Letter (#1 from Andrew) responding to article "Christians and Capital Punishment"
June 10, 2008
I just stumbled upon your site recently when I was looking at arguments for and against capital punishment. I got a link to your "Christians and Capital Punishment" article. I am a Christian and am strictly against the death penalty. I saw that you offered a couple questions for those Christians like me who opposed the death penalty. So, I will try to explain my view on the subject as well as show some false points that I see in your argument. Hopefully you will see that my viewpoint is based in Scriptures just like yours.
Genesis 3:6 - Adam obviously sinned when he partook of the fruit. God did not kill Adam on the spot. But, Adam did eventually die for his sin. He was still given the opportunity to remain as God's child and teach his offspring about God and God's great mercy.
As you said, Adam's life degraded some until he eventually died. This is what I would propose for murderers. We stick them in jail, which obviously doesn't allow them to live the fullness of life, just like God didn't allow Adam to live the fullness of life. Then we let them stay in jail until they die naturally.
John 8 - Adulterous Woman Story - I agree with you when you say that Jesus never said that she should escape stoning. But you also said that Jesus "set the situation up so that she would not be put to death." This is untrue. He set the situation up so that she could still be put to death, but the person that could throw the first stone to start the killing would be him. In the story, no one condemns the woman, and Jesus says, "Then neither do I condemn you" (NIV). I believe that this shows that if we see someone who has committed a sin, we should follow what Jesus said to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who brought the adulterous woman. "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Since everyone is a sinner, how can we throw the first stone, or to put in modern times, how can we flip that electrical switch to pump electricity through the accused, or push that needle into the arm of the accused.
James 2:10 - The NIV Bible has this verse saying "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." I know that I am a sinner. Everyone is a sinner, since the only sinless person to ever walk the earth was Jesus. So, I may stumble at a point in the law about coveting, and this verse shows me that I am guilty of breaking all of the law. All of the law entails murder, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, etc. If someone else stumbled at a point in the law about murder. That person is guilty of all of the law, just like me, according to this verse. So, how can I condemn someone to death with the death penalty, if that person is just as guilty as me, according to the Bible. If we keep the death penalty, we might as well kill everyone because everyone is as guilty as the murderers that you want to subject to the death penalty.
Well, that is all I have for right now, because I have to leave my computer now. But one last thing can be said. Your second to last paragraph in your article says that "the people who argue against capital punishment have to at least be consistent in their position." I can't speak for all people who oppose the death penalty, but I definitely believe that no one should ever die by the death penalty. I don't care about what atrocities they committed. I believe that people like Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, Bin Laden should never face the death penalty.
There is my response and basis in Scripture for opposing the death penalty. I would very much appreciate any response you have to my arguments. Thanks for your time.
Andrew __________ [last name deleted by NNF]
*PS--I e-mailed you earlier today about this same topic, trying to provide some Scriptural backing to the arguments against the death penalty. As I was thinking about it, I realized that I left out a big point in my argument. So, here goes.
In your argument, you spent a lot of time on the Old Testament and its teachings. I would agree that there are many examples of the teachings for death as punishment in the OT. I agree, that if we based all our beliefs off of the OT teachings, I would be an advocate for the death penalty. But, we have to look at the NT, and really only at one specific action described.
The act of Jesus dying on the cross is what I'm talking about. He died for the sole reason of letting us live. Jesus Christ died for our sins. Not just for Christians' sins, but everyone's sins. He died for the sin of murder, for the sin of lust, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, etc. So, to put it plainly, someone already died for our sins, why should we kill someone else for a sin, when Jesus already died so that person could live. Jesus' death changed all the laws in the OT. We shouldn't exact punishment for sins that have already been absolved by Jesus' death. The reason I believe in prison as a better choice, is because it gets the people who harmed innocent people off the streets.
So, my final argument is the fact the Jesus' death made it so we don't have to die for our sins!
Please respond with your thoughts on this argument. I'd appreciate them!
*[Originally, this PS came as a separate email, but has been included here for simplicity sake]
My reply to Andrew's 1st letter
(responding to my article "Christians and Capital Punishment")
Here are my comments, for whatever they're worth. I've limited them to the essentials of your argument and added sub-headings to make my response more readable.
Regarding John 8--Adulterous Woman Story--you make a good point when you say, "[Jesus] set the situation up so that she could still be put to death, but the person that could throw the first stone to start the killing would be him."
But then you say, "I believe that this shows that if we see someone who has committed a sin, we should follow what Jesus said to the Pharisees...who brought the adulterous woman. 'If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.' Since everyone is a sinner, how can we throw the first stone, or to put in modern times, how can we flip that electrical switch to pump electricity through the accused, or push that needle into the arm of the accused."
Was Jesus' (or John's) point that no one should ever die for a crime? Your position assumes that Jesus was discussing capital punishment in John 8. John 8 shows Jesus exposing the hypocrisy of his opponents. He wanted them to see that they had left out the male adulterer. Where was he? Why did the hypocrites only want to stone this woman and not the man? Note that Jesus never says capital punishment is wrong. He's telling them that they've misunderstood God's law and that they're being hypocrites by bringing only the woman to be stoned and not the man also. They're trying to trap Jesus but he is too cleaver.
Now onto your comments about James 2:10. "If someone else stumbled at a point in the law about murder. That person is guilty of all of the law, just like me, according to this verse. So, how can I condemn someone to death with the death penalty, if that person is just as guilty as me, according to the Bible. If we keep the death penalty, we might as well kill everyone because everyone is as guilty as the murderers that you want to subject to the death penalty."
If you're just as guilty as everyone else, why should you not be in prison too? And if everyone is as guilty as everyone else, why try to punish any crimes? (Perhaps James has in mind that all people are equally sinners not that all people sin equally. In other words, we have all sinned and all deserve hell but this doesn't wipe out a distinction between those who only murder within their hearts and those who actually murder. That I think about stealing my neighbor's bike shows I'm a sinner and have thievery in my heart but it would be worse to actually take his bike. Someone who thinks about stealing a bike and someone who purposefully kills a five-year old should not be punished equally by their government. Are both sinners? Yes. Do both deserve hell? Yes. Do both deserve the same earthly retribution for their sins? No. The Bible doesn't say they deserve the same earthly punishment. Even hell has its varying degrees of severity depending on the sinner, Luke 12:46-48.)
Based on your reasoning of James 2, how could you justify prison? If James 2 bans capital punishment, it also bans prison. God knows that all have sinned, and you are right to identify yourself as a sinner, yet God still institutes governments (usually secular) to deal with criminals. See Rom 13:1-5.
Regarding your statements, "...I definitely believe that no one should ever die by the death penalty.... I believe that people like Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, Bin Laden should never face the death penalty," at least you're consistent.
The OT and the NT:
You say, "I agree, that if we based all our beliefs off of the OT teachings, I would be an advocate for the death penalty. But, we have to look at the NT, and really only at one specific action described."
I wouldn't be so quick to disallow the OT a voice in the matter. Most everything Jesus and the NT writers say roots itself in the OT. God isn't a God of wrath in the OT and a God of love in the NT. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever more (Heb 13:8). Some things changed with the coming of Christ, but not everything. (So, I disagree with your latter statement, "Jesus' death changed all the laws in the OT." Many things changed, but not all. It's still wrong to covet, for example. Also, you would do well to interact with the Rom 13:1-5 passage dealt with in my paper, "Christians and Capital Punishment".)
Concerning the cross, let's look at your statements first: "The act of Jesus dying on the cross is what I'm talking about....someone already died for our sins, why should we kill someone else for a sin, when Jesus already died so that person could live.... We shouldn't exact punishment for sins that have already been absolved by Jesus' death."
Absolved isn't the right word--if all sins were absolved then all would be forgiven and Scripture teaches the opposite (Proverb 16:4; Luke 16:23-26; Romans 6:23a; 1 Corinthians 6:9‑10; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; James 1:15; Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). And beside, if you really believed that all were absolved of their sins, you could not justify prison. If they're absolved, who's to put these people in prison?
You're right to point to the cross as a possible solution to this issue--to execute or not. The cross does help us understand this topic. Here are my comments from my paper:
"Does the cross of Christ shed any light on the matter of capital punishment? When Jesus hung on the cross, he said of those executing him, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do' (Lk 23:34). Doesn't this prove that Jesus would have forgiven murderers today?
"Jesus' words of forgiveness show that God hates sin and approves of the execution of Christ. It also shows that he has a heart to forgive (1 Pet 2:23). Christ had not sinned, but was dying for the sins of sinners. God is just and requires that sins be paid for. Christ's forgiving words uttered from the cross weren't a blanket forgiveness for his accusers. He was expressing his heart, not making a statement about the destinies of his torturers. He was full of love even though they were full of hate. If his crucifiers were to be saved, they'd have to repent and believe. In fact, this same loving Christ will one day reek havoc on his enemies (Rev 20:11-15)."
And to your statement, "So, my final argument is the fact the Jesus' death made it so we don't have to die for our sins," I say that we still have to die for our sins. But those who trust Christ do not face eternal death--never-ending punishment in hell. Those who die without Christ, however, will suffer forever in hell (Mt 25:46; Jn 3:36; Rom 11:22).
Now, let's conclude, again with your thoughts first. "The reason I believe in prison as a better choice, is because it gets the people who harmed innocent people off the streets." Regarding prison, you've offered an extra-biblical solution. It's nowhere suggested as the solution, not even Adam's slow death suggests it. My view at least has biblical warrant for capital punishment being justified in some cases. The reason you have to find an extra-biblical solution is because you've ignored a key solution that Scripture gives, that is, execution.
Thanks for your comments and for looking into Scripture for the solution. You have attempted to answer my two questions, (scriptural support for opposing capital punishment, and if not capital punishment, what?) but I think you still have to deal with some other issues and passages in the NT.
Letter #2 from Andrew
Christians and Capital Punishment