The Bible and the Death Penalty
Due to recent events I have had to spell out some things that people may not have thought about. You see websites like this trying to proclaim the "Gospel of Kelly Gissendaner", spinning a crime in a positive light or trying to make this a religions story, when news sites look more like this. It's sort of a combination of funny and alarming to see and hear people make something "gospel" out of what isn't gospel. So I felt compelled to write something about the death penalty and what a Christian should think about the subject. And I'm going to use the Bible to do so.
Kelly Gissendaner killed her husband in cold blood. A Georgia court has already condemned her to the death penalty. But we hear reports of "people of faith" (whoever these people are) protesting her execution. I would like to submit to you that these "people of faith" are wrong to say that God is opposed to the death penalty,and outline my beliefs in Scripture. God is sort of not for it, but not against it.
Foundational PrinciplesBefore I begin, I want to lay some ground principles that should be understood by the Christian, to start off:
- God has told us that He does not change. Therefore, God does not change.
- The Old Testament is not applicable to the modern church, as we have a "new covenant in [Jesus'] blood." The Old Testament is a good source document about the mind of God, and for its history, but its laws are for Israel, as evidenced by the often repeated phrase from God, "speak to the children of Israel...."
- One cannot say that it is God's will for something to happen or not happen without clear scripture on the subject. Outside of what is not outlined in the Bible, like God's specific will for your life, the vast majority of what God wants from us can be found in Scripture.
First: Direct StatementsThere is no place in the Bible that God says that He is opposed to the death penalty. The only direct statements we have about the death penalty are in the Old Testament. God specifically commanded Israel to put to death murderers (Exodus 21:12-14; Numbers 35:16), adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22), and rape (Deuteronomy 22:23-27). What is also very noteworthy is that there is no insanity clause. God also told the children of Israel specifically (Deuteronomy 13:8-9) in cases of even family members serving other gods to not show any mercy or pity, but to put them to death. So we see that God wants certain crimes punished by death. That is not direct evidence that we need a death penalty in the USA, but it does substantiate that God isn't against the death penalty. You can't be against the death penalty and yet command it to be carried out. If God were truly against the death penalty, He would have never instituted it. This is not to say that God is being vengeful for no reason or that He loves death and destruction. However, He loves justice.
Second: By ExampleHere's where things get interesting. Through examples of stories in the Bible we see that God isn't so much against the death penalty as He is about purging evil. So here we go:
- God did not kill Cain for murdering Abel (Genesis 4).
- God did not kill Moses for killing the Egyptian (Exodus 2).
- God does not let Moses into the promised land because he
disobeyed a simple instruction ("speak to the rock")(Numbers
- God killed those who rose up against Moses in the desert (Numbers 16).
- God also killed on many occasions people who grumbled
against Moses in the desert.
- God did kill Onan (Genesis 38) for essentially using his sister in law instead of conceiving children with her.
- God does not kill King Saul (immediately) for killing the
priests at Nob (1 Samuel 22), but eventually God does kill
Saul in battle for his many sins.
- God does not kill King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba and killing her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11). However, even though David repented (Psalm 51), God killed the child they had conceived, and it eventually led to the death of Absalom, David's son.
- God does kill Jesus for our sins (John 19; Matthew 27; Luke 23).
- Jesus does not pardon the thief on the cross or command His angles to take the thief down from the cross, but does grant him repentance and salvation (Luke 23:39-43).
- God kills Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) for lying. Note that Peter doesn't say "God will kill you" to Ananias: God does this on His own.
- God does not kill Paul for condemning Christians to death (Acts 9; 26:9-11).
- God does not give up on Peter after his denial.
And many other stories can be posted here
about how God treats various people.
Third: By Lack of a Direct Statement
Another major problem the anti-death-penalty
crowd faces is that there is no direct statement in the Bible to
support their cause. There is no direct statement or even
story in the Bible (when compared to the entirety of stories in
the Bible) that teach that mere repentance is enough to absolve
one's self of punishment. For example, if God wanted to
teach that repentance alone is enough to cancel someone's
- Jesus would've freed the thief on the cross (a power He claimed He could have used, asking for legions of angels).
- Jesus would have miraculously freed John the Baptist from
prison before he was executed (like with Peter).
- Moses would've been recorded as having repented for striking the rock rather than speaking to it, and been allowed into the promised land.
- God would've let the Israelites invade the promised land when they repented for believing the evil report the spies brought.
- God would've not killed King David's first child with Bathsheba, nor Absalom.
- God would've given Ananias and Sapphira a chance to repent of lying to the Holy Spirit before killing them.
You get my point. There are and were
so many places God could have directly said that repentance
absolves one of punishment or of one's debt to society.
But there is no such direct statement. Hence it is not
possible, in light of direct statements in the Bible, the
stories of the Bible, and the lack of direct evidence, to say
that God is opposed to the death penalty. However, one
also cannot say God is always for the death penalty, as He did
not kill everyone who murdered, etc. This is good news
because we're human and if God were to punish every evil of
mankind to its ultimate extent, no one would live (Psalm 130:3).
The Logical RefutationHere is a point by point refutation, therefore, of those who would say God is opposed to the death penalty.
- If God were opposed to the death penalty, why did He institute it?
- If God were the one to institute it and manage it, as they claim, why did God not include instructions to ask the priest every time they were about to condemn someone to death, to ask God? God's commands don't include a "phone a friend" or "ask God" clause, and are written to men, to be obeyed.
- If God were opposed to the death penalty, why did He order
the Israelites to exterminate the people living in the
promised land? Hint: because they were evil.
- If God were opposed to the death penalty, why did He
directly hand out death as a penalty for various sins in some
of the stories we read?
- If God were "behaving in a more friendly way" between the Old Testament and New Testament, and we are now in the "time period of grace", why did God directly execute Ananias and Sapphira? What is this "kinder, gentler" God you speak of? God doesn't change.
- How are only those who are against the death penalty "people of conscience"? Doesn't Romans 1, the chapter that teaches about the conscience, also state that those who ignore it and commit murder receive the punishment they deserve? What about all the other verses in the NT where God says murderers won't enter the kingdom of God?
- Is it grace to allow a convicted murderer to go free to have a 71.3% chance (based on the FBI's recidivism studies) of committing the same violent crime again? It's funny how the anti-death-penalty crowd often preaches grace: what about having grace on the US population by not allowing those with such high rates of repeat violent crime to go free?
- How can you ignore the documented deterrent effect that having laws that are properly enforced has on would-be criminals?
- Why the public outcry only for Kelly Gissendaner? Why not for every criminal?
- Are we God, to know if someone truly repented or not? It has been said by some criminologists that some criminals will claim a religious experience or conversion to escape punishment (to be fair, though I have heard people who work in prison say this from their experience, I am having a hard time finding a scholarly article that tells me what the percentage or rate of this is). But we know human nature: even children who have done wrong will try to use repentance to get out of punishment.
It's Neither For or AgainstGod instituted the death penalty. But God doesn't kill everyone who deserves it. I believe the gospel is like a coin where one side is grace and the other side is justice. Hence there is a line in the sand where one can leave grace and cross into justice. God determines where this line is, not us.
As such, I believe all "people of faith" who are crying out about Kelly Gissendaner facing the death penalty are misguided. The judge and jury have reached their verdict (and it's God who sets them up in charge, Romans 13). Kelly Gissendaner is saved and already going to heaven, if she is truly saved. She has already gotten more grace than she deserves, in that she has received forgiveness.
There is only one gospel we are to be preaching: salvation and forgiveness through grace, not a "gospel of Kelly Gissendaner." God specifically set up the death penalty for murderers. If you're proclaiming the "gospel of Kelly Gissendaner", you're probably proclaiming the wrong gospel. In the gospel message, there must be a message of the understanding of sin ("what am I being saved from?"), but God never told us to go out and preach "don't execute criminals."