NCW 69: August 2000 - January 2001
Q. Does the New Covenant Church believe that capital punishment is right? And of so, for what category of person?
A. I have to admit that for me personally this is one of the questions I dislike answering the most because it is such a serious one. Whatever my personal feelings about this issue - feelings that have been sensitised by the culture in which I live more than I would perhaps care to admit - there are some important things that need to be said.
For the benefit of human society Yahweh ordained that "whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen.9:6, KJV). For murder committed "presumptuously" - premeditated - He decreed death invariably; but of unpremeditated (manslaughter), He provided for mercy - a way to escape death by fleeing to and remaining in cities of refuge (Ex.21:12-14; Lev.24:17; Num.35:10-34; Dt.19:1-13; Josh.20). One can only presume that Yahweh gave these instructions because He knew that they would persuade men to keep life sacred and lessen the incidence of murder, so that bloodshed would not pollute the land (Num.35:33).
It is of course a good thing to see amongst the more noble a humane, constructive, merciful spirit that seeks to uplift and rehabilitate those committing crimes rather than to destroy them. But, as is always the case in such grave matters, finding the right balance between justice and mercy is not an easy one. In the past justice tended to outweigh mercy - today we seem to have moved to the opposite pole. Sentences for murderers are now often too light, pardons are usually given and paroles are generally granted too soon.
It is also right that a great responsibility should be associated with taking human life in a judicial way. No murderer should be executed unless admitting or being clearly proven guilty of killing with premeditated, wilful, malicious intent. But public sentiment today is much too lenient in our view; it opposes capital punishment for even the worst of premeditated murderers. Both the increase in murder and the public indifference to it can only be ascribed to a disregard generally of Yahweh's laws. As the punishment of criminals is relaxed, crime invariably increases greatly, as is true in our own day. Despite contrary claims, I think capital punishment is a deterrent to murder for the majority of the criminally-minded, and is a drastic solution benefiting society for those who will not reform and are likely to commit the same crime again if released.
But what of the premeditated murderer who genuinely reforms and become potentially a useful member of society again? Could there be an exception to the rule? I know of many former murderers who have become law-abiding and peace-loving Christians who are at large in society and no threat to anyone in spite of their former ways. Truly Christ can completely change an individual. But should such a person escape execution?
Christians remain divided over the subject. I think it is always safest to err on the side of mercy than justice, if there is any doubt as to guilt or not. But what if the picture is clear-cut? Should there be an opportunity for rehabilitation, and does the Word give us the right to think along these lines?
The Scriptures talk of murderers whose lives were saved - David and Moses in the Old Testament, and Saul in the New spring to mind. Yahweh saved the lives of these people. True, Moses' murder was accidental, but David's was premeditated. Was he saved by the power of kingship? Whatever the reason, Yahweh saved his life and used him. Finally, Saul of Tarsus was guilty of the blood of righteous Stephen and other Christians. It is noteworthy that Stephen forgave his murderers unconditionally, as one presumes the other murdered Christians did. Notice that Yah'shua (Jesus) unconditionally forgave His executioners too because of their ignorance of what they were doing.
There is no doubt that the New Covenant inaugurated a wholly new spiritual and practical approach. To the woman caught in adultery (an offence punishable by execution in the Law of Moses), forgiveness was obtained on condition that the offence was not repeated. There seems to be a fresh chance for capital offences. Also the woman in question was let off because Yah'shua (Jesus) pointed out to her erstwhile executioners that really they had no right to execute her whilst there was any sin in their lives. Thus not only are we presented with a way out for the sincerely repentant but there is some question as to whether an human being has the right to execute another so long as he is with sin. And since everyone is a sinner by definition, does this not imply that nobody should be shedding blood, not even of the wicked? We are reminded also that vengeance is the Lord's, and one could argue that execution is a kind of "revenge" on the part of society.
If only it were so simple, though. The execution of Annanias and Saphira for theft by Yahweh Himself reminds us that justice has not been set aside in the New Covenant. Moreover, the "vengeance" argument is more to do with evil feelings than with the execution of justice. Man is too impure to execute righteous vengeance as the Lord is able to. Furthermore, it is quite possible to execute someone without any sort of vengeance being entertained. To suggest that execution is evil implies that Yahweh sanctioned evil in the Old Covenant, effectively making Him evil as well. Does God contradict Himself? Do His ethics and values change? If they do, why were Annanias and Saphira executed by Him in the New Covenant dispensation?
We are informed in the Torah that premeditated murder was punishable by execution for a reason other than vengeance, namely, to blot out pollution from the land. Murder pollutes the land. The justice of God demands that pollution be eliminated, and that can only be done by executing the murderer. Whereas such an execution would have been summary under the Old Covenant, I believe that under the New there is a special provision for the murderer who genuinely reforms. If the woman caught in adultery, meriting a punishment equal to that of a murderer, is given a second chance, might not such a principle apply to a murderer also?
I give as my opinion that a genuinely repentant murderer should be given a second chance but that if he repeats the crime, summary execution should follow swiftly. The problem arises with those who might fake their repentance and who, loosed on society again, might simply repeat their crime. This being a real danger, obviously a very strict and thorough review of the situation should be made. Perhaps such a person should be a life prisoner, depending on the signs of reformation.
Having said this, I know the risks are great, and therefore would counsel great, great care. I suppose every case should be treated on its own merits. Would one extend the same grace to a mass murderer who simply killed for pleasure as to a man who carefully planned and killed his wife who made his life a misery? What of the man who killed for money? Where, then, would one draw the lines? One potentially enters a quagmire.
I give as my opinion this further clarification: that the penalty for any sort of premeditated murder is death but that there should be exceptions in very special cases, with the burden of proof falling on the condemned that there has been a genuine, permanent reformation. How one would administer such a system save within a Christian context I would not care to suggest. How does one preserve the best interests of society? I only know that this is a most unpleasant and difficult matter to weigh up. What about the relatives of the deceased, those who under the Law of Moses had the right to execute? Should they also have a voice? Should they be the ones carrying out the execution? Of course, were the deceased alive, he should naturally be given the right to pardon or not, but since this is impossible, the question is moot.
Perhaps we, that is, society, don't even have the right to stay an execution order. Is there any evidence that Yahweh has revoked His commandment in the Torah? Seemingly not. Whilst we are to forgive in our hearts the wrongs of criminals, not harbouring any revenge, do we have the right to prevent the carrying out of Yahweh's Sentence, in this case, the execution of a self-confessed or proven wilful murderer? Is it simply His will in all circumstances that such persons be removed from the sphere of this life, leaving their eternal fate to that heavenly Court? When we ignore the plain teaching of the Torah we tend to complexify issues and to blur the edges of righteousness. We should perhaps just do what Yahweh says in spite of our feelings. Such tends to be the only safe way.
This page was created on 22 January 2001
Last updated on 22 January 2001
Copyright © 1987-2008 NCCG - All Rights Reserved