On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, convicted murderer, Troy Davis (42) was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m. ET, by lethal injection. Davis was convicted in 1991 for the 1989 murder of Savannah, Georgia, police officer, Mark MacPhail, who was shot to death while trying to protect a homeless man from attackers.
Davis’ sentence for the crime was widely protested, but after an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, justices rejected the case, and he received the death penalty.
The Warden announced that, “The court ordered execution of Troy Anthony Davis was carried out in accordance with the laws of the state of Georgia.”
Despite doubts raised about Davis’ guilt, MacPhail’s family maintained their belief that he committed the crime. But many voices opposing the death penalty used Davis’ case to further their agenda to end capital punishment.
The sad and harsh reality of life in a fallen world requires the use of the death penalty to protect civilized society. If capital punishment is abused by inequities in due process, revisions in the judicial system must be vigorously sought. But we must not eliminate the penalty from our judicial system.
Those who willfully take the life of another must forfeit their own lives. This is a punishment that fits the crime. It’s also a proven restraint against acts of homicide. Some killing is unjust and we call it “murder.” Other killing is just and we call this “self-defense” in some cases, and “just punishment” in others. We should not confuse these distinctions by equating them both as acts of murder.
What does Scripture teach?
Early in human history, God required capital punishment for premeditated murderers. He said, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man.” (Genesis 9:6). The phrase “sheds man’s blood” is used as a euphemism for two kinds of putting to death. First, it’s used for an act of murder; secondly, for the just-punishment of a murderer. The act of murder is far different from just-punishment of a murderer. One action is criminal; the other a God-ordained function of government.
We cannot dismiss this teaching because it comes from the Old Testament. Some parts of the Old Testament are not directly applicable today (like the regulations given to guide Israel as a nation). But the requirement of Genesis 9:6 was not a law given to Israel in relation to their national identity. Instead, it was based on the way God created humans. Its backdrop appears to be the violence that provoked God’s judgment on humanity (see: Genesis 6). To restrain violence, God instituted a creation ordinance of capital punishment.
What about the teaching of Jesus?
Some wrongly conclude that Christ’s law of love in the New Testament rules out capital punishment. It’s argued that followers of Christ are commanded to love their enemies, not execute them (Matthew 5:38-45). Jesus clearly taught nonresistance and Christians are commanded to forgive as Christ forgave, so how could one reconcile capital punishment with Jesus?
Simply stated, Jesus is not teaching about government response to lawbreakers. If applied to criminal justice, it would rule out all punishment and contradict the God-ordained role of government to punish evildoers (I Peter 2:14). Jesus is teaching about personal revenge, not civil justice. Jesus clearly supported civil authority and justice.
Those who think retributive justice contradicts forgiveness misunderstand forgiveness. When God forgives us, it’s not that he is being big-hearted to overlook our sin but because Jesus bore the death penalty for our sin (see: Romans 6:23). God’s justice required that sin be punished. God’s mercy moved Him to take our punishment for us.
The death of Jesus was an unjust execution of the perfectly innocent God-man ordained by our loving Creator on behalf of guilty sinners. He was executed in our place for our sins. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21).
Pro-life and Pro-capital punishment?
Occasionally I am asked how I reconcile my pro-life position with my support of capital punishment. I point out that both positions endorse the sanctity of life by opposing deliberate acts of homicide. Scripture emphasizes that life is precious because humans are made in God’s image. This was the basis for the death penalty when God required it (Genesis 9:6).
Once again, some killing is unjust and we call it “murder.” Other killing is just and we call this “self-defense” in some cases, and “just punishment” in others.
There will never be a perfect system of government where humans are involved but, in a corrupt world, laws and law enforcement are necessary. We must work diligently to ensure equitable due process for all people. Yet we cannot afford to allow murderers to think that they will escape the justice of capital punishment.
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick St
Millersville, PA. 17551