JESUS and the DEATH PENALTY
Many Christians have wondered,
“Did Jesus favor the Old Testament death penalty or
did Jesus overrule the Old Testament death penalty?”
Most Christians conclude that Jesus overruled Jehovah's Old Testament death penalties when Jesus set the adulteress free in John 8:7 by saying, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." But if you read my other essay, entitled, "What did Jesus write on the ground during the trial of the woman taken in adultery?", it should be clear in that essay that Jesus did NOT overrule the death penalty for adultery in that story (or overrule any of Jehovah's other Old Testament death penalties either). In fact, in Matthew 15:4 and Mark 7:10, Jesus goes even further and actually recommends the death penalty for those who merely cursed their parents, by saying,
"For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and
'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'"
In the Old Testament, Jehovah commanded the death penalty for more than 20 different crimes, yet five of those crimes were merely verbal crimes, and cursing your parents was the least of all the verbal crimes.
(The Sin) (The punishment) *(Mercy?)* Reference
1. Idolatry---------------death Show NO mercy Deut. 13:6-11
2. Advocating Idolatry----death Show NO mercy Deut. 13:6-11
3. Murder-----------------death Show NO mercy Deut. 19:11-13
4. Kidnapping-------------death May show mercy Exod. 21:16
5. Adultery---------------death May show mercy Lev. 20:10
6. Promiscuity (fornication
with at least one other
person preceding marriage
to someone else)------death May show mercy Deut. 22:13-21
7. Prostitution-----------death May show mercy Lev. 21:9
8. Homosexuality----------death May show mercy Lev. 20:13
9. Bestiality------------death May show mercy Exod. 22:19
10. Witchcraft-------------death May show mercy Exod. 22:18
11. Working on Sabbath-----death May show mercy Exod. 31:15
12. Drunkenness------------death May show mercy Deut. 21:18-21
13. Profligate-------------death May show mercy Deut. 21:18-21
14. Attacking your parents-death May show mercy Exod. 21.15
15. Reckless endangerment
of an adult which
causes death----------death May show mercy Exod. 21:28-29
16. Reckless endangerment
of the life of a fetus
which causes its death
abortion)-----death May show mercy Exod. 21:22-23
17. Cursing God/Blasphemy--death May show mercy Lev. 24:15-16
18. Cursing a Judge---death May show mercy Deut. 17:12-13
19. Being a False Prophet---death May show mercy Deut. 13:1-5
20. Cursing your parents---death May show mercy Exod. 21:17; Lev. 20:9
So, since Jesus clearly recommends the death penalty for adults who commit the least of all the crimes requiring a death penalty (the mere verbal crime of adults cursing their
parents), then what "more serious" judicial penalty would Jesus have recommended for the 19 more serious crimes for which God's Old Testament Law also prescribed a death penalty (like idolatry, murder and adultery)?
In addition, notice that the Old Testament law about the death penalty for cursing your parents occurs in TWO places, one of which is Leviticus 20:9, which is listed immediately above the law concerning the death penalty for adultery in Leviticus 20:10. So if Jesus agreed with the death penalty for those who merely cursed their parents as recorded in Leviticus 20:9, then Jesus would also clearly agree with the death penalty for adultery as recorded in the very next verse, Leviticus 20:10. This provides further evidence that Jesus did NOT overrule the death penalty for adultery in John 8:7 when Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
"But isn't God merciful?"
So, where is the chance for God's mercy in
the face of these possible death penalties?"
Please note in the above list of 20 death penalties that it is written: "Show him NO pity" (NIV) in both Deuteronomy 13:8 and Deuteronomy 19:13 for the crimes of idolatry and murder, respectively. But this expression, "Show him NO pity", is conspicuously absent for all other crimes involving the death penalty. Therefore, since the Holy Spirit purposely avoided using the expression, "Show him NO pity", for any capital crime other than Idolatry and Murder, then God is confirming that judges should "Show mercy" (if at all possible) for all the other crimes associated with the death penalty! That is why I have concluded and therefore have written that the judge "May show mercy" for the crimes numbered 4-20.
Furthermore, God commands judges to love to show mercy! For it is written:
"....what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy...."
(Micah 6:8 NIV)
God also says that true justice actually involves showing mercy and compassion! For it is written:
"This is what the Lord Almighty says:
'Administer true justice;
show mercy and compassion to one another."
(Zechariah 7:9 NIV)
So despite the fact that there are at least 20 death penalties recorded in the Bible, God evidently does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. Instead, God takes pleasure when the wicked repent in the courtroom so the judge can show God's mercy and allow the criminal to live. For it is written:
"Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?
declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased
when they turn from their ways and live?.....For I take
no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the
Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!"
(Ezekiel 18:23,32 NIV)
You see, God's purpose in creating these 20+ death penalties was not so he could execute every Israelite who committed adultery or homosexuality, etc.. Rather, God's purpose was to prosecute them and provide them with the opportunity in court to recognize that they have sinned against God, so they can confess, repent, and be forgiven by God and the Judge, in order that they might live, and not have to be executed!
Now if this was the criminal's first offense or if he were extremely young, then the judge might send him home with no punishment at all, and only warn him to "Go and sin no more". For it is written:
"In every case that comes before you.....you are to
warn them not to sin..." (2 Chronicles 19:10 NIV)
If, however this was the criminal's second or third offense, (yet he still appeared to be humbly repentant and was begging forgiveness from God and the judge) then the judge may still allow him to live, but may instead give him a whipping (from a mere one lash, up to a maximum of 40 lashes) as a merciful alternative to execution! For it is written:
"When men have a dispute, they are to take it to court
and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the
innocent and condemning the guilty. If the guilty man
deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make him lie
down and have him flogged in his presence with the
number of lashes his crime deserves, but he must not
be given more than 40 lashes."
(Deuteronomy 25:1-3 NIV)
Here God gives the command to whip those convicted of certain crimes, yet Scripture neither specifies which crimes deserve whipping, nor does it specify how many lashes should be given for any given crime. Therefore, it is clear that God was allowing the Israelite judges to use whipping at their own discretion, either as a merciful alternative to execution, or for miscellaneous crimes where the Bible does not give a specific penalty.
Moreover, God intended the whipping to be done right in front of the judge, probably so the judge could hear any further cries for mercy, and probably also so the judge could inspect the criminal's back to insure that no serious physical injury was occurring. In this way, the judge could stop the whipping at any point so he could demonstrate even more of the mercy of God.
Therefore, because of God's emphasis on mercy, it is clear that God would not want these "Biblical whips" to be designed as instruments of cruelty and torture--with stones, bones, metal, or glass sewn into the whip to tear and rip the flesh of their victims. Instead, God probably wanted these whips merely to serve as simple instruments of pain which would never cause any serious or permanent injury at all.
Now Man's philosophy for deterring crime reserves the threat of execution only for hard-core criminals, and completely hides the threat of execution from all the other lesser criminals. But God's philosophy for deterring violent crime and sexual immorality evidently involves bringing the death penalty "right up front" as the standard punishment for most all serious crimes except for stealing. In this way, the judges are required to show mercy if at all possible, unless Scripture absolutely forbids showing mercy (as in the case of idolatry and pre-meditated murder, where death was the mandatory punishment). In all other cases however, death was the maximum punishment, but not the mandatory punishment.
Thus God's courtroom philosophy of "up front" death penalties not only provides a much greater deterrent to violent crime, sexual immorality, and drunkenness, but also transforms courtroom tradition from one of punishment--to one of mercy in the face of a death penalty! In other words, after the sinner is convicted, instead of the judge trying to decide how much punishment to give, he now has to decide how much mercy to give! In this way, God intended each courtroom to develop a "Ministry of Mercy"!
In summary, Christ supported the death penalty in the context of a courtroom "Ministry of Mercy". Thus God's Old Testament Mosaic CIVIL Laws were intended created a divine standard for all future courts (from ancient Israel to modern America) to exalt mercy over execution, so "Mercy can triumph over judgement." (James 2:13b NIV)
It is clear therefore that Christ never abolished the death penalty, just as Christ never abolished any other Laws of God, according to what is written:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law...
I have not come to abolish them..."
(Matthew 5:17 NIV)
Some Christians however, mistakenly conclude that even though Christ never abolished the Law, that he still either voided it or made it worthless by "fulfilling" it--as if somehow the moment the Law was "fulfilled", that God's Civil Laws suddenly became powerless to keep the unrighteous majority on their best behavior, and suddenly lost their superior advantages over Man's laws for the administration of sound and virtuous government!
But Christ anticipated that Christians would distort what he was saying about the Law. So, just after Christ stated (in verse 17) that he would never abolish the Law, he then stated (in verse 18) that he would never change the Law either! For in verse 18 Christ specified that every single letter in the entire law would remain in effect forever, and would never be changed or nullified under any circumstances, until heaven and earth passed away, at the end of the upcoming thousand-year reign of Christ here on earth. For it is written:
"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear,
not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen,
will by any means disappear from the Law."
(Matthew 5:18 NIV)
You see, if you change the words in a law, those original words disappear from that law, and are replaced by other words. But Christ is saying that not even the smallest letter of a single word will disappear from the Law until heaven and earth pass away.
Therefore, Christ is teaching all generations of all Christians that no part of the Law will ever be changed in any way whatsoever, but will remain in effect forever (i.e. until heaven and earth pass away)! After all, it was Christ himself who originally gave these laws to Moses in the first place (when Christ was in the form of the pre-incarnate Jehovah), so why would Jesus disagree with himself later on and change his mind! That doesn't make any sense, now does it!
Moreover, it is blasphemy to think that Christ's work (of giving these wonderful laws to Moses) was flawed! For if Christ was only capable of writing an imperfect set of Laws for Moses which he didn't realize would have to changed later on, then this means that Christ was not "All-knowing"! Furthermore, if Christ deliberately gave us an inferior set of laws which he knew could not solve the problems of national government, and he purposely withheld his best laws (which he would only reveal to us during his upcoming thousand-year reign on earth) then Christ was not "All-loving"!
In other words, if Christ changed any of the Mosaic Laws at any time, then either Christ was not wise enough to write a perfect set of laws the first time, or he was not loving enough to give us the best of his laws which he had written, and therefore purposely gave us a defective set of laws which would have to be improved upon later on!
But thankfully, the Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testament reveal to us that God gave Moses a perfect set of laws which "he intended to be valid forever". For it is written:
"Long ago I learned from your statutes that you
established them to last forever."
(Psalm 119:152 NIV)
"All your righteous laws are eternal."
(Psalm 119:160b NIV)
"Your statutes are forever right."
(Psalm 119:144 NIV)
So both David (in the Old Testament) and Christ (in the New Testament) say that all the principles underlying God's civil laws (even the smallest and least significant of these principles) are not only still valid today but will never be changed for any reason whatsoever, and will remain in effect throughout all time until heaven and earth pass away at the end of Christ's upcoming thousand-year reign on earth!
Now before I end this essay, I feel I must explain to you why Christ would support a standard penalty of death for children who merely curse or attack their parents. (Matthew 15:3-4; Mark 7:9-10; Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9 NIV)
You see, God encourages parents to physically discipline their children, even with the rod (a "hickory stick") if necessary, according to the book of Proverbs. (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15 NIV) But it is during parental rebuke and/or physical discipline that that the most rebellious offspring are tempted to curse or attack their parents.
So Christ's plan was to link civil authority with parental authority, by having civil authority support parental authority to discipline our children, instead of undermining parental authority to discipline our children (which is one of the problems we have here in America today). For God intended these civil laws to help to stop rebellion against parental authority and to increase obedience and conformity to God's laws.
But in modern America, in an effort to avoid violent child abuse, our government is foolishly forbidding parents to physically discipline their children, a philosophy which undermines parental authority and can only exacerbate the cultural passion of our youth to further rebel against parental and civil authority.
God's laws however, force both parents and offspring to recognize that rebellion against parental authority by attacking or even cursing parents, changes the nature of the sin from a "family crime" to a "civil crime", and that now the offspring must be brought into civil court for his rebellion against authority and face a possible death sentence!
But according to Micah 6:8, the judge is still commanded by God to find a reason to be merciful if at all possible. Reasons to be merciful might include any of the following:
"Is the defendant just a child?"
"Is this his first offense?"
"Is he humbly repentant?"
"Is he begging for mercy?"
This means that if the offspring is convicted in court, then he must admit his guilt by confession, repent of his sin, and beg for the judge to show God's mercy on him in order for the offspring to avoid execution. And, after going through this process just once, you know that this particular offspring will probably never curse or attack his parents again and will be much more submissive to parental rebuke and physical discipline in the future.
On the other hand, if this were the rare adolescent who is in court a second time for attacking or cursing his parents and is again facing a standard death sentence for this crime, the judge might give him a few lashes with a whip (as a merciful alternative to execution) with a warning that if he cursed or attacked his parents again that he would again have to face the death penalty, or at best receive a much more serious whipping as a merciful alternative to execution the next time!
But suppose this was a very large 16 year old boy who had been to court several times already for cursing and attacking his father or mother while being physically disciplined. And further suppose that he has already received as many as twenty lashes for previous convictions of drunkenness, working on the Sabbath, and blasphemy, as well as for actually beating up his smaller father who was only half his size! It is clear that this boy despises parental discipline, but that he needs parental discipline in order to restrain the sins of the flesh. And it is for cases just like this one that Christ designed this law to link parental authority with civil authority, to bolster the effect of parental discipline in order to increase obedience and conformity to the laws of God.
The judge has spared the boy's life each time in the past because the boy "feigned repentance" in the courtroom, but now he is back in court again for the cursing his father while being rebuked or disciplined and he is clearly unrepentant in the courtroom. Furthermore, it is also clear that his previous efforts at repentance were fraudulent, and that he doesn't just disobey God's Law but that he despises God's law! So in this case, the judge will likely not be able to find any reason to be merciful, and so this boy will be executed now, long before he can become a true menace to society at large because of his escalating rebellion against the authority of both God and Men!
So as you can see, God's View of Mercy for crimes "requiring" execution, involves 17 crimes which have a standard penalty of death from which the judges are required to look for a reason to show mercy if at all possible, and only reluctantly execute those who willfully, repeatedly, and unrepentantly continue to violate God's laws, revealing that these criminals don't just disobey God's laws, but that they actually despise God's Laws. For it was not those who merely disobeyed God's Law, but those who despised God's Law who were executed without mercy! For it is written:
"He that despised Moses law died without mercy
under two or three witnesses..."
(Hebrews 10:28 KJV)
God designed these "up-front" death penalties not only to create a much greater deterrent to violent crime, sexual immorality, and drunkenness, but also to create a courtroom "Ministry of Mercy" as well as a "Ministry of Restoration", so sinners can be restored back into a right relationship with God and with the community of believers!
And that, is God's View of Mercy for crimes "requiring" execution!