Monday, April 18, 2011

If Capital Punishment is a Sin, Is God a Sinner?

Roger Olson has made the charge that capital punishment is a sin. Well, I think he can make a good case that justice has been denied several times in the state of Texas and elsewhere but it seems quite a stretch to make such a blanket statement regarding a penalty that was given by God Himself well before the law of Moses.

“ And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” (Ge 9:5-6 AV)

Was the LORD sinful in making this a requirement of His standard of Justice? God forbid and if that, why would any pastor, teacher, theologian or elder make such a preposterous statement? The death penalty debate has been a long simmering issue among various church factions and a case of mercy can be made by both sides of the issue. However it behooves us to keep in mind that God’s standard of Justice might strike us as harsh but there is a purpose behind it and for it. The law of Moses as an example was to establish the laws and regulations for a covenant relationship between God and His chosen people. It was intended for that people, both Hebrew and foreign within her borders. On the other hand, the Noahide laws were given to mankind through Moses establishing the need and right of civil governance among mankind. Genesis 9 is as much a part of our expectation today as it was when it was given. We find all of it encoded within Moses law as well. So can we call realistically capital punishment to be sin? In my opinion, not if we believe and love the Word of God for to do so is to call the LORD a sinner. I believe Roger’s caption is ill-advised.
The following is my reply to his blog post which for his own reasons chooses not to reply.

Texas seems to have serious problems with how it tries, convicts and investigates it’s capital murder cases. I am of the opinion that capital punishment be suspended there and other places with similar problems until these serious breaches of justice can be dealt with. However, I think your argument against capital punishment is flawed in several ways.
First, it ends a person’s opportunity to exonerate himself or herself.
That is true but death itself ends the same opportunity for all
Second, it ends a person’s opportunity to accept Christ and live a God-honoring life in prison ministering to other inmates and guards.
I think it is more appropriate to state that the criminal ended his or her own opportunities with the commission of the crime.
Third, it usurps God’s place and assume’s a God-like right and power to take the life of a person created in God’s image and likeness.
God established this punishment as far back as the Noahide laws and it is codified in Moses law as well as expectations set in Romans 13 (with some disputing that latter interpretation) - added to state that the command given in Gen 9 states the very reason for demanding the death penalty is because man was created in the image of God and this turns Roger's argument onto its head.
Fourth, it has no social benefit. It only serves a blood thirst for vengeance.
It’s purpose is justice and properly executed justice always has social benefit.
Fifth, no modern, Western country still has capital punishment.
That is neither a theological or ethical objection and it assumes the modern, Western cultural mindset to be ethically superior to those other cultures.
Sixth, capital punishment is barbaric and cruel–if not to the person being executed (and who can know for sure?), to his or her family.
Is it any more barbaric and cruel than sticking someone in a cage for the rest of their life? Is God barbaric and cruel for instituting capital punishment?
Seventh, innocent people are executed.
This is probably your best argument against it although it is not a theological argument. Innocent Hebrew men could have been put to death at the testimony of several witnesses and while those witnesses might be morally culpable for their falsehoods, the state is not. However, as I noted in opening. I think the process needs to be halted until the means of justice is more thoroughly examined.


SLW said...

Innocent blood cries from the ground to God for justice (Gen 4:10; Deut 21:1-8). Nations that won't abide by the Noachian covenant fill their land with an outcry to God, which he responds to with judgment in his own time. Failing to administer the death penalty does not put a nation in good stead with God, but rather, under his judgment.

The Seeking Disciple said...

I thought it was a bit unfair for Roger to try to say that anyone who holds to capital punishment is thirsty for revenge. I think justice would be a better term. He obviously has never had a family member murdered by someone otherwise he might would approach this differently.

bossmanham said...

With all due respect to Dr. Olson, he is guilty of multiple fallacies on any given day. I appreciate his thoughtfulness, I suppose, but as SD points out, he lays out some rhetorical bombs sometimes that don't really follow. I think your response was quite good, AM.

A.M. Mallett said...

SLW, I could not agree more. When we turn our back on God’s standards of justice, we end up embracing that of the world. There is no middle ground any more than there is a lukewarm faith with its 50% acceptance of scripture. One of the disastrous results of these “social justice movements” is that they almost inevitably lead to murderous regimes.

With regard to Roger’s method, while he does articulate Arminian soteriology rather well, he is a miserable apologist for the social issues he holds near and dear. His reasons for justifying calling the death sentence sin are just plain vapid. However, I also know that many people disagree on this matter. As I noted, I would prefer to see the penalty suspended until we can see these cases examined more closely with modern science. However, once guilt is determined beyond a reasonable doubt, God’s standard of justice given to Noah is certainly acceptable and not at all an act of sin. Fortunately, his hit and run bomb turned out to be a dud when compared to scripture.

Kyle said...

I was not sure if I liked his (Olsen's)handling of the Old Testament. He almost seemed to deny it to be the Word of God or rather deny it as being a true account of God dealing with man. I do not know where Olsen is coming from but perhaps he believes that God somehow changed His nature or went through some kind of transformation before Jesus' sacrifice.

A.M. Mallett said...

Kyle, I believe the problem with Roger's argument is that he insists on marrying his social justice philosophy with his theology. I believe it is better to keep the two separate unless a good exegesis of scripture can be made to support it. As I've noted, I am uncomfortable with the current practice because there are injustices and abuses occurring. Rather than oppose the penalty itself, I think it is better to address the grievances.
Thanks your your thoughts on the matter.

A.M. Mallett said...

Well, I must have rubbed the Pope's sticks the wrong way. Roger has decided to delete a couple comments I made on his thread rather than post them. I thought they were rather sincere and sensible but I suppose he thought otherwise. Irenic intolerance, I suppose. ... wait, that means Triablogue and Roger Olson are the two sites that sensor my remarks. I hope thats just a coincidence :)

Jim714 said...

I am one of those who agrees with Olson's view, though I understand your disagreement and its biblical basis. I think there are circumstances under which the shedding of another's blood is legitimate; such as in self-defense if attacked by someone who is crazed. I think it would be possible to understand the quoted passages in this way and simultaneously oppose the death penalty; though I suspect you wouldn't see it that way.

My religious opposition to the death penalty is based on its usage removing any possibility of redemption. In my experience as a Prison Chaplain I found that redemption is possible even for the most benighted.

My political opposition to the death penalty is conservatively based in the sense that it is an argument from limited government. Historically, governments have used the death penalty against opponents in order to remove troublesome political adversaries. This has happened so frequently that I consider it a general principle that the state should not be allowed that power.

Again, I realize that thoughtful people will disagree and I mean no condemnation by the above comments.



A.M. Mallett said...

Thanks for your comments. I understand the differing opinions of those who sit on opposite sides of the fence with this issue and I respect those differing opinions. Like yourself, I do not agree with the opposing side and of course I believe I am in a scripturally stronger position. However, mercy can have it's place among our civil authorities as well as among the LORD and ourselves. If mercy was the basis for the objections, then I could better understand it.

However, for myself, the stronger objection is with the idea that capital punishment itself is sin. Since it is given in both the Noahide and Mosaic law, such a stance seems to me to imply that God is the originator of sin. Roger's objection seems to be that man is unable to apply God's law justly. Timothy McVeigh, as an example, readily admitted his guilt and with overwhelming evidence of it, was put to death by the state. I don't understand how he could state that example would be unjust. Nonetheless, I can sympathize with those who look to mercy as their justification for opposing it.