Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Thoughts on "Who Deserves the death penalty?"

John H over at Confessing Evangelical wrote a thought provoking post on whether the state ought to use the death penalty--he allowed that the Bible permits the state to execute criminals.

John's point is that though Scripture allows the death penalty, this is mitigated by examples where the one deserving death is spared. The examples he provided are God's promise to Cain that anyone who killed Cain would receive a sevenfold punishment, and the adulterous woman who Jesus forgave even though she was deserving of death. In other words, in these cases those who, like Saddam Hussein, deserved to die were allowed to live. He also concludes that though the Old Testament certainly has a lot of examples of the death penalty for crimes, we should not "order our own societies" according to the OT law.

After reading his post I was intrigued and I began to think about the issues he raised. Here is what I believe:

The examples John chose from Scripture are, in my opinion, examples of God's unmerited mercy toward the sinner, not really examples of how the state should apply the law. We should also keep in mind that in the examples John gave it was God himself who stayed his hand from executing the criminal. Also, we should not use one-off examples to over turn the many clear passages and examples of where God himself ordered the death of people, e.g. the firstborn of Egypt for Pharaoh's stubbornness, King Herod for his blasphemy.

John has an answer for this.

John uses the example of slavery, to show that what the Scriptures permit can later be forbidden by the Church for moral reasons. But the slave argument, if pressed to its logical conclusion, could be made to cause all inconvenient laws to be abrogated. Once we feel we may decide which laws are only principles which we may ignore in practice the flood gates open. What about those who want a divorce for trivial reasons? Didn't the Church relax its stance against slavery over the years because slavery is cruel? What about homosexuality? Didn't the Church relax its stance against slavery over the years because it is cruel? I can't see where this would stop. Unless one can say why the slavery example is really pertinent as a principle, I think arguments against the use of the death penalty based on biblical slavery are beside the point.

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