Monday, July 06, 2009

A Christian defense of capital punishment

By Kerby Anderson.

Two obvious problems. First, Anderson thinks that because the Old Testament law teaches that the penalty for murder ought to be death, that this is part of God's moral law (as opposed to the ceremonial law) and should be carried forward into modern society. However, there are lots of other stoning offenses in the Bible (adultery, homosexual activity, and my favorite, disrespecting your parents). I don't see Anderson saying that the penalty for these offenses should be carried forward into modern society.

Second, Jesus stopped an execution. Should we accept Jesus' criterion for who should participate in an execution? If so, we can have the death penalty on the books but are going to be hard pressed to find anyone to perform the executions, since the last sinless person who walked the earth ascended into heaven nearly two milennia ago.


Ilíon said...

A society (or regime) which *will not* execute when execution is morally appropriate is a society (or regime) which has already written its suicide note.

Ilíon said...

I think I've posted the link to this post I made, when I was still reading him, at Ben Witherington's blog. In any event, here is one reason that opposition to capital punishment is misguided.

And there is a deeper reason, alluded to in my first post, that the attempt to paint capital punishment as unjust is misguided (and is itself rank injustice) -- and why such opposition to capital punishment must always delegitimize the regime and destroy the society.

Victor Reppert said...

Are you telling me that the forcible removal of someone's liberty is no threat to them, than only if they are threatened by execution does the law have any power?

Ilion, compared with the Old Testament, modern American society, even where the death penalty is in place, has protracted the range of offenses for which the death penalty is deemed appropriate. Do you agree with this protraction? Should we be stoning adulterers and homosexual offenders, on your view? How about those who disrespect their parents? Why stop with murder?

Victor Reppert said...

Furthermore, do you pass the Jesus Test for executioners? Do you know anyone down at your local state prison who does?

dudleysharp said...

John 8 and the death penalty:
The Woman Caught in Adultery
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact infor below

1) Even anti-death penalty activists Sister Helen Prejean, often inaccurate, get this right: "It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical proof text in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus' admonition "Let him without sin cast the first stone", when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) - the Mosaic Law prescribed death - should be read in its proper context. This passage is an entrapment story, which sought to show Jesus' wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment . Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking.

2) Also see - Misuse and misunderstanding of John 8:7 is quite common. See Forgery in the Gospel of John

3) What about the woman caught in adultery? From “Why I Support Capital Punishment”, by Andrew Tallman, sections 7-11 biblical review, sections 1-6 secular review

In John 8:1-11, the Pharisees bring Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery to see if He will authorize her execution. After He famously says, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” they all depart, and Jesus sends the woman on her way, saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way; from now on sin no more.” Of all passages in the Bible, this one most clearly shows that Jesus opposed capital punishment.

First, we should note that this passage is textually dubious. The best manuscripts don’t include it, and both its placement and style controvert its authenticity.

Even so, the Christian community has long considered this an iconic story of Jesus’s mercy. So, to merely throw it out would be inappropriate. Besides, it may well be a legitimate story, just not one included in the John autoscript. Hence, an interpretation would be more helpful than a dismissal.

The trouble is that most people wildly misunderstand this story. The Pharisees’ only reason for bringing this woman to Jesus was to put Him in a dilemma. On the one hand, He couldn’t call for her execution since Roman law prohibited anyone other than a Roman court from doing this. The Pharisees proved they knew this when they later brought Jesus to Pilate rather than killing Him themselves. On the other hand, He couldn’t oppose her execution because this would have proven He was a false prophet for contradicting God’s Law. The passage even explains this in verse 6, “they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him.”

So, the Pharisees wanted to make Jesus a heretic for opposing capital punishment, but He evaded their trap. The tremendous irony is that now, two thousand years later, people who claim to love Jesus teach that He was precisely the heretic His enemies wanted to paint Him as. If Jesus was in fact repudiating capital punishment in this story, then He was neither the Divine Son of God nor even a true prophet. As I’m apparently more reluctant than others to embrace this conclusion, I can’t interpret

Jesus as rejecting the Old Testament here. Had He been, His enemies would have left jubilant rather than ashamed. There are many theories on the meaning of this story, but the one thing we must not do is use it to say Jesus overturned God’s Word as His enemies intended.

4) Do a GOOGLE search for entrapment “John 8:7" and read the results.

snip - more if you wish

Victor Reppert said...

It's not exactly opposition to the death penalty, but it gives rise to the following possibility: In theory the death penalty is what some people deserve, but humans are not sufficiently righteous to have the moral authority to carry it out. So this would practically put the death penalty out to pasture, even if, in some cases, it is the most just penalty.

dudleysharp said...

One could make the false biblical arguement that humans are not sufficiently righteous to have the moral authority to carry out any legal sanction. However, there is nothing, biblically speaking, that supports governments being prohibited from imposing legal sanctions, from probation to the death penalty, because of their lack of righteousness.

Man lives in the state of sin. Yet, God gives man the power and responsibility of government, inclusive of the duty to impose sanctions.

It is arguable that the death penalty is, biblically, mandatory for certain crimes.

Some Christian Death Penalty Support

2) Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., considered one of the most prominent Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century.

"There are certain moral norms that have always and everywhere been held by the successors of the Apostles in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Although never formally defined, they are irreversibly binding on the followers of Christ until the end of the world." "Such moral truths are the grave sinfulness of contraception and direct abortion. Such, too, is the Catholic doctrine which defends the imposition of the death penalty."

"Most of the Church's teaching, especially in the moral order, is infallible doctrine because it belongs to what we call her ordinary universal magisterium."

"Equally important is the Pope's (Pius XII) insistence that capital punishment is morally defensible in every age and culture of Christianity." " . . . the Church's teaching on 'the coercive power of legitimate human authority' is based on 'the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine.' It is wrong, therefore 'to say that these sources only contain ideas which are conditioned by historical circumstances.' On the contrary, they have 'a general and abiding validity.' (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1955, pp 81-2)." "Capital Punishment: New Testament Teaching", Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., 1998

3) Romano Amerio, a faithful Catholic Vatican insider, scholar, professor at the Academy of Lugano, consultant to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, and a peritus (expert theologian) at the Council.

"The most irreligious aspect of this argument against capital punishment is that it denies its expiatory value which, from a religious point of view, is of the highest importance because it can include a final consent to give up the greatest of all worldly goods. This fits exactly with St. Thomas’s opinion that as well as canceling out any debt that the criminal owes to civil society, capital punishment can cancel all punishment due in the life to come. His thought is . . . Summa, 'Even death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment due for those crimes in the next life, or a least part of that punishment, according to the quantities of guilt, resignation and contrition; but a natural death does not.' The moral importance of wanting to make expiation also explains the indefatigable efforts of the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist Beheaded, the members of which used to accompany men to their deaths, all the while suggesting, begging and providing help to get them to repent and accept their deaths, so ensuring that they would die in the grace of God, as the saying went."

"Amerio on capital punishment ", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007

4) "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty",

7) "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective", by Br. Augustine (Emmanuel Valenza)

SNIP = more at