Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 12: 17-21 (ESV)
There are always polarizing societal issues that serve to divide Christians and one of them is the matter of capital punishment. This week Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article for CNN on this subject in relation to the Christian faith. While he tried to present a balanced approach to this controversial subject, the title of the article, "Why Christians Should Support the Death Penalty", gives away his position. The article can be found here:
My point here is to not pick a disagreement with Dr. Mohler - just merely to present the other side Biblically and highlight where it seems his logic runs astray. Dr. Mohler begins his article presenting the correct facts outlined in the Old Testament regarding the death penalty. This is usually where pro-death penalty Christians like to begin because the language is so unambiguous. Mohler does correctly point out some of the other side of this argument, including the rigorous requirements for proof before someone could be rightly "convicted" of murder. He also correctly points out that this punishment was not always carried out - such as with Moses, David and Saul of Tarsus. Yet even after this mediated approach, he comes to the following opening position:
"Christian thinking about the death penalty must begin with the fact that the Bible envisions a society in which capital punishment for murder is sometimes necessary, but should be exceedingly rare."
I cannot disagree more. The Old Testament and the laws contained within were designed for Israel, not the world. They were designed for a theocratic form of government and a more tight knit society. Even then however, the threshold for capital punishment for murder was quite high. Within the theocratic system, the idea was that the people would have such a fear of God that they would not dare to bear false witness. This was so important to God that He included not bearing false witness as one of the commandments. The other glaring problem with this opening positon is that we live under the new covenant, not the Mosaic Law. Yes, the moral codes within the law are universal but the societal codes are not. There were other reasons under the Mosaic Law where someone would be stoned to death including breaking Sabbath, rebellion against ones parents and adultery. Under the logic used in this opening statement, these should still apply as well. The reasoning why they do not would be offered that society does not consider them offenses requiring the death penalty. We do not take our instruction from society however. For the same reason, just because the prevailing society embraces the death penalty is no reason why we should as believers either. Mohler continues:
"The Bible also affirms that the death penalty, rightly and justly applied, will have a powerful deterrent effect. In a world of violence, the death penalty is understood as a necessary firewall against the spread of further deadly violence. Seen in this light, the problem we face today is not with the death penalty, but with society at large. American society is quickly conforming to a secular worldview, and the clear sense of right and wrong that was Christianity's gift to Western civilization is being replaced with a much more ambiguous morality. We have lost the cultural ability to declare murder -- even mass murder -- to be deserving of the death penalty."