“Is the death penalty dying in Dallas?” was the heading of a front page article yesterday in the Dallas Morning News.
“Public sentiment on the ultimate sentence has shifted over time,” observed Staff writer, Tasha Tsiapheras. She cited several examples.
“A college student killed three people at a drug house in a premeditated robbery.”
“A former special education teacher and U. S. Army veteran killed his girlfriend, her teenage daughter, his estranged wife, and her adult daughter and severely wounded four children in a two city rampage.
Although the crimes were heinous, neither killer received the death sentence from Dallas County jurors. The article said that “juries have declined death sentences in nearly half of the cases presented to them in the past two years.”
Prosecutors, juries, and the general public have changed their minds about capital punishment in the past 40 years. Former district attorney, Tim Cole, now a law professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas said, “It is time for the death penalty to go away.”
I wondered if God had changed his mind. So I put down the newspaper and picked up my Bible. Here’s what I found.
In the Beginning
During the patriarchal age when God spoke directly to the fathers, God authorized capital punishment. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This text teaches five important things.
(1) Human life is sacred.
(2) Human life is not the same as animal life.
(3) People bear the imprint of God
(4) To take a human life is to take away that which was created to the glory of God.
(5) One who takes a life forfeits the right to live.
The Law of Moses
God gave Moses the 10 Commandments that have greatly impacted the morals and ethics of the Western world for the past 3400 years. The 6th commandment says, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). The Mosaic law specified 18 crimes that carried the death penalty, including murder. God said, “Whoever kills another person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty” (Num 35:30)
The Christian Age
In today’s Christian age the government is identified as God’s minister and authorized to exercise capital punishment.
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Rom 13:1-4).
While there are emotional arguments against the death sentence, even from religious leaders, God has authorized the death penalty in every dispensation.
Since the Bible is God’s final revelation, and we have “the faith once delivered to the saints ( Jude 3), I would conclude that God has not changed his mind about capital punishment. The prophet Isaiah expressed it this way. “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8)
Capital punishment ought not to be considered lightly. Only men and women of unquestionable integrity and sound judgment should sit on juries deciding capital cases.
I agree with the sentiment expressed by former first lady Nancy Reagan that “more people would be alive today if there were a death penalty.”
But one thing is for sure. God hasn’t changed his mind about capital punishment.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman