Faith & Culture Ministry

Jesus, Republicans, And The Death Penalty

the death penalty johnnyyou.com
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Lately, I have been stuck on a story in the Bible. Though I have known the story since I was a kid, something about it has recently made me feel unsettled. It’s the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. According to the law that was given directly by God, she deserved the death penalty (Leviticus 20:10). However, we see Jesus boldly standing against the judges in defense of the woman and fighting for her life. Was Jesus contradicting the law that He himself wrote? Is Jesus pro the death penalty? Are Christians supporting the death penalty following the footsteps of the pharisees who wanted her dead?

Let’s take a look at the text in John 8:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus,’Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.‘ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

11 ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.'”

How then can we settle what we learn in the old testament to what we learn in the new testament through Jesus’ teachings?

The Old Testament law commanded the death penalty for various acts including murder (Exodus 21:12), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), bestiality (Exodus 22:19), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), being a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:5), prostitution and rape (Deuteronomy 22:24).

We simply can’t ignore the old testament and say that it is no longer relevant because by doing so, we are saying that God has changed His mind and His Character which is contradictory to what the Bible says about Him being the same always.

I believe that the old testament is still a pathway for us to assess our shortcomings and the standard of the law. It is a reminder of the importance of the law and the price of breaking it.

The good news is that Jesus didn’t leave it there; He came and died for us so that we no longer have to pay the price required for the laws we have broken. He came and made it very clear that both the adulterer woman and the pharisees (legal judges) deserve the death penalty and that no one has the right to take another’s life. He made it clear that it is Him and Him alone that can decide on what should be done and in this case, He chose not to condemn her.

As a follower of Christ, I believe that it is impossible to believe that God wants us to use the law to choose when someone else should be put to death. I simply can’t throw a stone on someone who deserves to die when I, myself, have also broken the law in one way or another.

I have researched several sources to see what theologians and scholars believe on the matter and I could not find any solid scriptural arguments supporting the death penalty. The only verse I have seen in several weak arguments in support of the death penalty is Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God”. However, this verse is simply stating the importance of abiding to authorities and there is nothing about it that approves of us humans having the authority to put others to death.

It saddens me that most republicans supports the death penalty because most Christians associate themselves with republicans; there is simply so much parallelism between that and the belief system that the pharisees followed.

Christians and Republicans are boldly vocal about their stand against abortion; in which I applause. Do we believe that a life is a life no matter how small or how bad it can be? If we stand for life, we must stand with both the weak (unborn children) and the broken (criminals). If we believe that Jesus’ love is unconditional, How dare do we end someone’s life under the name of justice?

Christians are called to fight for every human’s right to live; whether that human was an unborn child or an evil criminal. It’s not our job to determine when someone’s last day on earth should be.

One argument that is used to support the death penalty is that keeping a criminals alive is a waste of resources. However, life is so precious to measure it by money, especially if we claim to be followers of Christ.

The thief that died on the cross next to Jesus had the opportunity to repent and meet Jesus right before his death. Judges and humans like us pointed fingers at the thief and said, “this guy deserves the death penalty” but God saw him with the eyes of mercy and thought, “It’s not too late, this one is mine”. Shouldn’t we also look with the same eyes of mercy, even towards the most evil criminals, and say, “It’s never too late” and let God be the one that appoints the day that person’s life ends?

Going back to the story of the woman caught in adultery, I leave you with a question:

Is it our job to find a way to reach those who deserve the death penalty and bring to them the good news like Jesus did with the woman and the thief or is it our job to determine who broke the law and demand for them the death penalty?

“Mercy triumphs over judgement” James 2:13

What’s your thoughts? Have you thought about this before? Comment below!

– Johnny Youssef

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Addition: Based on several great points made by few people, here is my response to Romans 13:2-5
Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

I believe that this verse is simply stating that “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, then there would be no reason to fear even death laws”. I don’t think that it is saying that, as believers, we should support death laws. You have to look at the context of the Romans ruling at the time and the apostle is telling people that they shouldn’t fear if they aren’t doing anything wrong. Otherwise, Do you believe that the Nazi government had the right to kill and we as Christians shouldn’t stand against their death penatliesthat were considered “just” in their own eyes? What about Saudi Arabia laws that kill people caught in adultery, should we still support those…after all, they are following the rules of the OT? What about Kenya laws that support the death penalty for people caught in homosexual acts? Should we blindly agree to them based on believing that the Old Testament laws are still to be applied given Romans 13:3-4?
2- The argument that says that Jesus didn’t approve of her death because they were tricking Him into disobeying the Roman law and because the man involved in the act wasn’t exposed with her per Moses Law are the reasons why Jesus didn’t support stoning her, then whoever says that believe that if they would have followed Moses Law,  Jesus would have APPROVED of her being stoned.
3- If you look at Romans 13:3-4, you ALSO have to support the stoning of children disobeying parents, kidnappers, rapists, and false prophets (that’s a lot of televangelists). However, my guess is most of you would not like to see that. But why not? If you don’t think that Jesus came to complete the law in a way where we no longer have to kill those who break it, then you should apply that belief on all of the above crimes; You can’t pick and choose which crimes deserve the death penalty based on what is culturally accepted.

So in conclusion, I personally believe that Jesus completed the law by his death on the cross. I strongly disagree that Jesus would have approved of her stoning if they “would have played by the rules”. His reaction to her goes way further than “I got you out because I found a loophole”, His reaction was “I do not condemn you to death even though you deserve it…you are free from the law…now I invite you to know me so that you are free from sin”. I refuse to stand in support of a death penalty to a murderer in the U.S, an adulterer in Saudi Arabia, and a homosexual in Kenya. I believe that the sanctity of human life is way greater and higher and it’s not for me to touch. Yes for punishment, and yes for prison – But not for the death penalty. If one believes in the death penalty based on the OT, then it should be applied for ALL cases in ALL cultures.

 

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13 Comments
  • Jeremy N Feb 9,2016 at 12:27 pm

    I love this Johnny!

    This is an interesting passage. The Pharisaic leaders brought this woman to Jesus to “trick” him. What is the trick?

    If Jesus said she should be stoned the leaders would have precedence to charge him with treason to Roman authority. You have mentioned the passages in Torah that require the death penalty. These are rules for a Government, not individuals. If Jesus had said stone her he would have been evoking a different governmental law than the Roman law. And under Roman law, that would require Jesus to be killed for treason.

    It’s said that Yeshua was writing in the sand, the names of the men who had slept with her. These men would know that they should be put to death as well. Which is an interesting way Jesus stands up for ‘equality’ saying men should be held accountable as well as women. But, we don’t actually know what Jesus wrote… We do know that for whatever reason they left.

    Torah also states that there has to be at least two witnesses in order to apply a capital punishment. Everyman left, Jesus was standing there with the woman. There were no witnesses, and so under Torah she can not be put to death. Jesus doesn’t violate Torah at all. G-d is the same from Old to New testament.

    He avoids the trick of the Pharisaic leaders by not committing treason and not violating Torah! Pretty smart guy… 🙂

    Taking this one passage and believing or implying that Jesus is against capital punishment is unjustifiable. You need more examples. I agree that Jesus wants us to turn the other cheek when people do us wrong, but Torah clearly spells out that a Governing Authority has the authority to kill.

    He is merciful and gracious and full of compassion and blesses to 1000 generations of those that love Him, but he also curses and punishes to third and forth generation. An OT quote that shows G-ds mercy and grace far outweighs His punishment. 1000>4 And it is contained within the 10 commandments no less.

    It’s a good question and a great struggle to keep communicating with the Lord about. Thanks Johnny!

    • Johnny Youssef Feb 9,2016 at 1:57 pm

      Hey Jeremy! I so appreciate your feedback. I have read this argument before. I strongly disagree with it for 2 reasons but here is the obvious one:
      – The argument is basically making the claim that if it was not against the Roman law to stone her (if Romans didn’t occupy Israel or they allowed Jews to stone their own) and if the men who committed adultery were also caught and brought forth; Jesus would have been completely okay AND involved in stoning them because then it followed the OT. I strongly believe that Jesus would have still refused to stone her/them. This argument seems to go around the deep point Jesus is trying to teach us so that it can hold on to the support of capital punishment. Do you believe Jesus would have stoned her if legally he was allowed and it followed the instructions of having the male involved?
      – If we believe that Jesus didn’t come to complete the law so that we no longer have to die or kill others because of sin, then why are we not, as believers, standing in support for the idea of the death penalty to those committing homosexuals? kidnapping? prostitution? rape? Would it be possible to believe that Jesus came and died so that the law is fulfilled and we no longer have to kill those who deserve it (including ourselves) but show mercy?
      You said I need more examples to support my point. I do think the stories with the death penalty were limited in the NT however, 2 other examples were: Jesus rebuking Peter for trying to bring justice and righteousness by the sword when he cut the ear of the Roman solider and another example is Ananias and Sephora who lied and deserved the death penalty but the apostles didn’t touch them, God dropped them dead which was not the case in the OT. In the OT, God would have given the rulers/leaders the instructions to put them to death.

      Hope my thoughts help bring the other side of the argument.

  • Chip Feb 6,2016 at 9:37 pm

    Johnny,

    You quote only part of the passage of Roman’s 13. I would like your thoughts on verses 3-5 and how that applies to this topic.

    • Johnny Youssef Feb 6,2016 at 9:45 pm

      Hey Chip!
      My thoughts are that a criminal should fear higher authority when they commit a crime like the verses state. I am not sure I would take the verse as a literal justification to kill criminals or if “fear the sword” is simply stating “fear the punishment”. In the old testament, rulers and judges had the authority to personally kill someone who gave a wrong prophecy…In the new testament, with the story of Ananias and Sephora, God didn’t instruct the apostles to kill them, they dropped dead. It was God directly ending their life which I find different than how it was in the OT and I do think it’s an example of how we should rule and hold other accountable but not end someone’s life. Those are my two cents. Love to hear your thoughts!

      • Chip Feb 7,2016 at 1:53 pm

        Johnny,

        The Lord chooses to delegate His authority into the hand of man: Wow what a risk taker!

        That being said, God delegates His authority to governors/governments in order to be instruments of His wrath to deter people from sin and also to bring even the ultimate consequence for severely egregious actions.

        I find it interesting that Jesus himself was falsely accused, convicted, and thus received the Roman death penalty. He was God on Earth and could have called a legion of angels to come, but he chose to submit himself for the sake of the Father and His desire to redeem us as the perfect and final sacrifice for sin.

        I know that this issue is deep and fraught with issues. Men and governments fail and innocents have paid the price. At the same time, there are those that have no regard for authority, nor the welfare of society, and without repentance are literally Hell bent on continuing harm. I believe in these cases it IS the role of government to bring the ultimate consequence.

        Submitted humbly,

        Chip

  • Rommy Feb 6,2016 at 2:29 pm

    Johnny, I can see your line of reasoning and understand it to a degree. I do, however, believe that in a world that chooses to rebel against God and His law as well as the laws of man there must be some recourse and consequence for our actions. I do believe in the death penalty for some cases. Not every case but some I truly believe deserve to be dealt with harshly b/c as you have quoted from scripture God has governments and rulers over us to keep the peace and help us to live peaceable lives. This is not always the role governments fulfill b/c of their own sinful hearts. We know this. That being said I can say that due to a recent experience my husband and I had (he moreso than I) I have come to realize that there are some people who have so relinquished themselves to the enemy of their souls that they are evil to the core. Yes I believe in redemption for all but I have come to see that some have no desire for redemption and will manipulate people, the system and society if allowed to continue in their depravity and sinful behavior. These types of individuals do not need the option to ever be allowed to mingle in society again. My husband was on a jury a few years back for a trial of a man who killed a little 5 year old girl after sexually abusing her and disposed of her body on the side of the road like mere trash. The reality of the evil heart that could do such a thing came home to me during this trial and moreso after. I had no access to information during b/c of the fact jurors cannot discuss the trial during it. But after this trial was over and this young man had been meted the death penalty the horrific truth hit my heart of the evil that hides in the hearts of men and is fed by satan himself if not impeded by our God. There are not just sinful people in this world but there are people who are evil to the core and it is our responsibility as a society to protect ourselves and our families. Jesus showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery but He also said…”go and sin no more..” Some people have no intentions of not going an sinning again when it comes to a murderous heart. Keep in mind what God said to Cain about Able! His brothers blood was crying out from the ground. God is a God of mercy and love and forgiveness; but that does not negate that in this life as societies and a peoples we need laws to govern the evil that runs amuck and rampant among us. Some of that evil deserves to be dealt with with finality to lessen the risk that these offenders be set free to wreak havoc and murder again; as we have seen happen in our societies.. Think on the murderers that have been set free only to commit these acts again and most often more horrendous than the first offences. Death penalty is not always the answer for crimes of murder but the gravity of the crime should weigh in on that determination. If someone repents and still is due the death penalty then they are headed to a better place never to face the temptation they would def. face to commit this crime again b/c of the enemy of their souls. I believe in love and compassion but I also believe we are subject to the consequences of our own actions whatever that consequence is determined by God to be. Our God is a God of love and rich in forgiveness to those who are truly repentant but He is still the same God who is a God of justice and judgement and His righteous judgement will prevail. We have to accept the judgement side of His nature as well as the Loving Father side. Loving Father to those who choose to repent; Righteous judge to those who are intent on evil. He calls for us in this life to use wisdom and His guidance for righteousness in ruling over the affairs of mankind. In keeping with the scripture you quoted from James… Let’s quote the entire scripture here Jas 2:13 For judgment is without mercy to him that hath showed no mercy: mercy glorieth against judgment. This is a wonderful scripture and true to itself; but read it in context and apply it to the murderer as well as to those who for the sake of society are called to judge the situation and person for the safety and well being of all. In Love my precious friend! Rommy

    • Johnny Youssef Feb 6,2016 at 5:30 pm

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Rommy! I do agree that some people are so evil that they should not mingle in society again, as you stated. However, I do not believe that therefore they should be killed. What about life sentence? If we truly believe that there is no pit too deep that God cannot reach and that there is hope in redemption for the worst of the worst, why then, do we end that hope by killing the person? Again, I agree that some people need to be put in a life-sentence with absolutely no parole for the safety of society but I cannot justify killing them based on my scripture finding and Jesus teachings.

  • Michelle Hester Feb 6,2016 at 1:37 pm

    Haven’t given this much thought before, but I totally agree that as Christians, we should be following in the same footsteps as Jesus. If Jesus is the only one who has the right to condemn anyone, and he chose himself to take that sentence upon himself and offer mercy instead, who are we to not offer mercy, when we are selves deserved death according to law-(since not one person is guiltless of sin. )
    I also like what you said about valuing life…fighting for the unborn and the broken as well.
    Really great blog article!

  • Jamie Feb 6,2016 at 1:14 pm

    So good Johnny. You always have such great perspective. I totally agree with you here.

  • Lauren Feb 6,2016 at 8:35 am

    What do you think about Genesis 9:6? I wrestle with my stance on the death penalty constantly-however, I wonder where one must draw the line on upholding the dignity and sacredness of human life. If one kills a murderer, the dignity of those he or she murdered is upheld and valued. However, the murderer’s life does not seem to be valued anymore. It is quite a conundrum. I will continue to pray about my personal stance-that God will grant me wisdom and discernment.

    • Johnny Youssef Feb 6,2016 at 5:27 pm

      Hi Lauren! Genesis 9:6 says “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind”. It is clear that the Bible states that those who kill deserve to be killed and I agree with that. However, I believe Jesus didn’t contradict the law but completed it by coming to earth and dying so we no longer have to kill those who deserve it. Otherwise, we all deserve to be killed. The adulterer, based on the old testament also deserves for her blood to be shed but what did Jesus do? He said that only those who don’t deserve to be killed (nobody) has the right to kill her. I don’t want to come in the way of God when it comes to the days someone has on earth and if God can save the thief on the cross, why can’t we believe that he can save a murderer serving a life sentence? Yes! The best thing to do is not take my words on it but pray and examine scripture! God bless and thanks for following my blog.

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