Tag Archives: capital punishment

Casting stones

As nearly every Bible translation points out in the footnotes, the passage in John 8 about the woman caught in adultery isn’t found in the earliest manuscripts.  Therefore, it may not have been in the original writings of the Bible.*

It is a memorable passage and doesn’t contradict other doctrines, but neither does it add anything that isn’t taught elsewhere.  The problems start when people twist the passage to say things that aren’t there.  Here’s the text:

The Woman Caught in Adultery — John 8:2 – 11

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst  they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her,”Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

If someone drew the conclusion that Jesus was once again clever and outwitted the Pharisees who were trying to trap him, that would be fine. Or that He upheld the law on capital punishment (you must have two witnesses). Or that He outed their hypocrisy in not bringing the man. Those would all be good.

The main misuse of the passage is by those who exclaim, “He who is without sin can cast the first stone!,” when trying to shut up anyone making a judgment they disagree with.  But as you may have noticed, that objection is self-refuting and ironically hypocritical: They imply that all judging is wrong, but they are judging you for judging.  But there is more.

Jesus was referring to real stones that would kill the person. Real stones thrown at a real person until he or she was really dead.  Criticizing someone else hardly rises to the level of killing him by stoning. Flippantly equating death by stoning with mere criticism is beyond hyperbole.

And even if Jesus said the part about not casting the first stone, it wouldn’t have meant, “Never say adultery is wrong!”  Note that the passage also says, “Go and sin no more.”

Those advocating the “judging = casting stones” view typically make all sorts of judgments, including advocating hate speech / hate crime laws.  But shouldn’t they be consistent and not judge anyone for anything, ever?

The passage is also misused to oppose capital punishment in principle.  But again, Jesus upheld the law: If there had been two witnesses present, stoning would have been appropriate at that time.

Keep in mind that any criticisms of this post will be considered stone-casting on your part.  And you know how wrong that is!

* Skeptics like Bart Ehrman like to say that this passage and the “long ending” of the Gospel of Mark reduce our confidence that the original writings were the word of God, but they are really proof that the system works.  Based on the work of textual critics on literally thousands of ancient manuscripts, we can be very confident about what the original writings said.

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Just like a GraphJam.com chart, except not funny

I enjoy the humor of GraphJam charts (“Life and pop culture graphed for your inner geek”).  They graph made up figures for quirky life situations.  They remind me of this graph I made a couple of years back comparing abortions per week in the U.S. to capital punishments.

pie_chart-abortion_and_capital_punishment.jpg

I was once asked why I am pro-life but not anti-capital punishment (I am in favor of capital punishment, but only if applied in a Biblical model). The pro-life / pro-capital punishment view is often ridiculed in the media and entertainment, and I have heard many Christians mock it as well.

The pie chart above shows why I find the pro-life movement to be vastly more important than the anti-capital punishment movement (even if it was right). Since the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision, there have been well over one million abortions per year. I rounded down to a million and then calculated the weekly amount of 19,231 human beings killed per week. Then I graphed the average of 1 (one) death via capital punishment per week (actually, the average is about 0.65, but I rounded up). It took almost thirty years to mark the 1,000th execution since the Supreme Court ruled it was legal again.

So what you see is a rather odd pie chart. The capital punishment slice of the pie is almost invisible.

In a given week in the U.S., there are 19,231 deaths of completely innocent humans versus 1 death of a convicted murderer who survived an average of over 10 years of appeals, and whose guilt is virtually certain. (And this doesn’t even take into account the shattered lives of the  women/boyfriends/husbands/parents who live with the pain of having the abortions or encouraging someone to have one). That is why my energy would still be directed to the pro-life movement even if I thought that capital punishment was un-Biblical.

If you want to compare abortions to the allegedly unfair capital punishments (let’s be generous and call the latter 1%), then the ration is “just” 19,231,000 to 1.

Actually, I am OK with unrestricted access to abortions – provided that the unborn get the same 10+ years of appeals that condemned killers do.

Or, to paraphrase Randy, I’m pro-choice as long as the unborn human being is the one making the life or death decision.

More on capital punishment here.

Sibling rivalry for pro-choice / anti-death penalty Christians

“Sibling rivalry” is a phrase used by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason to describe the situation where people hold opposing ideas at the same time.

Sometimes objections come in pairs that are logically inconsistent and therefore oppose each other. I call this “sibling rivalry” because they are like children fighting.

For example, those who are quick to object that God isn’t doing enough about evil in the world (“A good God wouldn’t let that happen”) are often equally quick to complain when God puts His foot down (“A loving God would never send anyone to hell”). If He appears indifferent to wickedness, His goodness is challenged. Yet if He acts to punish sin, His love is in question. These objections compete with each other. They are siblings in rivalry. One or the other needs to be surrendered. Both can’t be held simultaneously.

A good example of this is when pro-legalized abortion / anti-death penalty Christians try to use Exodus 21 to rationalize abortion.  As I examined here, their arguments fail for multiple reasons, the main one being the mistranslation of the key word in the text.

But even if I ignored their mistranslation, they are inconsistent in their application of Exodus 21.  Based on the item highlighted below, they should refer to this text to support capital punishment instead of opposing it.

When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:22–25, ESV)

Why do they use a passage from Exodus as their platform to justify abortion but ignore the next sentence, which is much more clear?  If they try to play the fallacious “Jesus changed capital punishment rules” then that argument would go double for abortion.

This is a case where both siblings are wrong, but they should at least give up one of the arguments for starters.

“If Mrs. Dahmer of the 21st century wanted to have an abortion, what would you say to her?”

That provocative question came from a recent commenter. She was referring to Jeffrey Dahmer, a mass murderer. Of course, this hypothetical could never happen. We don’t know for certain what people will do in the future. How do I know that she is carrying Jeffrey and that he will kill many people? Is this a Hot Tub Time Machine situation?

But while suspending my reality for the sake of discussion, here’s my answer:

  • I would tell her not to abort, because abortion kills an innocent human being.
  • Killing people because they might kill — or even would be highly likely to kill — is a rather dangerous precedent. I’m one of those compulsively old-fashioned types who thinks you should punish people after they commit crimes, not before.
  • I would offer to give her parenting advice based on the word of God. It isn’t fool-proof, but it would increase his odds greatly.

I asked a couple clarifying questions for the commenter but oddly enough she never came back to answer them. Some questions for the commenter, if she is still reading, and for anyone else sharing her views:

Do you approve of capital punishment for Jeffrey after he has committed his crimes? (If you are, you are an exception, as most pro-legalized abortionists I know are anti-capital punishment.) I realize that is sort of a “duh” question on my part considering that you want to execute him decades before his crimes, but I want to make sure I represent your views accurately.

Isn’t your objection to Jeffrey Dahmer that he killed innocent human beings? How is killing an innocent human being (at least at that stage of his life) consistent with that?

Isn’t it customary to wait until after people commit crimes to punish them?

Do you agree that the human being Mrs. Dahmer would be having destroyed is actually Jeffrey at a particular stage of development?

How do you know Jeffrey will be evil and not a hero like Obama?

If she can have Jeffrey killed inside the womb for crimes he might or even “will” commit (in this hypothetical), can she kill him outside the womb for the same reasons? If not, why not?

If Mrs. Dahmer didn’t want to abort Jeffrey even though she “knew” what he would do, should the government force her to abort him? If not, can the government kill him outside the womb to protect others?

—–

My guess is that posing the Dahmer question gets all sorts of virtual high fives and back slapping on pro-legalized abortion blogs. But I think it is pretty easy to prove how ridiculous the premise is. They work hard at justifying abortion. If only they would use their powers for good instead of evil.

What would the rest of you say to Mrs. Dahmer or to the commenter who brought this up?

Roundup

Is the death penalty a deterrent?  Of course it is.

Another provocative one from the Wintery Knight: His guidelines on courtship for Christian men and women.  I would tweak it just a bit myself, but overall I find it to be very solid, biblical and insightful. 

I liked the Bumbling Genius’ take on the police officer who is unfamiliar with or indifferent to the First Amendment (“It ain’t America no more”).  I think the man’s sign was unproductive, but the officer’s reaction and the non-reaction of the media and the President are very troubling and hypocritical.

President Obama is bearing false witness about other bearing false witness.  He seems shocked that we’d claim that his plans include government funded abortions, even though that has always been his claim and more honest politicians concede the point.

Cheney calls Democrats soft on national security and slams Obama’s politicized CIA probe — Yep.

(Somewhat) Effective Biblical arguments against capital punishment

gavel.jpgAs noted in my post on Ineffective Biblical arguments against capital punishment, capital punishment (CP) is a completely Biblical proposition if properly applied.  Most of the arguments against it use very poor Biblical analysis.  Having said that, I do have some concerns about how it is currently administered in the U.S. If I had to argue against it, here is what I would focus on.

  • Just because the Bible permits capital punishment doesn’t mean we have to use it.
  • Some people on death row have been found not guilty.
  • The Bible requires that accused criminals be justly convicted, and our system doesn’t take perjury very seriously.

Just because the Bible permits capital punishment doesn’t mean we have to use it. This isn’t a perfect argument, but it is serviceable and I think it could be used fairly well in a debate.  The reasoning would be that if capital punishment were put to a vote a Christian could, in good conscience, vote against the death penalty.  This doesn’t argue against CP, but it says you wouldn’t have to argue for it.

Some people on death row have been found not guilty – I think these numbers are overstated, because the convictions that have been overturned were based on technicalities and not on the innocence of the accused.  And they also point to the fact that the system works, at least sometimes: The convictions were overturned before the death penalty was carried out.  Had they been sentenced to life in prison they would probably still be in jail.

But the issues with the Houston DNA lab, for example, do point to problems in the system.

The Bible requires that accused criminals be justly convicted, and our system doesn’t take perjury very seriously. God loves justice.  Here’s just one of many verses one could point to:  Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Keep in mind that when I say He loves justice that doesn’t just mean he loves it when the innocent aren’t punished.  He also loves it when the guilty are held accountable.  This can help rehabilitate the criminal, protect others from the criminal and deter others from becoming criminals.

The Bible required two or more witnesses for the death penalty: Numbers 35:30 Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

Then those witnesses were required to put him to death: Deuteronomy 17:7 The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.

It also required justice for the poor, so they must have adequate legal counsel: Exodus 23:6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.

The U.S. legal system goes beyond what the Bible requires in some areas, such as Miranda rights and DNA evidence.  But it falls short in a crucial area: The integrity of witnesses.  According to the Bible, perjury was punishable by death.  Yet perjury doesn’t appear to be taken seriously in our country (and I’m not just talking about the Bill Clinton thing, though that didn’t help matters).

I was on a jury a few years back in Conroe, Texas (Population: Several).  A man was accused of fondling a 16 yr. old boy.  The boy’s testimony was pretty compelling, but there were some holes in the story.

The main problem was that witnesses on both sides were obviously lying over and over.  (Here’s some free legal advice: If you are ever on trial and decide to invent an alibi witness who is an old buddy no one will be able to locate via phone or other records, then don’t change his last name part way through your testimony.  It looks a little suspicious.)  It appeared that some type of incident had occurred, but we certainly didn’t have enough evidence to find him guilty.  Yet no one seemed to care about the perjury!

Now contrast our current system with the Biblical model for perjury:

Deuteronomy 19:16-21 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Did you catch that?  If you lied at a trial you were putting yourself at risk for the same punishment as the accused.  Couple that with the fact that two witnesses were required to convict someone of murder and you have a pretty reliable system in place.  At least God thought so.
One drawback of these arguments is that they are easier to label as Israelite-specific than the universal commands of Genesis 9:5-6: And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.
But I don’t think the answer is to end capital punishment, because that same reasoning could lead us to suspend all punishments.  Many murderers are guilty beyond dispute (“Free Tookie” and Karla Faye Tucker come to mind), so there is no chance we’re executing an innocent person there.  The answer is to tighten up on perjury.  People need to know that lying under oath has serious consequences.

I am still in favor of capital punishment because I think the controls in place are adequate and in some ways more stringent than the Biblical model, but if I had to argue against it I would play the “soft on perjury” card.

Let me close by putting the death penalty back in perspective.  Anyone making that argument had better be pro-life, unless they can explain being for the legal killing of innocent human beings and against the destruction of guilty murderers.  Also see Abortion and Capital Punishment.

Ineffective Biblical arguments against capital punishment

gavel.jpgCapital punishment (CP) is a completely Biblical proposition if properly applied and is actually a pro-life position.  Having said that, in my next post I’ll make some arguments from a Christian worldview against capital punishment as currently administered in the U.S.  But first I wanted to address some anti-CP arguments that I would not use.

(Note that I don’t use the cost issues in either scenario – i.e., “Putting them in prison for life is too expensive” vs. “The legal costs of the death penalty are too expensive.”  Justice ain’t cheap.  We shouldn’t go one direction or the other just because it might cost more or less.)

I’ll address these arguments:

  • Jesus would forgive
  • We might be eliminating the condemned killer’s opportunity to place his trust in Christ and thus causing him/her to miss out on eternal salvation.
  • Jesus is against capital punishment / Jesus reversed the Old Testament teaching on capital punishment
  • We might be killing someone who is innocent
  • Capital punishment is not a deterrent
  • The Bible says, “Thou shall not kill”

“Jesus would forgive” – Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason points out that Mother Teresa once used this argument to argue against a California capital punishment.  It is flawed for a few reasons.

First, Jesus would forgive if the criminal repented.  I don’t know if the condemned killer repented in that case or not, but many times they do not.  And, of course, only Jesus would know if the repentance is authentic.

Second, Jesus offers divine forgiveness but He doesn’t always remove earthly consequences of our actions (examples abound – see King David & Bathsheba, other Bible characters, you, me and others).

Third, and most importantly, this argument proves too much.  The rationale that “Jesus would forgive” presumably means we shouldn’t apply the death penalty.  But those arguing against capital punishment typically drop back to a punishment of life in prison.  But if Jesus would forgive, how could we put this person away for life?  How about just 20 years in prison?  No, Jesus would forgive.  And so on.  The literal application of the “Jesus would forgive” position would keep us from punishing anyone, ever.  And no, that isn’t a slippery slope argument.  It just means that if you say society must forgive because Jesus would and you define forgive as eliminating consequences, then why apply any punishment?

Another bad reason for this and the remaining arguments is that the ACLU would just hate them because they mention the “J” word (sarcasm intended).  Actually, they might like the arguments.  Sometimes people are willing to relax their standards when something benefits their position.  I haven’t done precise Venn diagrams on this topic, but it seems like the “Jesus would forgive” crowd overlaps a lot with the “separation of church and state” crowd.

“We might be eliminating the condemned killer’s opportunity to place his trust in Christ and thus causing him/her to miss out on eternal salvation.” I am big on evangelism, and I love to hear the stories of people who repented and believed despite horrible circumstances and backgrounds.  David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, is a powerful example.  I am involved with the Kairos prison ministry and support ministries like Prison Fellowship who take the Gospel to prisoners and care for their families.  But this argument just doesn’t work for me.

First, anyone who puts it forth would have to acknowledge that the murder the criminal committed is an even worse crime than the state recognizes.  After all, the government is punishing the person for taking someone’s earthly life.  If you truly believe that an opportunity for eternal life was taken then the crime is significantly greater, perhaps infinitely so.  That would imply the need for a stronger punishment, not a lesser one, so you are arguing against your own position.

Second, this argument ignores the sovereignty of God.  Both Calvinists and Arminians believe that God knows which way we’ll choose.  If someone holds a different view then they need to revisit my first objection.  I don’t think any non-believers will convince God that if only they had lived longer they would have repented and believed.

Third, it takes many, many years before a convicted murderer is put to death.  He/she has plenty of time to consider whether to put his/her faith in Christ.  Condemned killers probably have more time than their victim did and certainly a greater sense of urgency to consider their eternal destiny.

“Jesus is against capital punishment / Jesus reversed the Old Testament teaching on capital punishment” – This is much simpler to refute than most people realize.  Consider the following two arguments:

  • Capital punishment for murderers was God’s idea (For example, Genesis 9:5-6: “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.  Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”).
  • Jesus is God.
  • Therefore, capital punishment for murderers was Jesus’ idea.
  • The Old Testament clearly teaches that capital punishment is an appropriate punishment for justly convicted murderers – both inside and outside the Israelite culture.
  • No New Testament teachings reverse this teaching.
  • Therefore, capital punishment is still an acceptable punishment for justly convicted murderers.

Foreshadowing: My next post on “(Somewhat) Effective Biblical arguments against capital punishment” will focus on the “justly convicted” part.

It is possible that Jesus could have changed this teaching, but there are no passages to support this notion.  The Bible indicates that capital punishment was prescribed for more than a dozen Israelite-specific transgressions.  But capital punishment for murderers goes back much farther, all the way to Noah.

Peter and Paul both point to the government having authority to punish people.  In Romans 13, Paul specifically mentions that rulers do “not bear the sword for nothing.”   Presumably, the “sword” was for capital punishment, not corporal punishment.

When Paul was threatened with the death penalty in the book of Acts, he didn’t object to the penalty itself, he just pointed to his innocence (Acts 25:10-11).  Jesus did the same when He was on trial.

The “turn the other cheek” passage sometimes used to assert that Jesus was against CP is a misapplication.  That teaching is about personal relationships when you are insulted, not for government punishments of condemned killers.  It is hard to turn the other cheek when you are dead.  Think about it.

And while turning the other cheek when you are insulted is noble and Christian, turning the other cheek when someone weaker is threatened or killed is cowardice.  Read it in context and you’ll see that it has nothing to do with the government administration of the death penalty:

 

Matthew 5:38-42 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

But what about the command to “love your enemies?”  Again, this is a passage to Christians, not the government.  It doesn’t even hint that the government wouldn’t hold people accountable for crimes committed against Christians.  If someone assaults you, you need to forgive them.  But jailing them may be the loving thing to do if it protects others (remember, you need to love your enemies and your neighbors).

Some people misinterpret the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and think it means Jesus was against capital punishment.  First off, the earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not include this passage.  If it is authentic, it is not primarily about capital punishment.  It is about Jesus out-witting the Pharisses and pointing out their inconsistency and hypocrisy.  But note that Jesus applied the Biblical model: There were no longer two witnesses to condemn her.  He never revoked the penalty.  He told her to go and sin no more.  (I wonder if those who quote this against capital punishment also quote it to oppose adultery?)

To make the case that capital punishment in general is un-Biblical one would need at least one passage to that effect.  And it simply doesn’t exist. And of course, anyone who likes to argue from silence (“Jesus didn’t say anything specific about ____, so _____”) would have to concede that Jesus did not overturn the death penalty.
“We might be killing someone who is innocent” – If a Biblical model of justice is followed, the odds of this happening are very, very low.  And God was willing to take that chance.   This argument does have some merit, as the U.S. has drifted from a more Biblical model of justice.  I’ll address that in the follow up post.
This is an unusual side note, but please consider that if someone is truly innocent, then their conviction is much more likely to be overturned if they are given the death penalty than if they have a sentence of life without parole. This is because a death penalty sentence has automatic appeals and legal support not available to someone with a sentence of life without parole.  Ironically, then, an innocent person sentenced to life without parole is more likely to die in prison than an innocent person given the death penalty.  This isn’t a major point either way, just one of those unusual twists.

Keep in mind that many times there is no doubt about the guilt of the accused (Remember Karla Faye Tucker and “Free Tookie,” among others).

“Capital punishment is not a deterrent” – Is so.  Romans 13:3: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.  Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?  Then do what is right and he will commend you.  For he is God’s servant to do you good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.  He is God’s servant, and agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”  Sounds like a deterrent to me.

Please spare me any statistics that allegedly show that capital punishment increases murders or has no effect.  I appreciate a good study, but if you can find one that eliminates all issues like more fatherless kids, less religious influence, etc. – not to mention the interminably long process required to carry out an execution – I would like to see that one.  When in doubt, I’ll stick with clear Biblical teachings over man-made surveys.

Also, I think it is rather obvious that stronger punishments are greater deterrents.  I can prove it in 10 seconds: Do you think driving behavior would change at all if traffic tickets only cost a nickel, or if the punishment was life in prison?  I rest my case.

And of course, we can be 100% sure that capital punishment certainly deters murderers from killing again.  Many murders have taken place when murderers were set free or when other prisoners were killed.  If we love our neighbors we will seek to protect them.

Does it deter everyone from killing?  Of course not.  But since when was that part of the criteria for establishing laws?  We have a criminal justice system because we know that some will always break the law.

“The Bible says, ‘Thou shall not kill’” Actually, it says you shouldn’t murder, which is killing an innocent human being.  And that is such a great crime that it brought the death penalty.  People who think that is ironic to kill murderes are missing the point.  Life is so valuable that to take a human life is to commit the greatest crime possible.  

Anyone making that argument had better be pro-life, or they need to be prepared for me to point out the hypocrisy of being for the legal killing of innocent human beings and against the destruction of guilty murderers.  Also see Abortion and Capital Punishment.