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Article 93 - Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment and the Bible

Jon Gary Williams

What is capital punishment?
Capital punishment is the legal taking of life by the state for the commission of serious crime. The term "capital" refers to the governing head. However, it traces back to the Latin word "capitalis" (head). The addition of "de" (off) refers to decapitation - "off with the head."

What are some ways people have been executed?

Ancient methods: stoning, drowning, burning, poisoning, crucifixion, empaling, boiling, burying, fierce animals, strangling. Modern methods: hanging, beheading, firing squad, gassing, electrocution, lethal injection.

For what types of crimes has capital punishment been administered?
Personal crimes: premeditated murder, torture, killing officer of the law, kidnaping, child molestation.

Crimes against the state
: Terrorism, treason, espionage, war crimes, crimes against humanity,
genocide, drug trafficking. Some crimes are of such nature, it is felt that those who commit them have forfeited their right to life.

For what did God say people could be put to death?
For committing the act of murder. "Whosoever sheds man's blood, by man he blood shall be shed. For in the image of God He made man." Gen. 9:6. The point made is that the one who was murdered was in God's "image." People often forget the significance of this. In our time human life has been made cheap.

According to Ecclesiastes 8:11, why do people persist in doing evil?
Because the sentence for doing evil is delayed. "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Isn't this true today, especially in the United States? Our court appeal system prolongs the carrying out of sentences. The appeal system is necessary, but it is too often abused, sometimes for decades.

What did the law of Moses teach regarding punishment for willful murder?
"He that strikes a man so that he dies, shall surely be put to death." Ex. 21:12 Notice: This involved "smiting" with intent to kill. God knew retribution for murder was essential. Why? To discourage wicked acts, this served as a warning for future generations.

What is this message of this passage?
Do not take payoff (ransom) to save a murderer. "Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death." Numbers 35:31 In other words, do not let the guilty off lightly. Sadly, it seems that in modern society 
this is the trend.

Under the law of Moses, for what other reasons could people be put to death?
There are several reasons.
1. Exodus 21:12 - Striking a man causing his death. The willful act of murder.

2. Exodus 21:15 - Striking (smiting) father or mother or trying to inflict severe harm. This would be an incorrigible child, bent on harming a parent.

3. Exodus 21:16 - Kidnaping. This applied, whether caught with the person, or, if the person had been sold, especially of a child. Hardly anything could be more frightening to a child.

4. Exodus 21:17 - Cursing ones father or mother (ASV - "revileth"). This was a show of utter contempt, involving extreme verbal abuse. It carries the idea of severe cursing, resulting from revolt. This is a son or daughter who was mean and vicious.

5. Exodus 22:18 - Practicing witchcraft (ASV - "sorceress"). How were they to be executed? By stoning (cf. Lev. 20:27). God would not allow such pagan, heathen practices to influence his

6. Exodus 22:19 - Lying with animals. This is about as horrific as can be imagined. Today, it is
termed "bestiality." In Leviticus 18:23 this applied to both men and women.

7. Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:24 - Adultery.

8. Leviticus 20:13 - Homosexuality.

9. Deuteronomy 13:5 - Being a false prophet.

According to Romans 13:1-4

1. The higher powers are ordained by God. This means there is within civil government an intrinsic authority given by God himself. This makes perfect sense, for civil order is essential.

2. The higher powers are a terror to evil works. To lawbreakers civil authority should be a "terror." After all, this is one of the designs of civil power. "Terror"- from phobos (phobia) - "dreadful fear."

3. The word "sword" signifies death decapitation - off with the head. This shows how severe the retribution of a government can be.

4. The higher power is a revenger to execute wrath. The fact is, God uses the world to punish the world. This is His world and He has the right to give civil governments authority to revenge.

Thought questions

1. Is the court appeal system for people convicted to capital crimes too lengthy? Most will say yes. As indicated earlier, appeals can go on for decades and the cost to taxpayers is great. Appeals are necessary, but this is often abused. Refer again to Ecclesiastes 8:11.

2. How soon should capital punishment be administered? Within reason, or after guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt.

3. Is capital punishment a deterrent to crime? It certainly is if applied properly. Observe the lack of capital crime in countries that exercise swift punishment. Consider this: If capital punishment is not a deterrent, what lesser punishment IS a deterrent in its place?