By Larry Ray Hafley
From Virginia: “Can it be established from the New Testament that capital punishment is pleasing to God in our day and time?”
Capital punishment is defined by Webster, ” execution as punishment for a crime; the death penalty.”
The Eternal Principle
“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen. 9:6). This text states: (1) The act, murder; (2) who shall execute the murderer, “man;” (3) The reason for the retribution, because man is made in God’s image. All men in all eras are made in God’s image (Acts 17:29), therefore, in every age the murderer may be executed “by man,” that is, by man duly constituted to execute the sentence. To do away with capital punishment, one would have to eliminate the principle upon which it stands. Has the premise of Genesis 9:6 been altered?
The Precepts of Moses
Sundry sins were punishable by death under the law of Moses. Kidnaping, dishonor to parents, murder, and a host of others too numerous to chronicle here, all drew the death penalty (Ex. 21:12-17). God delivered laws through Moses. God also gave penalties for those who violated those laws. Often, that penalty was execution, death, capital punishment. It was performed “by man,” by men authorized to render the punishment. “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses” (Heb. 10:28).
In The New Testament
We owe the government its due (Matt. 22:21). One function of civil government is to protect the good, law abiding citizen. Another duty of government is to serve God as “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4). We must submit to government’s right to punish the wicked “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Pet. 2:13, 14). Paul put this principle and his life on the line when he said in court, “For if I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die (Acts 25:11). Paul said he could have been guilty and he could have been “worthy of death,” that is, a fit subject for capital punishment. As such, he was willing to die. How could Paul have said this if government had no right to execute him? How could he have volunteered to submit to execution, even though guilty, if capital punishment was not a legitimate operation of government?
“The man” appointed to execute the criminal is civil government, “the minister of God,” who “beareth not the sword in vain” (Rom. 13:4). The sword is at once the emblem and instrument of punishment and death. Rulers are “a terror …to the evil” (Rom. 13:3). A portion of that “terror” is seen in the fact that they have the duty to kill those who have committed acts “worthy of death.”
Truth Magazine XXI:1, pp. 11-12
January 6, 1977