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Capital Punishment and Christianity

Capital punishment has been stated as ‘murder in its worst form’ barbaric, disgusting, unusual and completely unnecessary. Should Christians really support the death penalty? Many Christians believe that the Bible has spoken to the issue, but others believe that the New Testament ethic of love replaces the Old Testament law.

Some early Christian writers who discussed capital punishment were absolutely opposed to it. Christians were instructed to not execute a criminal, to not attend public executions and even to not lay a charge against a person if it might eventually result in their execution.

One example is Lactantius (260 to 330 AD) who is primarily known for his books, ‘Introduction to true Religion’ and ‘The Divine Institutes’. He wrote in The Divine Institutes, Book 6, Chapter 20: “When God forbids us to kill, he not only prohibits the violence that is condemned by public laws, but he also forbids the violence that is deemed lawful by men. Thus it is not lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself. Nor is it [lawful] to accuse anyone of a capital offence. It makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or by the sword. It is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, regarding this precept of God there should be no exception at all. Rather it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred creature.”

Abolitionists believe that the offender should be required to compensate the victim’s family with the offender’s income from employment or community service. Their thinking is that someone can do more alive than dead. By working, the criminal inadvertently ‘pays back’ society and also the victim and/or the victim’s family. There is no reason for the criminal to receive any compensation for his work. Money is of no value in jail. One of the most well known examples of the criminal contributing to the betterment of society is the case of Leopold and Loeb. Leopold and Loeb were nineteen years old when they committed ‘The Crime of the Century’. In 1924 they kidnapped and murdered a fourteen year old boy just to see what it was like. They were both spared the death penalty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Together, their accomplishments include working at hospitals, teaching ill-iterates to read, creating a correspondence school, making significant developments in the World War II Malaria Project and writing a grammar book. An inestimable amount of people were directly helped by Leopold and Loeb; both of them making a conscious commitment to atone by serving others.

Catholics Against Capital Punishment is a national organisation working for the abolition of the death penalty. It was set up in January 1992 to promote greater awareness of Catholic church teachings that characterise capital punishment as inappropriate and unacceptable in today’s world. They believe capital punishment underscores the conviction that God is the Lord of Life, and would remove any ambiguity as to the Church’s affirmation of the sanctity of human life in all its stages, including the unborn, the aged and the infirm. They also believe it would be in accordance with the example of Jesus, who both taught and practised the forgiveness of injustice, and that it would emphasise that the best means for promoting a just society are intelligence and compassion, not power and vengeance.

Most people who are against capital punishment say that it is cruel, inhumane and barbaric, and does not belong in the penal system of any modern, progressive culture.

Aside from a slow torture, they state there is not a death more horrible than being executed by the government. It is something that is certainly not quick, which is evidenced by the fact that people spend years on death row before being executed. The clock slowly ticks away second by second until the switch is thrown at 12:01 AM of the day of the execution, (recently changed to 6:00PM). This painfully drawn out process certainly adds to the anguish and suffering of those condemned. Regardless of what is or is not true regarding the physical pain that a condemned person undergoes, the mental pain is certainly excruciating.

To that statement made by many that ‘Capital punishment is a deterrent to murder’, some emphatically say ‘Not true’, they state that to carry out capital punishment is to commit another murder.

All in all the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) said a great deal about the death penalty. The Torah (first five books of the Bible) required this punishment for many transgressions, both civil and religious.

Within the Old Testament theocracy, capital punishment was extended beyond murder to cover various offences. While the death penalty for these offences was limited, some say, to this particular 'dispensation of revelation', notice was made that the principle of Genesis 9:6, 'Whoever sheds man's blood by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.' Capital punishment being warrented due to the sanctity of life as given by God.

Some take the view that God's law clearly commands us not to kill. Exodus 20:13 states, 'You shall not murder' as does also Deuteronomy 5:17, 'You shall not murder'. (The Ten Commandments). In addition, Deuteronomy 17:6 states, 'Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness.'

Others would state that because Malachi 3:6 the Lord says of Himself, 'For I am the LORD, I do not change.' Therefore, if God has not changed His character has not changed, His law has not changes, His word has not changed, and His will has not changed, therefore the Commandments and a "life for a life" have not changed. In Old Testament times captial punishment would be carried out immediately after the evidence was heard. This would often be in public by stoning which was done by the "Children of Israel" so that no one person killed another and God's laws would be honoured by all for all. This method of punishment removed individual vengeance and was to be a deterrent so that others would not murder e.t.c.

The Christian Scriptures (New Testament), do not contain new codes of law which govern the death penalty. However, there were many references to capital punishment in the Bible and in non-canonical literature which indicate that the Hebrew Scripture’s codes were still being applied during the time of Jesus.

One opinion is that God's laws were always for the benefit of society as a whole not just the individual but also for the individual benefit.

No where in scripture did Jesus ever deny the laws of God. Jesus said, 'Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.' (Matthew 5:17-18)

Many today oppose capital punishment because of the great length of time of imprisonment and lengthy penal procedures which put the convicted person through extreme anxiety over a considerable number of years. Others would say that this was never God's original plan in carrying out capital punishment and they would totally agree that the penal system is at fault, yet still believe that anyone taken another's life should be given capital punishment quickly.

On the cross at Calvary one of the convicts being crucified declared that he deserved to die and asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His Kingdom. Jesus' reply being, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.' Jesus did not state that the man should not die as a punishment.

Some have used the arguement that Jesus forgave the adulteress and saved her from being stoned as a basis againsta capital punishment. Others counter that the context of this passage was forgiveness of sins and righteous living in order to receive eternal life and not capital punishment.







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