The following is an excerpt of his article:
This point came home to me with unusual force during synagogue services this last Saturday. The weekly portion of the Bible which was read out loud this week by all Jews, everywhere, included verses (Deuteronomy 19: 11-13) that leave little doubt as to the Old Testament's insistence on the death penalty. Scripture declares that "if there be a man who hates his fellow, and ambushes him mortally, and he dies" then the killer cannot escape to one of the established "Cities of Refuge" intended for perpetrators of accidental death. With a pre-mediated murder, the Bible says: "Your eye shall not pity him; you shall remove the innocent blood from Israel; and it shall be good for you."
Concerning this passage, the authoritative Twelfth Century sage, Maimonides, offers an explanation with haunting contemporary resonance: "The verse concludes that by executing the murderer, the nation will insure that it shall be good for you, because compassion for a murderer breeds further bloodshed, since it frees him from death and sets an example for others, who may be tempted to follow his example."
In other words, misplaced compassion for a pre-meditated murderer brings cruel consequences for future innocent victims - as recent academic studies of the death penalty and its powerful deterrent impact very clearly indicate.
In response to the Old Testament's direct (and frequently repeated) authorization of capital punishment, Christian opponents of the death penalty claim that Jesus replaced the harsh Mosaic law of justice with a new Gospel of forgiveness and mercy. They cite the famous Gospel injunction to "turn the other cheek" or the suggestion that "he who is without sin should cast the first stone," without acknowledging that these exhortations apply to individual conduct and not to governmental authorities. In the New Testament, in fact, Paul makes clear in Romans 13:4 that believers should not expect society to abolish capital punishment: "But if you do evil, be afraid; for (the governing authority) does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister; an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil."
Moreover, the same section of Matthew's Gospel that includes the celebrated exhortations to "love thine enemy" and "turn the other cheek" begins with Christ's unequivocal declaration (Matthew 5: 17-18) that he has no intention of abrogating properly interpreted Old Testament law: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."
In this context, the early Church unhesitatingly endorsed the death penalty. Clement of Alexandria, the great scholar and teacher of the Second Century, declared that "if someone falls into incurable evil - when taken possession of by wrong or covetousness - it will be for his good if he is put to death." In the Fourth Century, St. Jerome (venerated by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Lutherans alike) wrote that execution of "murderers, blasphemers and poisoners" is not "shedding of blood, but administration of laws." Aquinas also strongly reasoned for the death penalty, and as recently as the Catechism of Trent (1566), the Catholic Church unequivocally affirmed that "lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent."
Read Michael Medved’s article by visiting Townhall.com.
As a Christian, I have my own views about the death penalty. Christians are divided on this issue and they cannot agree whether the state has the right to impose the death penalty upon those who take a life.
The fact is, that notwithstanding the different ways Christians interpret the Bible’s teaching on the death penalty, the state has the right to enact laws imposing the death penalty upon those who commit murder. Medved makes a strong argument for this view and I tend to agree with him.
As a Christian I may oppose the death penalty because I believe that the power of God in Christ can transform any person, including hardened criminals. But I also believe that the state has the right and the authority to demand justice on behalf of victims by requiring the death penalty for murderers.
Any discussion of the death penalty must begin with the most important biblical passage on this issue: “Murder is forbidden. Any person who murders must be put to death. You must execute anyone who murders another person, for to kill a person is to kill a living being made in God's image” (Genesis 9:5-6).
Where do you stand on this issue?
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Death Penalty, Genesis 9:5-6, Michael Medved, Murder