Q.

Lately I have come across some Christians who believe our society should grant the death sentence to people who are guilty of various sex crimes, such as adultery and homosexuality. I know it should be given to those who murder. Please comment.

A.
Our Scriptural basis for capital punishment came centuries before God gave Moses the Old Testament law for His people. Immediately after the Flood, God told Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen 9:6). The one crime that called for the death penalty was murder, the taking of another’s life. This divine decree was never lifted.

Many Bible believers are so incensed about the terrible crimes committed in our day that they probably would just as soon see some of them placed under the death penalty category. But if only the murderers in our society would be given what the Bible prescribes as their just punishment, that would be quite an accomplishment. Instead, most of them get off the hook. Until recently the laws of the United States were based largely upon the Old Testament Mosaic law. Sometimes the severity of the penalty differed greatly, but at least what was considered right or wrong corresponded to the Mosaic law. It would be wonderful if our laws had been enforced. Instead, in too many cases they weren’t, and now we have legalization of such acts as homosexuality and same-sex marriages.

It is sad that we can’t seem to succeed in giving the murderers what Scripture warrants for them as punishment. Abortionists might even be included because they take the life of another, but don’t hold your breath for a modification, unless a radical change toward righteousness takes place in our society.

Concerning other crimes, we simply must accept the fact that we are not under the Old Testament law system. The Mosaic laws prescribed the death penalty not only for sex crimes (Lev. 20), but also for hitting or cursing someone, including one’s father or mother (Exod. 21:12,15); engaging in witchcraft (Exod. 22:18); working on the Sabbath (Exod. 35:2; Num. 15:32–36); swearing or taking the Lord’s name in vain (Lev. 24:11–16); and idolatry (Exod. 22:20). If violators of these offenses were meted out the death penalty, who would remain alive? Not many. With our faulty court system today and its seeming inability to deal quickly with cases, we’d really have a backlog if these offenses were included.

Some who advocate the death penalty for Mosaic law crimes argue for their view by pointing to the words of one of the thieves on his cross: “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). But we must understand that more was involved there than petty thievery, such as stealing a car or a bottle of soda pop in a supermarket. The criminals who died with Jesus were of the worst sort; likely they were ruthless murderers! Furthermore, it is obvious that the repentant thief saw himself as we all should see ourselves—a lost sinner worthy of death and in need of a Savior.

We must consider two truths with regard to the Old Testament law system. First, we must know its purpose. The New Testament shows us that the law was given to reveal to man that he cannot keep the law perfectly. Therefore, the law is to bring us to Christ, our Savior, Who kept the law to the letter (see Galatians 3 and 4).

Second, we must see the distinction between our day and the period under which a certain people for a certain purpose were chosen by God to live under that civil and ceremonial system. God’s moral laws transcend the Old Testament law system. To illustrate, we must note that nine of the Ten Commandments are also found in our dispensation of the Church, as outlined in the New Testament epistles (note 1 John 5:21; 6:2, 3; 1 Thess. 4:3–5; Eph. 4:28; Col. 3:5, 9). Only the observance of the Sabbath Day is not found in the New Testament. But even that is seen in our responsibility to assemble on the first day of the week, and to love and revere God (1 Cor 16:2; Heb. 10:25).

The New Testament does not indicate that we must use the exact penalties of the Mosaic law system for today, just as the New Testament makes it clear that we are not bound by certain eating and ceremonial restrictions and observances of the Mosaic law.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (November 1996).
© 1996 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.