Just last week, the Attorney General made the decision to implement the death penalty for the first time since 2003, against 5 extremely awful terrible people. This has brought the debate over the propriety of the death penalty back to life. (There’s a joke there somewhere.) Christians of good conscience can come down on either side without being heretics, although it may be contentious. That said, the Bible is very clear about the death penalty: God demands the death penalty for murder.
Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
“Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.”
Obviously, this is talking about the execution of murderers, but it is important to note the reason that God gives; we are made in His image. Based on this passage, the intentional, unjustified destruction of an image bearer is an act that is inherently worthy of death. This extends even to animals, as an animal that kills a human deserves death as well, which is what God means by requiring their lifeblood. The value of a human being is such that the only suitable recompense for destroying it is the killer’s own life.
It may well be argued that since God is the One who requires the death of the murderer, He should be the one to collect. While He is certainly able to collect what is owed Him, God has given man the duty of executing murderers. This responsibility is given specifically to the government, as Paul explains in Romans 13:3-4.
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
As the Apostle says, the government doesn’t carry a sword just because it looks cool. By ‘the sword’ of course, he means the exercise of lethal force against humans; swords have literally no other purpose than to kill other people. If you use a sword on someone and they don’t die, you’ve messed up somewhere.
By giving government the authority to wield lethal force, God has deputised it to collect the debt owed to Him by murderers, namely their lives. As Paul himself says, “it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” God requires the lifeblood of murderers, and has deputised the government to collect. Thus, the death penalty, far from being unbiblical, is required by the Bible, at least in the case of murder.
While execution may seem unpleasant to our modern sensibilities, it is not actually as barbaric as it would seem. To keep things in perspective, we need to keep in mind what a murderer has done. By definition, they have intentionally slaughtered an innocent human being. There is no restitution that can be made for this crime; you can’t un-kill somebody, and no amount of money is equal to the value of a human life. The only thing of equal value to a human life is another human life.
Life in prison without parole does not accomplish the same purpose as execution, for the simple reason that the murderer goes on living, often for decades, despite having deprived an innocent person, or even multiple innocent people, of their lives. God’s demand that murderers be executed is clear; it is the government’s obligation to execute a murderer. No other punishment can be just.
AG Barr has made a good start, but if we are to have a truly just society, the death penalty must be mandatory for murderers.
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