Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Capital Punishment, Part 1

Oct 11, 2007

The recent squabble within Labor Party ranks as to whether the Bali bombers should be executed raises the old issue of capital punishment, and the biblical and ethical concerns surrounding it. How should the believer view this issue? Can a Christian support the death penalty?

There are two ways to answer these sorts of questions. One way, obviously, is to examine the Biblical data on the subject. The other is to discuss the various philosophical, legal and social implications of the debate. This article will mainly deal with the former.

Let me begin by saying that while all ethical issues can be complex and the subject of much debate and disagreement, for the believer, some issues are a bit more cut and dried than others. That is, I believe that Scripture offers a pretty strong case against certain activities. For example, abortion and homosexuality seem pretty clearly to be taboo. While some believers may seek to support such activities, they have little Biblical ground to stand on.

Some other issues, however, are perhaps a bit less forthright or clear. Thus genuine Christian disagreement may arise, and we may need to learn to agree to disagree on some of these contentious issues. I think certain issues like war and peace, wealth and poverty, environmental concerns, and so on, fall into this latter category. There is some legitimate room to move on these topics, and believers may find themselves lining up on various sides of the fence on these hot potato issues. I think capital punishment is also such an issue.

Thus there is some latitude here for the believer. Christians can rightly argue for either a pro or anti position on the topic. So where do I stand? I believe a case can be made that capital punishment is both biblical and something Christians can support. Having said that, I know many believers will take an opposite approach. I think this topic can be debated, and believers may well come up with conflicting conclusions. With that in mind, I offer the case for the death penalty.

Biblical considerations

Scripture says much about this issue. In fact, the first thing to note is that capital punishment is God’s idea: he initiated it. Genesis 9:5-6 gives the justification for it: “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

The point of this passage is that man, as made in God’s image, has special value, above that of all other created life. Human death requires an accounting, and so serious is it to take a human life that the murderer forfeits his own right to life. The taking of human life is above all an offence against God. Thus the severity of the penalty. Interestingly, if an animal kills a person, it is treated the same as the human murderer: both are to be stoned to death (Lev. 21:28-32).

Man is given the responsibility of maintaining justice here. The way we become accountable to God in the preservation of human life is by means of capital punishment. God’s justice is thereby established, with the punishment being commensurate with the seriousness of the crime.

But, an objector will immediately interject, what about the sixth commandment? A good question, but easily answered. Exodus 20:13 clearly says in the Hebrew, “You shall not murder”. It does not deal with killing, but murder. All good English translations will make that distinction. The Hebrew word rasah is usually used for premeditated murder. Indeed, the verb is used nearly 50 times in the Old Testament, and in most instances it describes premeditated murder. It is not used of the killing of animals, the just killing of criminals, or the killing of enemies in battle.

And it is clear that all killing is not morally wrong, since on numerous occasions God himself orders killing to take place. For example, God ordered the death penalty (Gen 9:5, 6); God ordered the flood as judgment (Gen 6-8); God ordered the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as judgment (Gen 18-19); God ordered the death of Egypt’s first born (Ex 11); God ordered the death of the rebellious Israelites at Kedesh Barnea (Num 13-14); God ordered the death of 14,700 because of the sin of Korah (Num 16:49); and God ordered the taking of Canaan, and in the Old Testament war is sanctioned or commanded at various times (Num 1-4; 26; 32:20-22; Dt 1:6-8; 3:3; Josh 6:2-3; Jud 5; 1 Sam 15:2-3; 17; 2 Sam 5:19-20; 2 Ch 14:11-13; Ps 68; 83; 108; 124; 136)

Thus not all killing is wrong, or proscribed by the sixth commandment. When we wilfully take another human life that we have no Biblical authority to take, then we are indeed violating the sixth commandment.

Therefore deliberately and unlawfully taking the life of the innocent – what we call murder – is always wrong. But in various situations, Scripture allows killing: the death penalty, self-defence, certain types of warfare, and its use by police forces. I will not here lay out the biblical case for those other sorts of lawful killing. That remains the task of another article or two.


Just as in modern courts of law, the Old Testament distinguishes between different types of killing. Consider Exodus 21: 12-14: “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.” Accidental death is treated differently from intentional murder.

And just as in modern legal settings, various safeguards and due-process protections were in place to ensure – as far as possible – that justice in fact took place. For example, more than one witness was required for a guilty verdict for an offence punishable by death: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deut. 19:15); “Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness” (Num 35:30).

Also, a very high degree of certainty of guilt was required. Deut. 17:4-5 says that if an offence “has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death.” This matches, and perhaps goes beyond, the modern rule of proof beyond reasonable doubt.

In addition, those accused of a crime awaiting trial could take shelter in a city of refuge. See Numbers 35:6-34 for details. Thus there were built-in protections for the accused in Mosaic legislation, until a proper trial could finally determine guilt or innocence.

What about a false accusation? This also was dealt with in the Mosaic legislation. If a person was found to have committed perjury, he too would face the death penalty: “If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deut. 19:16-19).

Moreover, in very difficult cases, judicial experts were brought in. “If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge – whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults – take them to the place the LORD your God will choose. Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict.” (Deut. 17:8-9).

Lastly, if a person was found guilty, then the sentence had to be carried out. “No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; he must be put to death” (Lev. 27:29); “Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death” (Num. 35:31).

What About Jesus?

We have thus far only examined half of the Biblical data, that of the Old Testament. What about the New Testament? Did Jesus and the disciples adhere to the manner in which the First Testament dealt with this issue, or did they head off in a different direction? Such considerations will have to wait for part 2:

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45 Responses to On Capital Punishment, Part 1

  • I totally agree with you Bill. I was once personally uncomfortable with the idea of capital punishment, but reluctantly came to the conclusion that the Biblical evidence strongly supports its use in the case of willful murder.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • As I was reading, a very significant example of the consequences of not delivering capital punishment in the OT came to my mind.

    1 Kings 20:42 “He said to the king, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’ ” (NIV)

    This is an example of where the King of Israel forfeited his own life by not putting a man to death. This is incredible. God was clearly extremely angry that Ahab didn’t put Ben-Hadad to death.

    I agree with you Bill that there can be just reason for capital punishment.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Good one Matthew. Thanks for that.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • A very fine statement on a hot issue; it will be good to get your follow up statement, but in the main your position is hard for any to rebut, if the Scriptures are taken seriously. Of course in the OT capital punishment could be applied to 18 different situations, though not necessary in all. Whether or not it was to be applied depended on the gravity of the crime.
    Dallas Clarnette

  • I am so glad to read this.
    I have only heard Christians speak against the death penality, but in my heart have always felt it to be just.
    Danni Flood

  • What a sickening religion you preach, Bill.
    Matt Page

  • doesn’t it also say somewhere in the bible that you should be put to death for working on sunday? of for homosexuality? or blasphemy?

    I don’t know how you read the bible bill, but interpreting those words as the actual will of god, now that looks like real blasphemy to me…

    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks Matt and Luke

    Of course it is not so much “my religion” or even “my interpretation” that you two seem to reject. You may be just shooting the messenger here. It is the sovereign God of the universe and his revelation to us of his moral standards which you seem to reject. Could it be that you have told God, in other words, to get lost, because you think you in fact are god, and you can do a better job of running the universe? Do you assume your creator and judge has no moral claims on you at all, and that you in fact can decide what is ultimately right and wrong?

    Your repulsion of what has been written here may simply be a reflection of the postmodern age we live in, in which sin is minimised, absolute morality is rejected, and everything is relativised. The Biblical case for capital punishment takes sin very seriously indeed, and recognises that certain crimes are so heinous – such as premeditated murder – that the only just response is the forfeiture of life.

    When someone thinks that they are the centre of the universe, then any competing claimant or claim will always seem “sickening” or “blasphemous”. Yet God will be God, no matter how much we seek to usurp his place.

    But that is not the end of the story. Because we all have sinned big time, we all in fact deserve death. Yet God sent his son to suffer on our behalf, so that we do not have to die. He offers us pardon, by dying in our place. That is mind-boggling mercy and grace which no man can begin to fathom.

    So at the end of the day Matt and Luke, it does not so much matter what you think of God, but what he thinks of you. He has made every possible provision for you to receive not only abundant life on this earth, but life everlasting. The choice comes down to you. Will you let God be God, or will you continue to pretend that you are God, and know better than him what is right and wrong?

    I will keep you in my prayers. Regards,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Danni

    I think you raise an important point here. Many believers do condemn the death penalty. Now I have no problem if they do this based on a careful and prayerful examination of the biblical evidence, and a close following of the various arguments.

    But I suspect many believers may reject the death penalty for the same reason many non-believers do: not because of what Scripture says about the issue, but because of the prevailing worldview and outlook which has a somewhat sloppy and unhelpful understanding of such things as compassion, tolerance and the like.

    Many people (but certainly not all), allow emotional reactions to determine how they approach such issues as capital punishment, rather than solid ethical, intellectual and theological considerations. Anti-capital punishment propaganda films like “Dean Man Walking” simply add to this problem.

    So I am glad I have been able to help you in hearing another Christian side to this important debate.

    Bill Muehlenberg

  • One of the reasons I was initially reluctant to support capital punishment for the crime of murder, was because of the example of David Berkowitz the infamous New York serial killer of the 70’s known as the ‘Son of Sam’. New York state has no death penalty so Berkowitz was sentenced to life imprisonment and became a Christian in 1987. His testimony is a very powerful one and he now has quite a ministry to the other prisoners and also to a wider audience through a video and now his prison journals in the form of a book.

    If Berkowitz had lived in a state that has capital punishment would he have had time to repent before his death? Ultimately we don’t know, but what about the six people whose lives he cut short? Assuming they were not saved, if given more time would they have repented? Assuming the death penalty has some deterrent effect then this last point is a counter to the argument some Christians might try and use against the death penalty – namely that whilst there is still life there is always a possibility the murderer could repent.

    Ultimately, it is not because of any deterrent aspect that Christians should support capital punishment – it is because it is a command of God.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Thanks Ewan

    This is a common objection raised by some believers: people always have the chance to repent and come to faith in other types of punishment, but they cannot with capital punishment. But several responses can be made.

    First, if we take this argument to its logical conclusion, Christians should be doing everything they possibly can to see human life extended. After all, the longer one lives, the more time there will be for a chance to repent and turn to God.

    Related to this are many instances when God intervened and judged a person or a nation for their sins. But the anti-death penalty reasoning would suggest that God should never judge any person by means of death, because that would be robbing them of more time to repent and turn back to him. Thus the flood was wrong under that sort of reasoning, as were all occasions in which God took lethal action.

    Second, numerous Scriptures such as Job 14:5 and Psalm 139:16 seem to speak of the fact that we are given an allotted time on this earth by God. When our time is up, it is up. Thus difficult questions of God’s sovereignty arise here, and whether all forms of death (including their time and manner) fall under his will, and so on.

    Third, God knows the human heart. He knows who will turn in repentance and who will not. Simply adding years to a person’s life is no guarantee that he or she will repent.

    Fourth, because of our sin, we all deserve death anyway. It is only the grace of God that keeps us alive at all.

    Fifth, if God indeed thought this way, that having more time on planet earth is such a vital thing, he of course would be wrong to have commanded the death penalty in the first place.

    Sixth, it is not the job of the state to ensure that criminals become Christians. It is their job to enforce public justice and to punish criminal activity.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Matt Page, so you think this is sickening? I find it more sickening that the state allows murderers to live, giving them more opportunity to kill other innocent people.

    Every clean house must have a garbage bin to remain clean.

    David Clay, Melbourne

  • As far as I am concerned, the death penalty is justified in such vicious premeditated crimes as the Bali Bombings and similar terrorist acts and closer to home the vicious murders of Janine Balding and Anita Cobby.
    What never ceases to amaze me, I have discovered that many of those who are opposed to the death penalty for diabolical murderers, are quite comfortable with the wilful killing for profit, of babies, in the abortion abbatoirs throughout the world- the killing of defenceless little children in the womb.
    How anyone can justify both positions simultaneously boggles the mind.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie, Qld

  • well bill, you sound just a trifle unconvincing to me: you say “kill them” for premeditated murder, but you don’t answer me for – let’s say – the blasphemous? should we put him/her to death?

    I would never reject your religion or your interpretation of the bible, as long as you keep them restricted to your inner world; a debate such as is going on here is fine with me but anything beyond that? mmm… even you “keeping me in your prayers” is a bit preposterous, shouldn’t you ask me first?

    and finally, let god be god, I agree, but that doesn’t mean I just have to take everything without thinking; I can assure you that if god would ask me to sacrifice one of my kids (to return to the bible stories) yes, you bet I would tell him to get lost! I even think he would judge me a better person for standing up to him.

    maybe I now sound blasphemous to you, but let me assure you I have no intend to be (although our definitions here could diverge as well I realize…)

    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks Luke

    But as you seem to be confusing several issues, let me seek to disentangle them. Were there offences which received the death penalty in Jewish law other than for things like wilful murder? Yes. Around 20 such offences warranted capital punishment.

    How does that relate to capital punishment today in mainly secular Western nations? Back then Israel was a theocracy, with no sacred/secular distinction. But under Christianity, there is a clear separation of the authority of church and state. This goes back to the words of Jesus when he said we should render to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God.

    Thus Christians recognise that not all sins are crimes, and not all crimes are sins. The church has authority to deal with sins, while the state has authority to deal with crime. So modern Western states today which retain the death penalty have it for things like premeditated murder, rape, and so on, not for religious issues.

    As to blasphemy, are people being put to death for that today? Yes, in Islamic countries with strict sharia law. But not in Western nations which grew out of the Judeo-Christian worldview.

    So do I support the death penalty for blasphemy? No. Do I support it for crimes such as terrorism or wilful murder? In some cases, yes.

    As to keeping religion to my “inner world,” you misunderstand the nature of religion, at least Biblical Christianity. When Wilberforce sought to end slavery because of his Christian convictions, some of his contemporaries foolishly told him the same thing: private religious feelings are fine, but don’t try to drag your beliefs into the public arena. Millions of blacks are glad Wilberforce did not keep his Christianity confined to his “inner world”.

    As to offering a child, Abraham’s faith was being tested by God, and in the end he did not need to do it. Thus the only real biblical example of a father offering up a son is when God the father willingly offered his own son Jesus (and Jesus willingly accepted), to deal with the sin and selfishness of me, you and the whole world.

    And as far as prayer goes, I am not aware of any laws against prayer, nor have I ever heard of the need to ask someone’s permission before I can pray for them. So I might just keep on praying for you and all sorts of people.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • so bill, if I understand you correctly, if you would live in belgium you would not support the death penalty (we don’t have it) based on the caesar/god principle (although I would not put church and state separation under the denominator of christianity???), however, since you do support it, does that mean you must live in an executing country?

    maybe that is what I mean with my “inner world”: if a person honestly believes that blasphemy (or murder, …) deserves the death penalty, I have no problem with that, as long as he will not try to impose his views on another person (friendly debate and democratic vote set aside of course)

    and I don’t see the need for christianity to be able to fight slavery? to fight injustice you don’t need religion, if you are religious and it will inspire you, so much the better, but what if religion inspires you to sustain injustice?

    I do like your crime/sin distinction (I never looked at it that way) to which I would add: we can think in matters of sin (god) and we must act in matters of crime (caesar)

    your abraham argument I find very weak and unsatisfactory, I will give that some thought and see whether I can think of a better way out… as for jesus, I am not so sure he willingly accepted; although I in all honestly have great admiration for him, I think he may have had more doubts than we normally accept.

    and of course there’s no law against praying and of course I don’t mind and if it makes you fell better please do – my objections (if any) were teasing at worst, although they do have some basis: I personally would never tell people that I would pray for them (unless they asked me) because in my mind that somehow implies a judgment on my part (if you need prayer there must be something wrong there) – but I would prefer that if you feel the need to would pray for somebody, that you wouldn’t tell them (thus respecting my inner world principle), after all, what could you possibly gain by telling the person?

    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks again Luke

    To live in a country and to be subject to its laws does not mean that a believer must agree with all its laws. Indeed, a believer, like anyone else will work through the appropriate means to seek to change laws that seem to conflict with their consciences. If I lived in Belgium, I would abide by the laws of the land, but I would not agree with its view on capital punishment, and I could, if I thought it important enough, seek to change those laws through the democratic process.

    As to “inner worlds”: if it was your inner conviction that, say, rape is wrong, it does little good to just hold it as a private conviction. You would try to see it worked out in the public arena. When politicians say they are personally against abortion, for example, but do not want to impose their beliefs on others, they are simply being silly. One might as well argue that “I am personally against murder, but I don’t want to impose my morality on another”. If something is wrong, it is wrong. It is not a question of mere private preferences.

    As to slavery, you in fact make my point. It so happens that atheists and secularists were not the ones at the forefront, fighting against slavery. They didn’t seem to give a rip. It was committed Christians who fought against it, because of their belief in the biblical doctrine of all men being created in God’s image, and therefore being of equal worth.

    I don’t see how atheism and/or adherence to evolutionary humanism gives one such an exalted view of human beings. We are just animals and part of the evolutionary chain of being: so why make a stink about slavery? It may just be part of the survival of the fittest, after all.

    As to Jesus, the Gospels make it crystal clear that he willingly and lovingly laid down his life on our behalf. John 10: 17-18 for example says. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”

    Finally, you seem to have a jaundiced view of prayer. Why does praying for someone imply you are judging them? After all, one can pray a blessing on others. And if a friend is dying of cancer, and I ask God to heal her, how is that being judgmental?

    Prayer is communicating with God and acknowledging our needs and dependency. Of course if one happens to see oneself as being the centre of the universe, one may not feel there are any needs to pray about.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I looked up the John reference above (admittedly in my catholic bible) and the message is roughly the same; but here I see a man who is still very confident about his mission (based in part on the OT), long before his trial and execution, and who may have believed that god would save him in the end, as he did earlier with abraham’s son; after all, jesus literally asked his father so, and I find that very beautiful, although I also think it expressed some doubt about his fate.
    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks Luke

    Although this is getting off the topic somewhat, it is an important issue. Jesus was quite literally born to die. He knew all along that it was his mission to die for his people. It was predicted in the Old Testament, and in fact was part of the plan of God from all eternity, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:4 and elsewhere. Jesus was absolutely clear as to his messianic purpose. Consider just a few passages:

    -“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
    -“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)
    -“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” (Luke 22:37)
    – “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” Luke 24:7
    -“He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’” (Luke 24:25-26)
    – “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:27)

    But to know that one is going to die a horrible death as part of a messianic mission does not preclude dread of it, and a prayer to be delivered from it, even though this was a request Jesus ultimately knew must be answered with a no. The passage in question (Matt. 26:39, 42) must be understood in the light of the orthodox understanding of Jesus as fully human and fully divine. Jesus as a man of course shrunk away from the prospect of separation from God, judgment, suffering and death. But as God, he fully knew this was the reason for coming to plane earth.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Great debate Bill. It is so interesting to see so many different views, and really good that you and Luke can debate in a respectful manner. I love it when someone tells me that they are praying for me and my loved ones. We are told to share our burdens one to another with our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and pray for them and pray for our enemies. I do not honestly know how I feel about the death penalty, I believe all life is sacred and I thank “God” that I do not have to make that decision. One of my own children was going to have an abortion many years ago, but it was too late and I could never imagine life without my beautiful grand-child. Life is so precious and it is up to “God”. I know the views in the old testament but is that relevant for today? I have always admired Abraham for the obedience to “God” to sacrifice his Son on the alter. “God” was surely testing him.
    Rae Wallace, Devonport

  • nice of you to join in rae, and yes, debate with respect is my creed so here are some other thoughts…

    all life is sacred and no bible, new or old, could tell me otherwise. isn’t some of the reasoning here curious to say the least: ewan reverses his point of view on the basis of the bible (a very old book of which you imho rightly question the relevance of its literal interpretation), and moreover he does so “reluctantly”. I would never do that, but rather read the bible in support of my honest convictions. in fact that is what danni does and I think it is a much more honest point as view, although I would deduct that he or she values life in general a bit lower than we would.

    I also admire abraham but surely not for his obedience; I have always been inclined to understand this wonderful millenia old story as a debate between abraham and his god: they had a covenant and now they challenge each other, and abraham puts the knife to his son’s throat (the son he surely loves as much as you love your grand-child) and he says to god: “just say the word, and I will slit this throat, but you will be responsible for the death of your people”.

    okay I realize that this is just an interpretation, but at least it shows mutual respect (which in those days must have been a bit less refined as today of course) rather than blind obedience (we know to what excesses that has led in the past) – personally I just feel a lot more comfortable with this reading of the story. after all isn’t critical thinking and questioning what makes us so unique?

    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Bill,
    Thanks very much for your solid arguments here. I would like to add my 2 cents for what it’s worth.

    When we consider capital punishment, it seems to revolve around the issue of crime, sin, the evil of taking a human life etc.. However, I believe a bigger issue is at stake and you touched on this in your first article.

    It is the issue of capital punishment being an offence against the sovereignty & existence of God. “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains” (Ps.24:1) puts the ownership of the world in its proper place. As the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is more & more cast aside what Jesus taught us to pray in the “Lord’s Prayer” is very significant. I think the order Jesus uses in His example prayer is also conveying certain priorities to His disciples (Luke 11:2). Hence, “hallowed be Your name”! Priority number one is that God would be seen to be the unique One, set apart from all He has created. In that there are none like God the Father, such things as reverence, respect, awe, worship & glory are all rightfully His. I’m considering here all aspects of life, including those so-called secular enclaves like education, government etc.., or the “private” sphere of western religion. This is God’s world and no pockets of human activity should be set apart from His Lordship.

    As we consider Gen. 9:5-6 what seems to be at stake here is the honour and sanctity of God. Why destroy an animal for attacking a man (v.5)? What terrible evil resides in the animal when all it’s doing, perhaps in most cases, is carrying out its basic desire for survival – namely – the attaining of food! However, the animal must be destroyed because the sanctity and position of God in His world must be upheld. Attacks against the image of God in Man is an attack against God. Humanity was, therefore, charged with the responsibility for upholding their Creator God and the reverence that it due to Him by upholding the sanctity of His image in Man.

    I, therefore, submit that the predominant purpose & intention of capital punishment as originally given in Gen. 9 is not about man, but God. Whilst that does not exclude the other valid reasons mentioned above, I see that upholding capital punishment is upholding God’s priority, importance and dominance in our society.

    David McAllan

  • david, this is some pretty heavy stuff! I have read and re-read your post, but I fail to understand it. I thought that capital punishment was meant to scare people out of their wits so that they wouldn’t commit murder (let’s say) and – if that wouldn’t work – to at least prevent them from doing it again

    and now you’re saying that “capital punishment will uphold god’s priority, importance and dominance in our society” and this based on gen. 9:5-6 mmm… all I can see is that somebody is looking for god’s support to justify the killing of whoever took another person’s life

    I once saw an exhibition called The Innocents at MOMA in New York that I found very interesting and frightening: all these people had been judged and wrongly condemned, they were innocent but were released after serving many years of their sentence, and only because forensic DNA results had been admitted in court to reopen their cases. (I hope the link works)

    isn’t it a reasonable thought then to value life so high and our own judgment so fallible to conclude that we should not take another person’s life under any circumstances?

    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks Luke

    The way your last query is answered depends on where you are coming from. It has not been clear from your posts whether you consider yourself to be a Christian or not. If you do, I have given the biblical rational for capital punishment. You then either accept God’s word, or you follow some other path.

    If you are not a believer, then secular arguments can be given, such as the deterrent nature of the death penalty, issues of justice, and so on. Also, various objections can be answered, such as what if someone is wrongly convicted, etc.

    So maybe you can help us out by telling us where you are coming from.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Luke

    What would happen if someone grabbed the crown of Albert II and spat on it? If someone here grabbed my hat and spat on it, there is little anyone could do and would do for that matter. However, for that to happen to the symbol of monarchy would be sacrasaint. The whole importance of the institution would be brought into disgrace and therefore if no serious ramification were to come of it, then it would not only give license for the monarchy to be disrespected, but its very grandeur would be denigrated in the sight of the people. The very heart of that society would be effected because of the great impact and position the monarchy holds in that society.

    In the same way, we are made in the image of God and therefore have His divine imprint upon us. To ferociously attack to destroy a person (murder) is to attack the very founder of that image. As the whole institution of the monarchy would be brought low, so too God is brought low as a result of disregarding the significance of His image in man. I hope this helps explain my point better.

    David McAllan

  • hello david, our king albert II is a very amiable fellow but I suspect you would be amazed if you could get a real feeling of how the belgian people think about their king – the time he was unquestionably revered is long gone and nowadays people love him, yes, but they also expect him to stick to the rules of the (constitutional) game – on the other hand he’s not without faults himself: it is widely known that he has a extra-marital daughter – so what!

    so in answer to your premise, I would say no, our king does no longer carry that unconditional respect; moreover our crown-prince has a dangerous tendency about him, an aspiration to catholic inspired grandeur, that is scaring political belgium out of its wits, as our constitution does not allow the king to make any statement unless it is backed by the government.

    when abortion law was passed in belgian parliament in 1990 our king baudoin refused to sign it on moral grounds although he was constitutionally required to do so – his refusal could have ended the monarchy had it not been for a clever trick of he government: the king was declared insane for 24 hours, which allowed parliament to pass the law without the king’s signature, voilà!

    in short, I find it remarkable that anyone would use ancient texts – the bible in this case – to justify things that are felt as wrong by some people (I mean the death penalty of course); why does the bible carry such unconditional authority? that has always amazed me: why is it better than the koran? why would the christian’s word carry more weight that the muslim’s? both after all say exactly the same I guess.

    the only thing I can say is I don’t have the answers…

    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks Luke

    You keep speaking about an old book. Since when does truth and error, right and wrong, depend on the pages of a calendar? If something is true, it is true for all people, all places and all times.

    As to different religions and holy books, it comes down to assessing competing truth claims. Each must be weighed on its own merits. And when there is conflict (for example,. Muslims and Christians differ on the resurrection of Christ), then both cannot be true. As a Christian, I think a good case can be made for its truth claims, and that of the Bible. It is up to you if you want to explore these claims, and decide for yourself.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Luke, I appreciate the tone in which you conduct yourself in this forum. I hope also that you know what I was trying to say in my post. It is obvious that you do not accept or understand the reasoning and that is your prerogative. My only hope is that you grasp what is being said.

    I used your King Albert simply as an illustration, so whether he is popular now was not the issue. Monarchy is held very dearly in some societies and the symbols of that monarchy stand for the monarchy itself. So an attack on the symbol is an attack on the very monarchy itself. Again, it was only an illustration. But thanks for your comments.

    David McAllan, Victoria, Australia

  • bill, when I said “say the same” I meant regarding their claim to (divine) authority and not regarding the actual content. that is my problem: being raised by catholic parents in a catholic country, I do not have that much affinity with the koran, but it claims exactly the same thing as the catholics (and all christians I suppose) do: god is with us! so I hope you see my dilemma. I admit I have always been a bit of a rebel, and when I hear people make divine claims I still get a little nervous…
    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks Luke

    But the Koran does not claim exactly the same thing as the Bible. Those who see the two religions as being quite similar either know little about Islam, little about Christianity, or little about both. I have written up the differences elsewhere on this site recently if you want further info on this.

    No dilemma need exist. As I said earlier, the truth claims of Christianity can be explored, and then either accepted or rejected. The same with Islam. It is up to us which way we proceed. But given that questions of truth and morality are involved, and our eternal destiny is at stake, it is an important quest indeed.

    One’s religious upbringing in a sense is incidental to all this. I was raised in a nominal Protestant home, rejected all that in my youth and went on a quite wild journey for some years. But then I examined the Christian truth claims, and made a decision to follow Christ. We all have to weigh up the evidence and make a choice.

    And it is not so much a question of people making divine truth claims. It is the truth claims made by the various religious leaders that have to be assessed. Jesus for example made some quite unique and unequivocal claims to being the way, the truth and the life, and that no one could come to the Father except by him. If one is bothered by claims of absolute truth in religion, that may indicate that the spirit of the age – with its emphasis on relativism and subjectivism – has taken hold a bit too strongly.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Ewan just as you, this article got me thinking, but couldn’t the death penalty be seen as a cultural thing? Flogging or whipping was common practice in those days also but today would be seen as an inhumane act and would not be accepted. Also isn’t the death penalty called for if you don’t observe the Sabbath, curse your parents, or commit adultery, etc. I’d have to say pretty much everyone would be dead if we followed these laws. But by all means my mind isn’t cemented on this idea so if you have more to add, I’m all for it. Thank you for getting me thinking.
    Caleb Podhaczky

  • Caleb Podhaczky, as has been pointed out here, the death penalty for murder is in the Law of Noah (applying to all mankind) and in the Law of Christ. The death penalty for Sabbath breaking has been shown to be part only of the Mosaic Law, for the Israelite theocracy up till the time of Christ.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Caleb, you need to read Part 2 of this topic where you will find the answer to that question.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • bill: at the risk of repeating myself, I know that the bible and the koran do not say the same thing, that is not my point, what I meant is that both religions claim title to god’s word and thus to the “absolute truth” which is a concept that I think has been much abused in history, and that no one should claim.

    I do agree with you when you say that it is up to us to “weigh up the evidence and make a choice” – I find very little evidence however, i.e. I cannot accept “ancient books” like bible or koran as evidence; they are unquestionably very interesting literary works that can tell us a great deal about how religion developed and how it influenced societies, but evidence?

    you say that you decided to follow christ, based on your examination of the christian truth claims – does that require unconditional acceptance of the scripture? for example, can anyone follow christ and at the same time reject the resurrection? I think this should be possible.

    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks Luke

    For starters, Jesus himself made that claim: “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

    And I have discussed before your problem with “ancient books”. Your implication is that if something is new, it may be true, but if it is old, it cannot be true, or reliable. But we have a lot of evidence for the historicity, reliability and accuracy of the Bible. Again, the evidence about all this is there waiting to be examined, if you are really interested.

    As to your last question, there is no Christianity without the resurrection. Jesus based his entire message on the truth of the resurrection, and Paul says if Jesus is no raised from the dead, our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:17).

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • bill, I merely implied that if something is (very) old, we cannot subject it to the same scrutiny (examination of evidence as you put it) as we could do to something newer. the resurrection I just put in as an example of this: no sensible person would believe it if somebody would claim a resurrection today: it would be researched and proven false or true – end of story.

    we cannot do that of course with the resurrection of jesus, so we cannot call that a reliable fact as we define it in today’s world. as a kid I was told many times (when asking such questions) that proof would be fatal to faith, it would somehow ruin the beauty of the true belief. it is a premise I did accept as a kid, but find hard to do as a critical adult; and not literally believing historical facts does not prevent one from living by the message. what is your opinion on that?

    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks Luke

    But you need not be so historically sceptical. Do you question the existence of Aristotle? Of Alexander the Great? Of Augustine? Of Napolean? If not, why not? In all cases we can investigate the historical evidence of their existence. We can do that with Jesus as well. And we not only have excellent evidence that he lived, but also that he died on a cross and rose again. This is not the stuff of blind faith, but historical evidence. For example, we know that over 500 people saw Jesus after his death. This is but one of many pieces of evidence, the cumulation of which is very persuasive indeed.

    And why rule out a resurrection today, unless you have a pre-commitment to philosophical naturalism?

    Finally, Christianity is above all else an historical religion. If the events described in the Bible have not happened in real time and space and human history, then the Christian faith is mere myth and foolishness. The claims of Christ are absolutely bound up in the stuff of historical reality. No historical Jesus and resurrection, no Christianity. It is that simple.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Jonathan Sarfati,
    These laws also can refer to abortion as ‘bloodshed’. A foetus is a living human being is it not? The murder of these unborn babies are deliberate, so should the people involved (including the mother who decides to kill the unwanted baby) be put to death for their bloodshed?
    Caleb Podhaczky

  • Thanks Caleb

    Three replies here. There is some division in the pro-life movement as to whether a woman who has an abortion should be regarded as someone who has simply killed her baby or in fact is guilty of murder. Pro-lifers rightly believe a human being is killed in abortion. But it is possible that many women have fallen for the lies of the pro-choice crowd, and they really do think they are just expelling a clump of cells. So given that misconception, the one aborting the “cells” has certainly killed something living, but may not – at least in their eyes – be guilty of premeditated murder.

    And in a democracy, citizens can have a say in whether the death penalty exists in the first place, and what sorts of crimes should be worthy of capital punishment.

    Finally, as to the Mosaic law it self, according to Exodus 21:22-25, if a pregnant woman is injured by someone else, if there is no serious harm to child, the penalty is monetary compensation, but if there is serious harm, then the death penalty applies.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • bill, I am not historically sceptical at all, and of course I do not question the existence of aristitle, alexander, napoleon or jesus, but I am sceptical about the resurrection of jesus, as in my opinion there doesn’t exist historical evidence for it; I am not an historian but I think it is fair to say you are neither, so maybe we use different definitions here? for me evidence needs to be scientifically verifiable, and the 500 people you mention are just part of the same book that that we are, well, I am examining, so where is the proof?

    “If the events described in the Bible have not happened in real time and space and human history, then the Christian faith is mere myth and foolishness.”

    do you mean you interpret the bible in a literal way? because in that case I think you have really lost me – I mean in europe I have yet to meat somebody who does (except for jehova’s witnesses) – such a view is regarded here as just plain silly, by believers and non-believers alike. I know about the united states, but i do not really want to take those “radio-reverends” serious. I am sure though that I must have misinterpreted your words?

    Luke Quisquater, Belgium

  • Thanks Luke

    This is getting off the topic somewhat, but these are important issues.

    The first reply is to say that for your various important questions, they deserve better treatment than what I can provide here. So I am now preparing a number of full length articles, not just for your sake, but for others. The first will be on the case for the resurrection. Others will be on the reliability of the Gospels, and so on. So stay tuned.

    Second, you may move in limited circles. There are many Europeans who do take the Bible as God’s word. I can even point you to some in Belgium if interested.

    Third, when I say I read the Bible literally, I say it in a similar sense to reading the daily newspaper literally. One of course makes allowances for various literary features, such as metaphor, poetry, and the like. But both are read with the belief that they are making statements of fact, truth claims, and so on. Admittedly the truth claims of Scripture are of a higher order, but the Bible absolutely claims to speak of what has happened in time and space history. The Bible is quite adamant about that.

    I suggest you go back to the Gospels and give them a read. To any fair-minded reading, they clearly do not come across as fairy tales. Indeed, how are we supposed to read the Gospels? They are written as real historical accounts. They were intended to convey real information to us about a real historical figure.

    You said you believed that Aristotle, et. al., existed. But why? What is the basis of your assurance about their existence? When you answer that question, I will argue that similar methods of getting back to historical realities also apply to Jesus. And if you do believe that Jesus existed, but think the Gospel accounts are myth, then I need to go back much further as I address your position!

    As to the evidence for the resurrection, as I say, soon an article will appear outlining the case. As I will explain in it, there are different types of proof, and historical proof is different in some ways from scientific proof, and so on. But the reliability of the accounts can be soundly established.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Greuss Gott Bill!

    Fascinating read tonight. I haven’t yet read Part II, but will after I comment.

    Personally, I believe in the Death Penalty. Its something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and yes, it should be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. There are too many murderers- Serial Killers, like Ted Bundy, The Green River Killer, and others, who without a doubt, killed- and continually killed until they were incarcerated and then executed. You just simply cannot imprison someone until they die-they ultimatly would go mad. These people are very sick and filled with sin.

    I also feel that it should be public- and it shouldn’t be a form of euthanasia. These people made many suffer- horrible and painful deaths. In the end- we put them out- like horses.

    Our prisons are filled with people who kill their husbands, wives, pregnant wives and babies, girls, boys, you name it.

    Its nice that the European Union can pass laws to not have capital punishment. Eventually, the pendulum does swing back- and they will again have it.

    As for religeous monarchies in the west. We have had them too. Most notable- the English Monarchy- the King refers to himself as the “Defender of the Faith” and the states religeon is the Kings. That sounds like a Theocracy to me. ‘Twas the same in Austria for a very long time up until the end of WWI.

    Oh well.

    I don’t question what the Bible says about Capital Punishment. The Koran on the other hand, and Sharia, are very strict- more so than any of the Western ideas of punishment. Its been roughly two hundred years since Western Europe, in some places, ceased to use brutal methodes of torture and punishment. Granted the age of enlightenment helped change some of that- but capital punishment still existed.

    As for Our Lords Passion, Death and Resurrection (sp), he did falter in the Garden whilst praying to his Father in heaven- his feelings were so strong as to produce the stigmata- he literally bled from each pore. I cannot imagine the strength it took to go through all of that- knowing what was coming and the pain that it would induce upon a mortal body. He had many chances to stop it- but fulfilled his mission.

    Frankly, I am in Awe of it…

    Historically, if you study crucifixion, and the other punishments of Our Lords period of time- you learn that what he went through- was incredable. A normal Man, couldn’t have gone through it- would have died during the flogging more than likely. He truly was the passover lamb.

    Thanks again Bill- a very thought provoking essay. I am looking forward to Part II.

    J.C. Wolfgang A. Mozart

  • Hi Bill,

    Jonathan says above “the death penalty for murder is in the Law of Noah (applying to all mankind) and in the Law of Christ.” Where is the death penalty spelt out for murder in the Law of Christ? (and what is the Law of Christ)?

    David Roberts

  • Thanks David

    To be fair, you would need to ask him that question. But I assume he means that we have clear NT warrant for capital punishment, including:

    Matt 15:3-4: Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death’.”

    And Paul before Festus in Acts 25:11: “If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

    The law of Christ would be all that he commanded us to do, I suppose. Thus all that he affirmed we should affirm. If he seems to affirm the ongoing necessity of capital punishment (something given by God well before the Mosaic law) then so should we.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks guys

    Above I offer the biblical and theological case for capital punishment. If you want to see the political, philosophical, social and ‘secular’ case for it, see these two new articles:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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