Should a Christian support the death penalty?
James F. Pope
Public opinion polls indicate that, although the numbers are declining, the majority of Americans still support the death penalty. “What about Christians?” you ask. “What are they to think of the government taking the life of a human being?” God’s Word addresses that subject and sheds light on the question.
Protection of life
The protection of human life in the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17) is part of God’s moral law. No one should take the life of another person or their own life. That’s God’s will for all people of all time. Life on this earth is important and worthy of God’s protection because this is the only time of grace people have. The prophet Isaiah urged: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). When death takes place, so does eternal judgment (Hebrews 9:27). So God desires to protect life because it is a time to learn that Jesus Christ is the Savior from sin.
The ending of life
At the same time, God states that he has the authority to end life. “See now that I, myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life” (Deuteronomy 32:39). God can bring life to an end directly, or he can do it through his representatives in government. God has given those authorities “the sword” (Romans 13:4) to punish lawbreakers. That means governments can implement capital punishment for those who take the lives of others. In short, God allows governments the right to exercise the death penalty, but he does not command them to utilize it. If governments do wield “the sword,” they are illustrating what God declared to Noah after the flood: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6).
Views of death
So, what are Christians to think of the 31 states in our country where the death penalty is legal? Might Christians be uncomfortable with the death penalty? Might Christians wish that states imprison murderers rather than execute them? Certainly. Christians can have personal preferences and comfort zones when it comes to the freedom God gives governments to punish wrongdoers. There is every reason, though, for Christians to support the death penalty simply because God, in Scripture, allows it.
If Christians have objections to capital punishment, they can voice those concerns to their elected representatives, just as they are able to do with their thoughts on any other legislative matter. But if Christians have preferences that differ from the laws of their state, God still demands that they give respect and honor (Romans 13:7) to his representatives in government.
What Christians can agree on is the importance of the capital punishment that took place outside Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago. Two criminals were executed—not for murder but for robbery. Between them was the Son of God. An earthly government had sentenced them all to death. If the robbers were guilty, justice—severe justice—was being served. On the other hand, Jesus was completely innocent of wrongdoing. Instead divine justice was being served. God transferred the punishment all people deserved because of their sins and placed it on his Son. That death brought life (John 12:24)! For that we praise God.
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 2017
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