fault lies with us, not Him. We simply don’t understand the Scripture and need to spend time studying it. No one has all the answers, nor will we until we get to heaven and then we can ask the One who does. But knowing the Word of God as much as possible will help prevent us from being misled or deceived.

According to God’s Word, I don’t think we have any choice, as believers, but to acknowledge that capital punishment was instituted by God and is scriptural. Line up a hundred people and all of them may give you differing opinions. But we are not to hinge our convictions on the prevailing opinions of the majority or even our own opinions. In the end, the only opinion that matters is God’s.

*Based upon her book, which included the issue of Capital Punishment, I asked author Sylvia Bambola to provide a full article on this important issue. Many of us have had mixed feelings about Capital Punishment. I believe this article provides a solid basis to provide God's answer...

Note that the color highlights are mine, inserted as I read her response to my question. For me, it answered all that I needed to know...

And...thank you so much, Sylvia Bambola, for speaking to us through your book and this additional article! God Bless you and your future writings!

1 comment:

  1. It was my pleasure, Glenda. And thank you for your reviews and kind words. Blessings!