Teaching: Does the New Testament of the Bible support the death penalty / capital punishment?

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[This article was taken from the booklet, The Death Penalty: Godly or Ungodly?]

We should not expect God to have to repeat Himself in the New Testament if what He said in the Old Testament still applies. Yet people often think that if the New Testament does not specifically state something, it must not be true. However, God’s laws are to be considered binding, unless He tells us there is a change. For example, in the Old Testament God commanded animal sacrifice, so why do we not have it today? We do not just ignore the law because sacrificing animals is distasteful to us, nor do we really believe that God changed and “became more civilized.” Rather, the New Testament specifically tells us that animal sacrifices were made unnecessary because Christ was a permanent sacrifice. So there was a change in the law and God told us of that change.

There are many people who will admit that the Old Testament supports the death penalty, but deny that the New Testament does also. That is just not the case, as we will now show. The first thing to notice in the New Testament is that Jesus Christ never said anything against the death penalty. In fact, he specifically stated that he had not come to put an end to the Law. [6] Even when he appeared before Pilate, Jesus never denied that Pilate had the legal authority to execute him. If he were against the death penalty, this would have been a good place to say it. In fact, there is no record of any person in the Bible stating that the death penalty is wrong in the eyes of God.

People sometimes say that Jesus taught us to love our fellow man, as if the death penalty were not loving. But God is love, and He commanded the death penalty for certain crimes. Furthermore, Jesus got his teaching on love from the Old Testament. When Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself,” he was quoting Leviticus 19:18. The Law of Moses did teach love, and part of that love for people and society was to protect them from evil by enforcing the Law, which included the death penalty.

When something is clearly established in the Old Testament as the will of God, it does not need to be repeated word by word in the New Testament so we will know that it is still the will of God. When God wants to change something, like His laws concerning animal sacrifice or circumcision, He tells us. The proper way to interpret Scripture is to believe that God’s will is constant unless He tells us He has new rules for us. In the case of capital punishment for murderers, kidnappers, etc., not only does God not say He changed His mind in the New Testament, He confirms what He said in the Old Testament.

1 Timothy 1:8-10
(8) We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.
(9) We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,
(10) for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders [man-stealers] and liars and perjurers–and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.

It is noteworthy that these verses in the New Testament say that the Law is good if it is used properly, and then go on to say that the Law was made for people such as murderers. If God had changed His mind about what He said in the Old Testament, and decided that we should not execute criminals, this would have been the perfect place to say so. Surely it is not good exegesis of Scripture to read that “the Law is good” and was made for murderers, kidnappers and the like, and then say that according to the New Testament we should not execute criminals.

These verses in Timothy echo Romans 7:12, which says, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” It is important to note that murder, perjury and kidnapping, crimes we have examined in this booklet, are all specifically mentioned in the New Testament in the context of the Law being good and made for such people. In verse 10 above, the NIV has “slave traders” when the Greek text actually has “man-stealers.” In the ancient world, most people were kidnapped for money. Today, kidnappers sometimes kidnap for ransom money, but in the ancient world the easy money came from selling the person as a slave, which worked especially well if the one kidnapped could not speak the language of those he or she was sold to. The familiar story of Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery is a good example. Since slavery was common in Bible times, kidnapping someone and then selling him or her as a slave in another country was a way to get quick money. Thus, while the NIV translation can be defended culturally, it is really too narrow. Many other versions have either the more literal “men-stealers” or the more modern “kidnappers,” which does include slave traders.

It is clear that the Apostle Paul did not consider the death penalty an ungodly thing. When he was on trial for supposedly causing riots across the Roman world (Acts 24:5), he made the following statement: “If I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I refuse not to die” (Acts 25:11). It can hardly be imagined that Paul would say such a thing to a Roman governor if in his heart he felt the death penalty was wrong. Since Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29) and was being accused by Jews, he could probably have found a way to save his life, so it would not have made sense for him to mention the death penalty if he believed it was wrong. Acts 24:26 says that the Roman governor was hoping for a bribe, a fact that Paul could not have been ignorant of. Thus, a study of the New Testament reveals that it supports the death penalty just as the Old Testament does.

You can read the original article here.

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