Friday, June 24, 2016

Capital Punishment: Should we Believe the Pope or the Bible?

Is it right and just for governments to carry out capital punishment?

Christians have differed on this issue. This isn't surprising, since Christians differ on many issues. Some issues are more crucial than others, and some are more clearly addressed by God's Word than others.

The Bible's Teaching in a Nutshell

The death penalty is an issue that is both ethically important and clearly addressed. Albert Mohler, preacher, author, and President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, summarizes the biblical case:
The Bible very clearly affirms the death penalty.... In the Old Testament, it’s rooted in Genesis 9 in the covenant God made with Noah where God very clearly said that if a man takes another’s life—if that man’s blood is shed —then the one who does the blood shedding, the murderer, also forfeits his life [Gen. 9:6]. In the New Testament in Romans 13 we are told that the State, the government, which is an institution given to us by God for our good, has the responsibility to execute justice [Rom. 13:4].... [The Apostle Paul's statement that] the government does not hold the sword in vain is a clear reference to capital punishment.... It is an affirmation of human rights and human dignity that the one who takes a human life, who kills an image bearer, forfeits his own right to live. But the Bible is also very clear; and here the Old Testament is very specific. The evidentiary requirements, the requirement for the burden of proof by evidence for the application of the death penalty is very, very high—as it should be, as it must be.
The Pope's Statement

Despite this clear teaching of Scripture, Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic Church continue by their actions to claim an authority above that of Scripture. (Yes, I am aware that in theory they only claim to have an authority equal to Scripture, but historically and even today, they have in fact superseded the authority of Scripture.)

Earlier this week, the Pope sent a video message to the Sixth World Congress Against the Death Penalty, in which he undermined the Scripture's teaching on the death penalty. (To read the article, click here.) Here are some of his notable statements:
  1. "Nowadays, the death penalty is unacceptable, however great the crime of the convicted person"
  2. "It [capital punishment] is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person," and it "contradicts God's plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice."
  3.  It is a "sign of hope" that "public opinion is manifesting a growing opposition to the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defence"
  4. “It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.”
  5. “It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal”
  6.  Rendering justice “does not mean seeking punishment for its own sake, but ensuring that the basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender.”

A lot of what the Pope said has already been countered by Albert Mohler's statement, but here are some things I'd like to add:
  1. God Himself mandated the death penalty on the basis of His creating people in His image. To murder a person is to malign God's glory. God Himself, not governments or societies, declares that by the act of murder, a person forfeits his claim to life. (Gen. 9:6)
  2.  As with all of God's laws, the death penalty is primarily concerned with His inviolable glory, not with the so-called "inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person". (Cf. Isa. 48:11)
  3.  God, who is the source and standard for all justice, has deemed that sin is so evil as to deserve eternal punishment in hell (Rom. 6:23). Yet, the Pope insists that capital punishment, a much lesser penalty, "contradicts God's plan". Now, how would that even fit into the general teaching of Scripture, much less individual texts?
  4. That the West is rejecting God's moral standards is not a sign of hope, but a reason for us to mourn and to steel ourselves for greater persecution.
  5. Scripture teaches us that justice should be first retributive, and then only secondly, reformative. (Rom. 13:4; Luk. 22:40-41)
It doesn't take a seminary graduate to see that the Pope has not only twisted God's Word, but has also compromised with the secular, humanistic thinking of Western society.

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