Declining Churches Searching for the Silver Bullet Pastor

  The problem of declining churches in America was nothing new when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck in March 2020. I tend to ignore 2020 through 2022 when measuring whether a church has declined. But let’s be honest: if you look back to March 2020 and compare your attendance and financial giving back then to that of today, in March 2024, and both are lower, on average, by more than a few percent, your church has declined. If you had a children’s ministry before the pandemic, and you now struggle to wrangle up more than a few kids on a typical Sunday, you have declined. Your church needs revitalization. Sure, there are other, less tangible measures of health. How are you doing evangelistically? Are you reaching your neighborhood with the gospel? Are you making disciples? Maybe your church has already taken proactive steps in the direction of revitalization. Perhaps you’ve already decided to make some hard decisions rather than kicking the can down the road. If so, good on you! Sadl

Should Christians Oppose the Death Penalty? Restoring the Divine Nature of Retribution

 by   Bart L. Denny

May 6, 2013 (revised July 25, 2023)  


This paper critically evaluates the ethical reasons for eliminating capital punishment, demonstrating that Christian ethics should reject it. However, such rejection should not be because it involves the state taking human life.  Indeed, the church has long affirmed the state’s right to exercise the death penalty, citing numerous biblical examples not only allowing capital punishment but rather demanding it.  In short, on its face, the basic concept of capital punishment is imminently biblical. However, currently and historically, the death penalty is not ethically administered by any state. This reality seems unlikely to change in any present system of secular rule or, as history shows, in any theocracy.

Christian opponents of capital punishment are inclined to relegate the practice to the Old Testament, with no place alongside Christ’s teachings of mercy and forgiveness.  However, the most popular arguments against the death penalty do not hold up to biblical scrutiny, while the support from Scripture in favor of capital punishment is quite strong.  However, the most popular arguments on both sides of today’s debate miss some key biblical points. 

Administered under God’s rules, capital punishment is holy and just.  However, as this paper shows, the Old Testament law severely restricted the death penalty, providing justice for the victim and due process for the accused.  To this biblical standard, no criminal justice system in the world measures up. 

It is because governments administer capital punishment in an unscriptural way that Christians should oppose the practice.  

The Biblical Arguments

Among Christians, both opponents and advocates of the death penalty appeal to Scripture to support their positions.  Those favoring capital punishment can show many instances where the Bible demands the death penalty.  The Bible shows that, from the very first murder, the death penalty has been the standard of justice—even when mercy trumped justice, sparing the murderer’s life.  Those Christians who oppose capital punishment on scriptural grounds argue their case more implicitly, appealing to Jesus’ teachings on love, forgiveness, and against retaliation.  

The Biblical Arguments Against Capital Punishment

The Rehabilitationist View

Most arguments against capital punishment fall under what Geisler calls the “rehabilitationist view.”  The rehabilitationist view argues that the purpose of criminal punishment is to reform the convicted, with the goal of their eventual return to society.[1]   God did not exact capital punishment on Cain.  Most death penalty opponents have no difficulty with God’s choice to flood the earth or to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah; as the giver of life, it is God’s prerogative to take it. 

Few Christian death penalty opponents argue against God’s divine right to execute capital punishment. Instead, they point to occasions in the biblical narrative when He elected not to exercise that right.  As Geisler points out, God is clear that Cain’s killing of Abel merited death—and Cain fully expected God to exact divine retribution—however, God commuted the sentence and even pronounced protection over Cain (Gen. 4:10-14).[2] 

Moreover, those Christians opposing the death penalty would argue that only Cain’s parents (or perhaps other siblings—if there were any by this point) could have carried out the sentence.   God did not exact capital punishment on the murderer Moses.  Again, some opponents of capital punishment note that Moses became the leader of the Hebrew people even after having killed an Egyptian slave overseer. 

It is also important to remember that God’s command is against murder.  In Exodus 20:13, the Hebrew word ratsach (לֹ֥֖א תִּֿרְצָֽ֖ח׃ ס), which is inappropriately translated as “kill” in the King James Version, actually refers to murder or manslaughter—the criminal taking of human life.[3] God’s prohibition on killing applies to capricious, malicious, or negligent acts. War and the defense of others in mortal danger seem biblical justifications for using deadly force, as affirmed throughout the Scripture. 

While it is evident that Moses feared the punishment of the Egyptian law for killing the slave overseer (Exodus 2:11-12), it seems far from obvious that he committed murder.  Rather, Moses acted in defense of one of his people.   God did not exact capital punishment on David.  Some opponents of the death penalty have argued that King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his order deliberately designed to cause Uriah’s death (David’s action was criminal and intentional) constituted two offenses worthy of death.  Yet David did not receive the death penalty. 

Geisler contends that this would have required David—the head of state—to order his own execution.  However, this is the weaker of Geisler’s arguments in this instance. Geisler’s stronger argument in David’s case, however, is that there were not the necessary two eyewitnesses to satisfy the Law’s requirements for the burden of proof (that case would have amounted to David’s word against that of his commander, Joab, whom he ordered to have Uriah placed in mortal danger). [4]

In any case, murderers such as Moses and David ultimately served as great leaders in Israel, even after committing grievous sins worthy of death. It is difficult to argue that these men did not show themselves rehabilitated.

The consistent life ethic view.

While firmly against abortion or euthanasia, evangelical Christians tend to weigh in on the side of upholding the death penalty.  Strangely, many liberal or “mainline” Protestants tend to detest capital punishment but often remain silent on—or even favor—abortion.  A minority view in all Christian traditions, the “consistent life ethic” is most pervasive among Roman Catholics.[5] 

The consistent life ethic opposes euthanasia, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, war—and capital punishment.  This consistent life ethic sees all human beings—from the murderer to the unborn child—as created in the image of God.  It is, in the consistent life ethic view, the sole prerogative of God to end a human life. 

Rationally, this argument seems sensible, but does Scripture support it?

Argument: New Testament teaching on love and forgiveness mediate against capital punishment. Black argues that New Testament scholarship provides a considerable argument against capital punishment.  He quotes Jean Lasserre, who wrote that in Paul’s admonition to be subject to governing authorities (Romans 13), the apostle never justified capital punishment, nor does any other text in the New Testament approve of the practice.[6] 

However, as already shown, an honest reading of Romans 13:4 makes it difficult to imagine that Paul was writing of anything but capital punishment.   

Argument: Jesus taught against capital punishment.  Most Christian opponents to the death penalty appeal to the teachings of Christ.  Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39).[7] 

Here, it seems evident that Jesus refers to Deuteronomy 19:21 and Exodus 21:24, which call for proportional retribution.  However, the context in which he speaks seems to address personal retaliation more than the state’s power to exact the death penalty.  In His continued discussion on the matter, in Matthew 5:40-41, “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.   And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles…” seems to comport with the idea that Jesus speaks of individuals not repaying injustices committed against them, not the state withholding punishment. Personal revenge and the state’s administration of justice are entirely different contexts.

Others who see Jesus as an opponent of the death penalty point to the pericope adulterae, the story of the woman caught in adultery, as evidence that Christ opposed capital punishment.[8]  However, as Ballarda maintains, Jesus was walking a fine line to avoid an entanglement with either the Roman or Jewish authorities.  If Jesus were to have called for stoning the woman, per Mosaic Law, he would have conflicted with Roman law, which reserved capital punishment for the imperial authorities.  Conversely, if Jesus had said not to stone the woman, his words would have drawn the ire of the Jewish religious leaders.  Jesus assiduously avoided the trap, reflecting His enemies’ hypocrisy back at them:  “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  In this case, Jesus simply acknowledged the law—he never attempted to refute it.  

Argument: The cross served as punishment for all. Geisler explains that the reasoning behind this view is that since the wage of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and since Jesus died for everyone (Romans 5:12-18), Christ bore the death sentence for all humanity.[9]  Karl Barth similarly argued that capital punishment “spoiled the atonement,” saying that to shed the blood of a murderer made the shedding of Jesus’ blood of no effect—denying the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice as the perfect propitiation for all sin.[10]  Geisler makes a convincing argument that, while the cross made possible God’s forgiveness of sins for all, Jesus’ sacrifice never absolved anyone of the earthly consequences of their sins.[11]

Even if the atonement brought about universal salvation, which Barth seems to argue—without scriptural support—it is unclear how state-administered punishment (or pardon) has anything to do with eternal salvation or damnation.

Argument: Capital punishment sends people to Hell. It seems unlikely many people capable of murder have ever experienced the transformative power of a belief and personal trust in Jesus Christ.  The murderer, the argument goes, is bound for eternal separation from God in Hell. The murderer deeply needs the forgiveness and salvation found in Jesus Christ.  However, capital punishment does not send people to Hell—their rejection of God and the atonement He offers through the shed blood of Jesus Christ sends them to Hell.  Criminals face an eternity no different from anyone who dies outside of Christ.  Indeed, given inmates’ years-long stays on present-day death row, there seems to be abundant time to reflect, repent, and accept God’s graceful offer of forgiveness and salvation through faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  

Argument: The Mosaic Law is no longer in effect. As death penalty opponents argue, Christians are hard-pressed to argue for capital punishment in all cases where the Mosaic Law calls for it.  Indeed, the Mosaic Law calls for execution not only in cases of murder but also rape, adultery, kidnapping, Sabbath-breaking, idolatry, blasphemy, false prophecy, rebellion to parents, homosexuality, incestuous fornication, incestuous polygamy, witchcraft, spiritualism, causing a miscarriage, bestiality, taking a woman’s virginity through fornication, and others.  One of the most common arguments against capital punishment is that if the Mosaic Law’s penalty for murder remains valid, then adulterers and blasphemers also deserve death.  However, as most Christians will argue, the law of grace has replaced the Mosaic Law.[12]  

This argument appears to put the Christian death penalty proponent on a tenuous intellectual footing.   However, Geisler comes to the rescue, countering that the Mosaic Law included capital punishment for crimes other than murder because Israel was a chosen nation, a theocracy that He intended to rule in a unique way—thus, He implemented capital punishment for other, “non-capital” offenses.  Geisler argues that capital punishment for murder long pre-dates Mosaic Law (Gen. 9:6).  Moreover, unlike the Mosaic Law—given to Israel—God gave capital punishment to all nations.  Therefore, Geisler contends the practice remains a viable punishment for murder in judicial systems outside the Mosaic Law.[13]   

Argument: Life imprisonment has the same effect as the Old Testament intended. Sewall argues that life imprisonment achieves, in practice, what Old Testament capital punishment intended. Indeed, life imprisonment permanently removes the offender from society.  However, he says, the Hebrews could not construct large, high-security prisons that enable the state to contain murderous inmates, protecting the rest of society.  In the nomadic Hebrew community, only capital punishment could permanently remove the threat of dangerous murders.  Sewall sees an inmate serving a life sentence as, for all practical purposes, dead to the world.[14]   

However, the conveniences of modern communications technology—and even the less high-technology postal system—allow inmates the capacity to communicate, even if in a diminished fashion, with the outside world. Therefore, life imprisonment cannot wholly prevent the convicted murderer from participating in society.  Moreover, by the New Testament age, prisons had advanced considerably and could safely contain dangerous criminals.  However, no New Testament writer affirms prison as a preferable alternative to capital punishment.

As Charles observes, “The tendency of Christians to confuse mercy and justice, salvific and moral-legal categories, has the effect of placing Jesus at odds with Paul, Peter, and, of course, the whole of the Old Testament.”  Charles rejects any notion that such a disagreement exists as Jesus and the apostles affirmed the Old Testament as the Scripture of their day. [15]  

Biblical Arguments for Capital Punishment

From nearly the beginning, the church has affirmed the right of the state to carry out divine judgment in the form of capital punishment.  Geisler makes a strong case for capital punishment for some crimes, such as murder, in his presentation and critique of the “retributionist view” of the death penalty.[16]   

God invested the governing authorities with capital punishment authority.  As Geisler notes, God both demanded capital punishment for murder and gave that power to the human government (by way of Noah), saying, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). That God made man in His image requires the death penalty for those who maliciously or neglectfully end human life.  The “image of God” argument against the death penalty is relatively weak and without convincing scriptural support compared to the explicit, divine, pre-Mosaic prescription for capital punishment found in Genesis 9:6.

Argument: God intended capital punishment to serve as a deterrent.  A robust biblical case for the value of capital punishment is its deterrent effect (Deuteronomy 19:20).  Indeed, if states administered the death penalty in a genuinely uniform, biblically spirited fashion—sure, swift, and just—the practice would have a deterrent effect.  The United States is one of the few remaining liberal democratic societies allowing capital punishment. And, on average, only 60 executions occur per approximately 15,000 murders.  Since the U.S. executes only 0.4% of all murderers, the death penalty in America is barely, if any, more credible a deterrent than life imprisonment. [17]  

Argument: The New Testament continues to affirm capital punishment. Where the Old Testament explicitly endorses capital punishment, the New Testament affirmation of the practice more often seems implicit.  Stephen James presents a compelling case that the civil government is divinely ordained to exact God’s retribution. James cites Romans 13:1-7 as the basis for much of his argument.  As James contends, Paul, for his part, seemed to affirm explicitly the right of the state to carry out the death sentence and saw it as a net good to society.  In Romans 13:1-17, James sees “a continuing, permanent, intimate relationship exists between God and civil government.”  In Romans, says James, Paul makes this relationship clear by twice describing the government as a minister of God. Moreover, in depicting the government’s role, Paul uses the present indicative verb tense—the government is, and continues to be, a minister of God. [18] 

As a practical matter, however, first-century Christians would have had little choice but to affirm the Roman state’s practice of capital punishment.  Indeed, had they denied the imperial right to capital punishment, Christ-followers would have only invited more wrath from an empire that—intensely, if sporadically—persecuted Christians.   Further, Jesus affirmed the state’s right to administer the death penalty.  Some scholars see Jesus’ submission to crucifixion as his tacit recognition of the state’s authority to carry out capital punishment, particularly when He answered Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11). 

Further, in Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus reaffirms the Law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  

By implication, as death penalty proponents argue, Jesus seems to be endorsing capital punishment.  Moreover, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus reminded Peter of the provisions of the Law (Matthew 26:52): “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”  Some commentators see Jesus’ warning as evidence of his affirmation of capital punishment.  However, it seems just as likely that Jesus was reminding Peter of the consequences of his actions.  

Argument: The cross did not abolish capital punishment.  As this paper has shown, the New Testament affirms capital punishment, as did the Old Testament, which preceded it.  Furthermore, even the most ardent Christian proponent of capital punishment would deny that a death penalty inmate cannot receive salvation and divine forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ.[19] 

Nobody is unsavable. Indeed, when the thief on the cross appealed, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42), our Lord promised him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Nevertheless, forgiven as he was in the eyes of God, that thief died on that cross under the penalty of the state.  

Argument: Capital punishment affirms human dignity.  As Geisler says, “Punishing persons for their wrong is a compliment, not an insult, to their freedom and dignity.”[20]  That God demanded capital punishment for murder (Gen. 9:6) shows how much God values human life, therefore, capital punishment is, according to Geisler, “the ultimate compliment to human dignity.”[21]  

Argument: The Law of Moses prescribed a just system for capital punishment. Admittedly, the Mosaic Law demanded capital punishment for offenses that modern Christians would find undeserving of such a severe penalty.  This paper has already dealt with why the Mosaic Law was so stern.  However, despite caricatures depicting the death penalty under the Mosaic Law as capricious and brutal, the Hebrew practice of capital punishment had several positive features that ensured executions were a relative rarity.  

First, the Mosaic Law was fair to the accused.  The Mosaic Law required a high standard for the burden of proof.  Indeed, the testimony of two or three witnesses was required to sentence to death an individual accused of a capital crime (Deuteronomy 19:15).  In the case of a witness who perjured himself in a death penalty case, the Mosaic Law required that the perjurer be put to death (Deuteronomy 19:18). This extremely high burden of proof contributed to a relatively low rate of executions in Hebrew society. [22]  

Second, the Mosaic Law applied the death penalty swiftly and evenly.  Certain crimes required the death penalty—providing accusers met the necessary burden of proof. The Mosaic Law did not allow prosecutors to seek lesser sentences such as punishment or imprisonment or to let defendants plead guilty to lesser crimes. The Mosaic Law administered justice fairly, with no partiality or favoritism. Under the Mosaic Law, the wealthy and the poor received the same treatment.  The Mosaic Law was final, and the governing authorities immediately enforced the sentence.  

Third, the certainty of sentence under Mosaic Law guaranteed a deterrent effect. And, as scholars contend, under the Mosaic Law, the Israelites administered capital punishment at relatively low rates—precisely because the practice was a credible deterrent to capital offenses. [23]  

Fourth, the Mosaic Law ensured justice for the victim.  Victims and their families did not have to spend years wondering if there would be justice for their loss.  With surety, transgressors paid for their crimes.  That the Mosaic Law guaranteed justice certainly prevented vigilantism among the Israelites. [24]  

Capital Punishment Today:  Moral-Societal Arguments

As Williams argues, society—through the state—has the “absolute right to protect itself from such vicious and dangerous individuals” as murderers and other violent criminals.[25] The death penalty certainly presents an option for protecting society, for it is the ultimate guard against offender recidivism.  However, if the principle of capital punishment has its basis in Scripture, so should its practice.  It seems only correct to examine whether the civil government carries out its responsibilities for divine retribution in a biblical and just fashion.   

If the state does not carry out the death penalty fairly and instead acts arbitrarily and capriciously, it has failed in its divine mandate. Its practice of capital punishment is unbiblical, and Christians should oppose its application.  The research presented in this paper is mainly limited to the United States, where statistics on capital punishment are publicly available.  The statistics associated with the one ostensibly “Judeo-Christian” nation that still applies the death penalty are unflattering.  Death penalty statistics in the United States show several disturbingly unbiblical characteristics.  

The Death Penalty in the United States

The death penalty is unevenly applied.  The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) collects and reports statistics on the death penalty as implemented in the United States.  While DPIC is a secular organization—which admits that most of those accused of capital crimes are a danger from which society needs protection—its findings should cause Christians to pause to reflect on their support for capital punishment.  DPIC found that, since the U.S. re-instituted the death penalty in 1976, there has been “little rational explanation for the disparity” between cases eligible for the death penalty and those cases in which the state has pursued the death penalty or in which juries have handed down the death penalty.  DPIC found that each year, for every 326 murders in the U.S., there is only one execution. [26] 

A cursory glance at DPIC’s findings may seem comforting; one might infer that only the worst of the worst must receive the death penalty.  However, upon closer analysis, DPIC’s studies reveal deep disparities in applying capital punishment.   

Capital punishment is uncertain and has little deterrent effect.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s statistics on capital punishment in America during 2005 showed that, while states carried out 60 executions, 25 prisoners under the death sentence died of natural causes.  Approximately 15,000 murders occur in the U.S. each year. The state, then, executes only about 0.4 percent of murderers. [27]   

Capital punishment is not swift.  According to the Department of Justice, American inmates executed in 2005 had been under the sentence of death for an average of 12 years and three months. [28]  The length of the trial, review, and appeal process hardly seems just to victims and their families, who wait years to see justice carried out—for the few cases that eventually end with execution.   Moreover, U.S. law—starting with the Constitution—shows considerable concern for the rights not only of the accused but also of the convicted. In the end, this lengthy appeal process hardly seems to be fair to the convicted murderer who is left for years to wonder about his fate—with the Mosaic Law, the criminal was, at least, sure of his future.  

Laws are unclear and improperly applied.  The Justice Department noted that, in 2005, 37 of 38 states with capital punishment statutes provided for an automatic judicial review of all death sentences. [29]  However, as DPIC notes, at best, this review process is uneven across individual American states. [30]  DPIC found that, in U.S. capital cases, juries often receive poor guidance on poorly worded laws, which adds to the uneven application of the death sentence.  Research shows that legal mistakes cause courts to overturn two-thirds of death sentences.  The likelihood of a death sentence’s overturn, says DPIC, reduces the deterrent effect of the death penalty even further. [31]

The burden of proof is often inadequate.  According to Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, from 1976—when the U.S. reinstated the death penalty—to 2005, at least 39 inmates may have been wrongfully executed.[32]  As we have seen, the Mosaic Law required a substantial and robust burden of proof. Hebrews could only execute those guilty beyond a doubt—not beyond the (sometimes subjective) “reasonable” doubt of American jurisprudence.  

The courts often apply the death penalty disproportionately to particular demographic groups.  Williams admits, “The disproportionality of blacks on death row is of grave concern, as is the possibility of verdicts involving erroneous convictions.” [33]  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2005, 42 percent of inmates under the death sentence were African American. [34]  Meanwhile, African Americans accounted for 37.1 percent of the overall U.S. prison population in 2013. [35] By contrast, African Americans comprised 12.6 percent of the U.S. population in 2010. [36]  

DPIC’s sampling of death penalty cases shows that the poor, the mentally impaired or mentally ill, and racial minorities receive the death penalty far more often—and often for less heinous crimes—than those with money, including organized crime figures. [37]  

According to DPIC, “It is beyond real debate that the underclass, the poor, and the black in the country disproportionately are the hardest hit and most often the target of capital punishment. Those without money to hire private attorneys and those not the favorite of police, prosecutors, judges, and governors are seen as the victims of discriminatory application of the death penalty.  While no effort is being made to cast aspersions on public defender agencies, the reality is that inadequate funding and staffing problems give rise to shortcomings in the quality of representation with respect to the resources of the government.” [38]  

Is Modern Capital Punishment Biblical?

In the final analysis, any biblical argument against the death penalty—as a concept—is weak.  Yet, among the well-reasoned and biblical arguments in favor of capital punishment, American Christians should find reasons to oppose the death penalty as it exists today.  Capital punishment is biblical in principle. However, its modern practice is not.  Under the Mosaic Law, Israel was a theocracy with no separate civil government. The Mosaic Law ensured that God’s standards of fairness, justice, and due process applied to both victim and the accused.  The modern practice of capital punishment fails to measure up to  God’s divine standards.

Capital Punishment:  Secular Authority vs. Biblical Practice

History shows the state has long been unable to carry out capital punishment in a consistently just way, without capriciousness.  While Jesus willfully surrendered to execution, Roman crucifixion—far more brutal and far slower, more torturous than the methods of execution called for in the Mosaic Law—seems not to have been just.  Jesus’ submission to execution by the state may have shown that He acknowledged the government’s right to capital punishment.  Unquestionably, His submission was not tantamount to His endorsement of its unbiblical methods. 

Lest any American Christian believe we should move to a more theocratic form of rule, with the church exercising authority over the civil government, we should look at history. Even Christian theocracies—medieval Roman Catholicism, Calvin’s Geneva, and Puritan New England come immediately to mind—have wielded the death penalty in a decidedly unholy manner, with few—if any—of the standards that governed the procedure under Mosaic Law.

Unlike the Hebrew practice of capital punishment, the death penalty in the United States is not assured, swift, evenly applied, does not require the same standards of proof (or protection from false testimony), and, as a result, is not a credible deterrent.  Capital punishment in the United States—arguably the fairest of legal systems that still permit the death penalty—fails to meet the biblically intended standard.

A look at the rest of the world should hardly encourage a Christian death penalty advocate.  According to Amnesty International, in 2012, countries (other than the U.S.) executing prisoners were:  Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Gambia, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. [39] 

These are primarily Islamic or totalitarian nations. Even among the few liberal democracies on the list, none see its jurisprudence system as shaped by the Bible or Judeo-Christian values.  Indeed, no Christian would argue that, on the surface, any of these nations appear to be any better model of biblical jurisprudence than the United States.  Yet, if Christians can accept that the unbiblical death penalty practices of the United States are fair and just—when they are not—what moral authority do we have to lecture other nations (states that do not assent to the authority of the Bible) against executing adulterers, political dissidents, religious apostates, and even Christians?  


Despite contrary assertions, the Mosaic Law provided a fair and just system for the administration, when necessary, of capital punishment.  No governing authority since the Hebrews lived under the Mosaic Law has lived up to this ethical standard of justice.  As this paper has shown, among the rulers who failed miserably in biblically administering capital punishment were “Christian” theocrats.  Indeed, no criminal justice system today metes out the death penalty in an entirely fair, just manner, fully consistent with the spirit of the biblical narrative.  Moreover, while life imprisonment may fail to remove a dangerous criminal from all interactions with society, the practice eliminates him as a physical danger to the public.  

What is the Christian to do? 

For thousands of years, society has been incapable of implementing the death penalty in the way God prescribed, and this seems unlikely to change soon.  While the modern state cannot administer capital punishment in a manner measuring up to God’s righteous standards, alternatives to capital punishment that protect society exist.  The Christian is correct to advocate for a more just implementation of the death penalty—one that captures the spirit of biblical capital punishment, if not its exact practice.  However, it seems that for now, the Christian is duty-bound to reject capital punishment under its present, unbiblical implementation.


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Snyder-Belousek, Darrin W.  “Capital Punishment, Covenant Justice and the Cross of Christ:  The Death Penalty in the Life and Death of Jesus.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 83, no. 3 (July 2009): 275-402.  ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 3, 2013).  

Unnever, James D., John P. Bartkowski, and Francis T. Cullen.  “God Imagery and Opposition to Abortion and Capital Punishment:  A Partial Test of Religious Support for the Consistent Life Ethic.”  Sociology of Religion 71, no. 3 (Fall 2010): 307-22.  ProQuest Religion (accessed April 3, 2013).  

U.S. Census Bureau. Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010.  Washington, DC:  U.S. Census Bureau, 2010.  (accessed April 29, 2013).

Williams, Alexander.  “Christian Ethics and Capital Punishment:  A Reflection.”  Journal of Religious Thought 48, no. 1 (June 1992):  59-77.  ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 3, 2013).  

“Wrongful Executions.” Northwestern University Law School, Center on Wrongful Convictions.  2005. (accessed April 30, 2013).  


[1] Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic, 2010), 205.  

[2] Ibid.  

[3] “Hebrew-English Dictionary Entry 7523.  Ratsach,” Bible Suite, n.d. 7523.htm (accessed May 5, 2013).  

[4] Ibid, 202.  

[5] James D. Unnever, John P. Bartkowski, and Francis T. Cullen, “God Imagery and Opposition to Abortion and Capital Punishment:  A Partial Test of Religious Support for the Consistent Life Ethic,” Sociology of Religion 71, no. 3 (Fall 2010): 308.  

[6] Peter Black, “Do Circumstances Ever Justify Capital Punishment?” Theological Studies 60, no. 2 (June 1999):  342.  

[7] All Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  

[8] This author acknowledges that many scholars doubt John 7:53-8:11 is original to the text.

[9] Geisler, Christian Ethics, 200.  

[10] James J. Megivern, “Biblical Argument in the Capital Punishment Debates.”  Perspectives in Religious Studies 8, no. 2 (June 1981): 144.  

[11] Geisler, 203.  

[12] Megivern, “Biblical Argument in the Capital Punishment Debates,” 144.  

[13] Geisler, 216.  

[14] J. B. Sewall, “Humaneness of the Mosaic Code,” Bibliotheca Sacra 19, no. 74 (April 1862): 371.  

[15] J. Daryl Charles, “Crime, the Christian, and Capital Punishment,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38, no. 3 (September 1995): 436.  

[16] Geisler, 214-8.  

[17] Dieter, Struck by Lightning, 15.  

[18] Stephen A. James, “Divine Justice and the Retributive Duty of Civil Government,” Trinity Journal 6, no. 2 (Fall 1985): 205-7.  

[19] Charles, “Crime, the Christian and Capital Punishment,” 440.  

[20] Geisler, 204.  

[21] Ibid.  

[22] Christian Life Commission, Christians and Capital Punishment (Dallas:  Baptist General Convention of Texas, 2003), 3.    

[23] Ballarda, “God’s Timeless Standard for the Nations?” 486.  

[24] Ibid.  

[25] Alexander Williams, “Christian Ethics and Capital Punishment:  A Reflection,” Journal of Religious Thought 48, no. 1 (June 1992):  71.  

[26] Richard C. Dieter, Struck by Lightning:  The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty Thirty-Five Years After Its Re-instatement in 1976 (Washington, DC:  Death Penalty Information Center, 2011), 5.  

[27] Tracy L.  Snell, Capital Punishment, 2005 (Washington, DC:  U.S. Department of Justice, 2005), 8-9.  

[28] Snell, Capital Punishment, 2005, 10.  

[29] Ibid, 3.  

[30] Dieter, 7-9.  

[31] James S. Liebman and Jeffrey Fagan, “A Broken System:  Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995,” Columbia University School of Law, 2000, (accessed April 30, 2013).  

[32] “Wrongful Executions,” Northwestern University Law School, Center on Wrongful Convictions, 2005,  

[33] Williams, “Christian Ethics and Capital Punishment,” 72.  

 [34] Snell, Capital Punishment, 2005, 1.  

[35] “Quick Facts About the Bureau of Prisons,” Federal Bureau of Prisons, March 30, 2013, (accessed April 30, 2013).  

[36] U.S. Census Bureau, Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010 (Washington, DC:  U.S. Census Bureau, 2010), 4. (accessed April 29, 2013).  

[37] Dieter, Struck by Lightning, 11-4.   [

38] Williams, “Christian Ethics and Capital Punishment,” 63.  

[39] Death Sentences and Executions: 2012. London:  Amnesty International, 2013.  http://www.amnesty. org/sites/ (accessed May 1, 2013) If the Bible seems to endorse capital punishment, why should Christians oppose the death penalty?



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