I will be sharing a brief summary of the ethical considerations and arguments in favor and opposition of capital punishment. Murder has been a part of the fallen world dating back to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. It is a form of justice for lives that were prematurely taken. “Many references to the death penalty can be found in the Bible: murder (Ex. 21:12-14), cursing or killing one’s parents (Ex. 21:15; Lev. 20:9), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7), adultery (Lev. 20:10-21; Deut. 22:22), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), bestiality (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16), sodomy or homosexual sexual relations (Lev. 20:13), premarital sexual promiscuity (Deut. 22:20-21), and rape of an engaged virgin (Deut. 22:23-37), witchcraft (Ex. 22:18), offering human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), offering sacrifice or worship to a false god (Ex. 22:20; Deut. 13:6-11), blasphemy (Lev. 24:11-14, 16, 23), violating the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), and showing contempt for the court (Deut. 17:8-13)” (Rae, 2009, p. 249).
As stated above, capital punishment is a form of justice. The Bible states in Leviticus 24:17 (New American Standard Bible), “If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death.” It is not fair for someone to take away someone’s life and get to live out their days as a free man or imprisoned while getting their basic needs met. “The reason for applying the life-for-life principle is that the condemned murderer actually forfeits his or her right to life by virtue of taking the life of another” (Rae, 2009, pp. 254-255). In the New Testament (Matthew 5:38-48), Jesus seemed to have reversed the above Bible verse when he said that now we should love our enemies. But the context of the passage is not speaking about the duties of the state. Believers must forgive and imitate Jesus Christ. However, we are to seek justice and not allow criminals to go unpunished because that is unloving to society at large.
Another argument in favor of capital punishment is that it is a form of discipline. If people know that the death penalty is inevitable then most likely they will think before they act. “Since the fear of death is virtually a universal phenomenon, the death penalty is an unparalleled deterrent for people considering a capital crime” (Rae, 2009, p. 256). This argument is strong because it values human life and warns people of the consequence for taking lives. These arguments for capital punishment are solid when it specifically applies to murderers. Although the Old Testament lays out death laws, it is not relevant in our day to severely punish criminals for what’s outlined in the Law because everyone is not an Israelite or even a believer in God. Plus, many countries do not adhere to the Bible. Also, we are in a new covenant of grace.
An argument opposing capital punishment is that people can change their lives. Many prisoners have access to Bibles, libraries, chaplains, and prison ministries. Besides that, many prisoners have the ability to listen to God speak to them in various ways and accept his grace. There are some people who genuinely change their lives around for the better. “The death penalty removes the prospect of rehabilitation that could lead to an individual again becoming a productive member of society” (Rae, 2009, p. 260). I understand this fact, but it does not bring back the innocent life that was taken. How would the victim’s loved ones and society respond?
Also, some convicted murders or other types of inmates may be innocent. The death penalty poses a major ethical problem in this case. Although there are instances where innocent inmates were convicted and/or killed, the death penalty should still exist because there are tons of cold-blooded killers that are guilty, unrepentant, and have many witnesses and evidence of their crimes (Deut. 19:15). As an African American woman, I am completely aware of minorities being denied justice. But I stand in favor of capital punishment. It has almost been one year since my cousin murdered our grandfather that raised us. I pray every day for justice and hope it is in the form of capital punishment. I seen the murder scene. I seen the rage in my cousin’s eyes all over the news channels. I seen him not give an apology on live television. I seen the drugs and the lies. I seen all of the evidence that I needed to see. So, why am I not seeing any justice yet? I do not think I am evil when I say this because my desire is in line with scripture. God is love so he is just. He will not let evil go unpunished. Vengeance belongs to him. In his word, he laid out his Law. He created all men in his image, fearfully, and wonderfully. He cares deeply when his loved ones die. God is a Father, so he is a disciplinary. It is not wise or loving to enable killers to keep killing by allowing them to live. I am not an advocate for capital punishment in all instances. But when it comes to premeditated murder that has solid evidence, justice must be served for the dead because they can no longer live to fulfill their God-given purposes.
Reference: Rae, S. B. (2009). Moral choices (3rd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.