2019-09-16 Off With His Head!

“And God blessed Noah”
Genesis 9:1a

We’ve been reading a bible plan through our home church. I’m already in a plan, so I’m reading two right now. It’s interesting to see what a person can pick up just a few months after reading the very same material! For instance, we covered Exodus 21 & 22 in which is prescribed death for all sorts of offenses. That got me to thinking about capital punishment today. Is this a practice God is requiring now, or is it optional? Or, is this something of a barbaric day gone by? How do we respond when the world accuses us of hypocrisy for our condemning abortion yet promoting the death penalty?

This was our topic for home church yesterday. I’ll give you the condensed version that was drawn from sermons by R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur. If anyone is interested, message me for the links. First, let’s establish some justification that capital punishment isn’t simply an Old Testament practice that has been replaced by Jesus’ other teaching, such as ‘turn the other cheek.’

In Matthew 26, we find Jesus rebuking one of his disciples (Peter, from other accounts) for striking a man with his sword. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52) Is this the basis forbidding us against capital punishment (and war, for that matter)? If I was Peter, I would be confused by that because just hours before, Jesus commanded the disciples to sell their cloak to buy a sword. In fact, they reported that they had two swords and Jesus said, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38) So, Jesus’ rebuke to put away the sword must not have been a condemnation of swords but rather its unauthorized use. Jesus didn’t command him to attack. Killing in this case would have been murder, which would have been punishable by death.

Paul confirms the legitimacy of the death penalty when he had his day in court and appealed to Caesar. “But Paul said, ‘I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrong-doer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.’” (Acts 25:10-11)

We also have clear instructions from Paul in Romans. Let’s take a look at this:

Romans 12:1-5 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

There are all sorts of implications to this, not only for refusing to administer capital punishment but for the establishment of the United States as well!

Ok, so we see that the death penalty has been legitimized and defended in the New Testament, but exactly WHY was is established in the first place? To answer that, we go all the way back to the days when the flood subsided. It was then that God blessed Noah and his sons. Let’s take a look at this. I’m going to mark it up with MacArthur’s heading:

Genesis 9:1-6 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. (Procreation, i.e. family) The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. (Prominence) Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. (Provision) But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood (Prohibition) And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

These are the blessings that God gave Noah and his sons. Normally, we think of the death penalty as punishment, but God looks at it as a blessing for the people. This severe action serves as a deterrent and therefore protects everyone. Just imagine, if you will, if this was strictly enforced. I’ll bet murder would be rare. As it is, studies show that capital punishment is NOT a deterrent to crime, EXCEPT that it is inconsistently enforced. We all know that parents need to be consistent if they hope to have behaved children, right? The same is true with capital punishment. That’s a no-brainer for me.

It’s a mindset, folks. If we look at it as a blessing, it makes sense. Certainly, carrying out this punishment would be no treat, but it would be very rare. Murder would be rare. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Oh, and the reason that God has a problem with murder? It’s in the last line of Noah’s blessing.

“For God made man in his own image.”

Murder is an act against God.

Father, thank you for making all this clear. It is not good to be divided in my thinking, not knowing where I stand on such an important topic as this. Thank you for settling this matter. Amen.

Copyright © 2019 Scott Powers

Photo credit: Bri Bjorgan

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