Judicial Execution and the Bible
Monday, June 11, 2001 Ė 1:32 PM (PDT), The Oklahoma City bomber has paid for his crime against humanity by giving up his own life at the hands of the United States government. Is it allowable in a biblical sense for human governments to exercise capital punishment on those who commit seriously heinous crimes who are charged with killing other people, especially innocent people like those who worked in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City? This is especially a necessary question since there are a multitude of verses (that I could cite) which show the sanctity of human life in the eyes of God and of Christ Jesus. Indeed, human life and its happy continuance is the central theme within all sections of the Gospel of Christ. The very salvation that we all want is based upon the perpetuation of life (in a sublime and powerful manner) throughout the rest of eternity. That is what Christ Jesus came to secure for us by His death on the tree of crucifixion and His resurrection back to spiritual life.
All humans ought to respect and to value the worth the life of each other human on earth, and that includes even our own lives. This is because it is God who gives life to all. It must be reckoned as sacrosanct. Life is so valuable to God that His salvation (as I just mentioned) is a promise from Him that each of us will experience a period in the future in which death (because it is an enemy) will be annihilated. The destruction of "death" will come by a grand resurrection from the dead that will embrace all humans who have ever lived on earth (I Corinthians 15:22-28). All mankind will eventually be granted that divine salvation that Christ Jesus has worked out for us by His activities that He performed as a substitute for each of us (see I Timothy 2:4). This means that "life" and its perpetuation is the centerpiece of Christian doctrine. And "death" (any death dealing with human beings) is reckoned by God as an "enemy" that will soon be defeated. See the new Second Edition of my book "The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine" that explains these things in a detailed way.
If "death" is an enemy to all Christians, is it right or even allowable to execute another human in a judicial sense for high crimes against others of the human race? One might think this is the case, and that Christians have nothing to do with the judicial killing of any person. But wait a moment. Death is not the end for humanity. God can resurrect such a person back to life. In fact, through the efforts of Christ Jesus, there is promised by God a resurrection for all people who have ever died (no matter the manner in which their deaths have taken place). So, even the death of a human on earth is only a temporary thing, and it is not as severe or as terminable as some might think. Again, see my book above for the details on this matter.
The fact is, there IS a resurrection coming to all people (see I Corinthians 15:20-28). This fact does mitigate things in the eyes of most mature Christians. In the meantime, does God show that it is justified for the governments of this world to execute outright criminals who do not value the rights of others to live in tranquility and peace like those of society are expected to do? In the very beginning of the Book of Genesis we find God telling humanity that if they kill or maim others: "At the hand of man [that is, by man doing the job]ÖI require the life of man [the killing of the perpetrator]. Whoso sheddeth manís blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man" (Genesis 9:5,6). Also at the start of the history of Israel, God gave to the judges of that nation a dictum to which He expected their judiciary to adhere. For any type of "mischief" God demanded: "Thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, stripe for stripe" (Exodus 21:23-25). If this law of God were applied to the case of the Oklahoma Bomber who openly confessed to his terrorism, then the government should have tied a stick of dynamite to his chest, strapped him to a post, and then detonated the dynamite. Severe? Unkindly? Crude? Yes, possibly on all three counts! But still, God must have thought the procedure a proper one in order to serve as an example to others for the preservation of society from evil individuals who might be inclined to commit the same "mischief."
But what if the murderer confessed repentance for his crimes and begged for mercy? Certainly, each case must be judged on its own merit. But note that when one of the two robbers at Christís crucifixion asked Christ to forgive him of his doings (and Christ did, even by saying the man would be in Paradise with Him), yet the man was still executed for those crimes.
As a further example, when the apostle Paul heard that a Christian man in the City of Corinth in Greece was living with (and having sex with) his fatherís wife (whether the father was dead or not, we are not told), Paul was incensed over the vile act that he said was revolting even to the Gentiles (I Corinthians 5:1). He demanded: "Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (verse 5). What did Paul mean by his sentence to "deliver unto Satan"? This is easy to explain.
You see, Satan is the angel that God has placed in charge of all governments on earth (and that includes not only evil and rogue governments, but he is in personal authority also of benevolent and democratic ones). We are all aware that human governments have laws to govern their societies. Most of them have legal statutes in which it is demanded that judicial executions take place by government officials against criminals in order to protect the societies (even though Satan has been placed in charge of them). As a reminder of this principle of Satanís control of the earthís governments (under God, of course) is when Satan told Christ that if Christ would but worship Satan, that the angel would give Christ "all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them" (Matthew 4:8,9). Satan would have bestowed on Christ total dominion over all governments on earth. Christ, however, refused to worship Satan even when Satan had such power to do as he promised. It is important for us to note that Christ did not rebuke Satan as being a liar in his boast. The Bible clearly shows that Satan was (and still is) the present prince of the air (atmosphere) that surrounds all the nations on earth with his authority, and even the kind and moderate governments are his to command. For the full teaching of this intriguing Ė yet misunderstood -- subject, see my new Second Edition of my book "The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine".
What does this mean in regard to the Christian brother who was committing incest of the most vile kind (according to Paul). Paul knew that the City of Corinth had on its law books the death penalty for such a crime of incest (and Corinth was a part of the world-system over which Satan is in control). So, Paul said to deliver such a person to the civil authorities who would subject him to trial in a court of law and then execute him. Sure, Paul knew that the manís spirit would be saved in the resurrection, but Paul actively promoted the right of the civil authorities to execute the man "for the destruction of the flesh" (I Corinthians 5:5). Thankfully, the man fully repented of his actions, and it was so genuine and thorough that in his case the members of the Body of Christ (the ekklesia) forgave him entirely (II Corinthians 2:6,7). The brother was NOT handed over to the civil authorities and his life was spared.
In summation, the apostle Paul (who wrote under divine inspiration) said: "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power [of the government]? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee [even within Satanís realm] for good. But if thou do which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain [which the government will use for judicial killings]: for he [in this regard] is a minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Romans 13:3,4). Thus, according to the Word of God, the Oklahoma City Bomber paid for his terrible crime in a proper biblical manner.
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