I’ve enjoy reading articles on RELEVANT. They usually offer helpful insights on very practical themes.
However, an article titled, “What Being Pro-Life Means in Light of the Death Penalty” is an inadequate handling of an important subject.
The author endorsed a quote from NT Wright stating that, “you can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty.”
NT Wright (who is insightful on many subjects) is clearly wrong on this point. It is a surprisingly simplistic view of what the Bible teaches.
Two pro-life positions
A number of years ago, I wrote a newspaper column supporting the practice of capital punishment. A university professor in our town asked me how I would reconcile my pro-life position with my support for capital punishment. I answered by suggesting that opposing abortion and supporting the death penalty are both pro-life positions. Then I explained my answer.
The reason God ordained capital punishment was to support the sanctity of life. Life is precious (as made in the image of God), so if you murder another person, it will cost you your own life.
An enduring judicial principle
God did not merely ordain capitol punishment for Israel as something the Church can move on from. He ordained it for humanity as a judicial practice for life in the new world (Genesis 9:6).
It may seem strange that of all the things God could have focused on for Noah, he chose capital punishment as one of them. A primary reason for this is that God judged the world during the days of Noah partly because violence filled the earth. To restrain violence, God ordained a just punishment for murders. There is no reason to believe that this function of justice is no longer instituted by God.
A closer look
Have you seen the bumper sticker that says, “Why do we kill people who kill people to show killing people is wrong?” This might sound reasonable but it actually suggests a false dilemma based on a false comparison.
Some killing is unjust and we call it “murder.” Other killing is justified and we call it “self-defense,” in some cases, and “just punishment” in others. We should not confuse these distinctions by equating them both as acts of murder.
When 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.
- Isn’t this written for Old Testament times?
- Are we not are commanded to love our enemies!
- What about forgiveness?
- How can we be pro-life and pro-capital punishment?
To avoid a lengthy post, I answer these questions in a post titled, “Is capital punishment mandated by God?”
One more concern – Eye for Eye
The author of the article on Relevant wrote, “I just don’t feel that we can continue to support the punitive, eye-for-an-eye system that most of us agree that Christ would denounce.”
We need to clearly understand that Jesus would not “denounce the eye-for-an-eye system.” This is like Jesus saying, “Hey, I know God required an eye for an eye but I want to scrap that idea for a better one.”
In the personal ethics for the followers of Jesus, eye for eye was rejected. But Jesus taught this (not because the OT teaching was archaic or cruel) but because of the way certain religious leaders were trying to use this judicial standard to justify personal revenge.
Eye for Eye was given as a judicial standard. It is a punishment that fits the crime policy. It was intended to restrain the unjust multiplication of evil or uneven retribution. It remains a primary principle of most just legal systems. To study this matter more closely, see: “An eye for an eye?”