Capital Punishment and the Christian Worldview
The morality of capital punishment has been debated for years. In Europe the practice has already gone out of vogue. American opinion is headed in the same direction. In light of the highly publicized death sentence conferred on Scott Peterson for the murder of his wife and unborn child, it is likely that we will experience a renewed public debate on the morality of capital punishment.
As Christians we ought to ask What does the Bible say concerning this subject? What extra-biblical arguments are made on behalf of, or against capital punishment? What types of responses are offered to those arguments?
Ironically Christians are just as confused on this issue as is the general public. The Biblical position is clear in both the Old and New Testaments that God is favor of capital punishment. That position is supported by several extra-biblical arguments as well.
The remainder of this article, then, will explicate the Biblical teaching, offer extra-biblical arguments in favor of capital punishment, followed by answering pertinent objections raised by detractors.
From each person I will exact punishment for the life of the individual since the man was his relative. 9:6 Whoever sheds human blood, by other humans must his blood be shed; for in God's image God has made mankind. (Genesis 9:5b-6, NET)
YHWH spoke these words to Noah after the flood, in the context of the covenant He made with mankind (referred to as the Noahic Covenant) to never again destroy mankind by flood. It is noteworthy that this divine command preceded the Mosaic Law. While the Mosaic Covenant was a temporary covenant whose laws were superseded by the New Covenant, the Noahic Covenant appears to be eternal in nature, and thus concurrent with the New Covenant.
The reason for the command is theological in nature. Man is made in the image of God; therefore, a fatal attack against God's image-bearers is an attack against God Himself. It is for this reason God commanded that the individual who sheds another man's blood shall have his own blood shed as well.
When we come to the Mosaic Covenant we find an expansion of crimes for which capital punishment was applicable. The Law of Moses prescribed the penalty of death for 21 offenses, most of which were moral and religious in nature. While human government is no longer responsible for administering capital punishment for most moral and religious offences (as they were under Mosaic Law), they are still responsible for administering capital punishment in the case of the intentional murder of an innocent human being (Noahic Covenant).
You shall not kill. (Exodus 20:13; see also Deuteronomy 5:17)
The Hebrew word translated "kill" is ratsach. The root is used 49 times in the Old Testament, each time referring to the murder of an innocent human being (whether it be intentional or accidental – Ps 94:6; Prov 22:13; Is 1:21; Jer 7:9; Hos 4:2; 6:9). It is never used to refer to the killing of animals, killing in war, killing someone in self-defense (Exodus 22:2), manslaughter (Deuteronomy 19:5), or capital punishment (Genesis 9:6). A more accurate translation of this Hebrew word is "murder." Nearly all modern translations translate it as such.
Ratsach is not the only Hebrew word for the taking of life. There are seven other Hebrew words, the most important of which is harag and muwth (the other five words are nakah, shachat [used of animals], tabach [used primarily of animals], zabach [used of sacrifice], and chalal.). Harag means to slay or kill. This is what Cain did to Abel (Genesis 4:8), and what God commanded the children of Israel to do to their enemies (Numbers 31:17) and to idolaters (Deuteronomy 13:9). Muwth means to kill, often prematurely; i.e. execution. This is the power God has over His creation (Deuteronomy 32:39), what God intended to do to Moses for not circumcising his son (Exodus 4:24), what God commanded Israel to do to those who sacrifice their children to Molech (Leviticus 20:4), and what David consented to be done to him had he been guilty of any wrongdoing against Saul (II Samuel 14:32). The prohibition in the Decalogue then, is against murder, not killing. It is a prohibition against the unjust taking of innocent human life, not the taking of any life whatsoever.
We would do well to make a clear distinction between killing and murder as well. Killing can be just, but murder is always unjust. That's why it is factually incorrect to say capital punishment is the killing of those who kill others. Capital punishment is the killing of those who murder others. It would be equally wrong to say capital punishment is the murdering of those who murder others. Taking the life of an individual who unjustly took the life of another human being is not murder, but killing. To use "killing" or "murder" of both parties interchangeably is to confuse the just taking of life with the unjust.
“Whoever kills any person, the murderer must be put to death by the testimony of witnesses; but one witness cannot testify against any person to cause him to be put to death. 31 Moreover, you must not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death; he must surely be put to death. (Numbers 35:30-31, NET)
There are approximately 20 offenses for which capital punishment is called for, but murder is the only offense for which a ransom could not be given in exchange for the life of the perpetrator. This indicates the seriousness with which God considers murder. Capital punishment was not just an optional punishment for murder, but a required punishment.
Pilate therefore said to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin." (John 19:10-11, NAS)
What is important to note about this passage is that Jesus did not challenge Pilate's gubernatorial right to sentence Him to death. He implicitly affirmed Pilate's right to administer capital punishment, and that the right came from God. He did not say, "You have no authority to do this," but rather "You only have this authority because it is given to you by God." Pilate thought he held the power of Jesus' life in his own hand, but Jesus countered that Pilate would not be able to crucify Him unless God allowed him to do so. Jesus challenged the source of Pilate's right, not the right itself.
There is no question that the state's execution of Jesus was unjust (because Jesus was innocent, and capital punishment is for the guilty), but that is no reflection on the just nature of capital punishment itself. While there may be unjust applications of a state's right to execute certain criminals for purposes of justice, it does not taint the just nature of capital punishment itself.
Turning our attention to Paul, he wrote the Romans saying:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God's appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 13:2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 13:3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 13:4 for it is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God's servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4, NET Bible)
According to Paul the purpose of human government is to reward good and punish evil, an example of the latter coming in the form of "the sword" (a reference to the Roman form of capital punishment). The reason for such is God's desire for retribution of moral wrongdoing. While vengeance is the Lord's, He has delegated some of the execution of that vengeance to human government in the form of justice generally, and in the form of capital punishment specifically.
While often ignored in this discussion, Acts 25:9-11 sheds some valuable light on this issue as well:
Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, asked Paul, "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and be tried before me there on these charges?" 25:10 Paul replied, "I am standing before Caesar's judgment seat, where I should be tried. I have done nothing wrong to the Jews, as you also know very well. 25:11 If then I am in the wrong and have done anything that deserves death, I am not trying to escape dying, but if not one of their charges against me is true, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!" 25:12 Then, after conferring with his council, Festus replied, "You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!" (Acts 25:9-11)
Paul had been imprisoned for approximately two years when he stood trial before Festus. The Jews in attendance brought many accusations against him. Paul maintained his innocence from those charges, but did not object to being put to death if he had done anything that was deserving of death. Paul did not object to the possibility of capital punishment by arguing that it was unjust punishment, or in contradiction to God's design. To the contrary, he acknowledged there were crimes deserving of death, and was willing to submit to that penalty had he actually committed those crimes.
For those who accept Scripture as the authority for faith, then, the Biblical teaching and rationale should be sufficient to arrive at a position on this controversial issue.
A Life for a Life
How can we make the case for capital punishment to an audience that rejects the Bible as an authority? Is there any good argument to be made in favor of capital punishment apart from Scripture? Yes, there is, and its force is best conveyed in the form of a question: Why should someone who purposely takes the life of an innocent human being be allowed to keep his own?1 Is that just? No it is not. As God said in Genesis 9:6, whoever takes the life of another man needs to have his own life taken from him.
A basic understanding of justice is that people ought to receive punishment for their crimes, and that the punishment ought to be proportional to the nature of the crime; i.e. the worse the crime, the worse the punishment.2 This is the ancient principle of lex talionis. What we have to ask ourselves is whether the punishment of incarceration fits the crime of murder? No, it does not. Incarceration only robs an individual of his liberty, not his life. If the maximum punishment for murder is identical to the maximum punishment for serial thievery (a lesser crime) the principle of lex talionis is violated. Depriving someone of their property is a lesser evil than depriving someone of their life, so the latter should be punished more severely than the former. Opponents of capital punishment, however, treat each crime equally. In doing so they are denying that the punishment must be proportional to the crime. This flies in the face of our deepest intuitions about justice.
Let's suppose that Hitler did not commit suicide toward the end of World War II. Let's suppose he was captured by the Allied forces and put on trial for his many war crimes, not the least of which was the murder of 17,000,000 innocent people. Would it have been just for Hitler to be condemned to death by the Allied nations for those murders? I think it would be safe to say that only the most ardent of opponents to the death penalty would say no. Most people recognize that Hitler's execution would have been a just punishment for all the evil he wrought against innocents. For those who recognize the justice involved in executing Hitler for his many murders I pose the following question: What is the difference between Hitler and any other murderer? Once we agree that Hitler should have been executed for his many murders we have established the principle that it is just--at least under certain circumstances--to execute murderers. All that is left to debate is the number of murders one must commit before we are justified in depriving them of their own life. Is it two, ten, one hundred, one thousand, one million, etc.? Any number that one settles on must be defended. If 1000, what is it about that number that justifies administering capital punishment that is absent from those circumstances in which only one murder has been committed?
Another argument on behalf of capital punishment is self-defense. J.P. Moreland said, "Capital punishment is to the whole society what self-defense is to the individual."3 Capital punishment is society's way of defending itself against evil-doers who wish to do them personal injury. Understood in this light the practice is entirely reasonable, and entirely just.
Let me bring this down to the personal level. What would you do if you and your family were attacked by an individual who intended to kill you? Every honest individual would admit that given the chance, they would take the life of the attacker before the attacker had a chance to take their own. Such an act is in self-defense, and as such is morally justified. Now, if we would kill a man/woman who was trying to harm ourselves or our family, why will we not kill a man who has already killed someone else's family?
We could also think of this from a slightly different perspective: if we would not permit a murderer to live under our roof because his/her presence threatens the safety of our family, why should society permit a murderer to live under the roof of our country in which all of societies' families are endangered? So long as the murderer is breathing, there is always the possibility that he/she will kill again.
The only way can ensure our own survival is to eliminate those who are bent on destroying us. Those who commit murder have exhibited the fact that they are bent on destroying society. They are infections to the social organism that is inclined toward freedom and the pursuit of happiness. In the interest of self-preservation we must act. No country-when attacked-lays down its arms in surrender unless they are willing to be overrun by the enemy. The fact of the matter is that "we have a war going on here between murderers and society," and opponents of capital punishment are arguing that "only one side is allowed to kill."4 If society is not allowed to defend itself by taking the life of those who deliberately take the lives of innocents, society will continue to be raped and pillared by evil men. Outlawing capital punishment would only result in our own peril.
Capital punishment has been the hallmark of just and free societies for millennia. Why is it, then, that the idea is progressively going out of vogue in Western civilization? While there are surely multiple factors, I believe one factor is a change in our understanding of man. Modern culture has been progressively changing its view of man from that of a free-moral agent to that of a machine, who breaks down due to social and environmental evils (no fault of his own). The real question of the day is, Is man a machine that needs to be fixed, or a free moral agent who needs to be punished? While it is beyond the scope of this article to prove this, I believe both Scripture and reason are clear that man is a free-moral agent who freely chooses his own moral course. What do we do, then, when man chooses immoral means and/or ends?
Some suggest we merely tell them they have done wrong and then point them in the right direction (reprogram their circuitry through therapy), but this solution confuses the two ways in which someone can be wrong. One can be wrong in a rational way, or one can be wrong in a moral way. If someone mistakenly claims the capital of Ohio is Toledo he has committed a rational error, and no punishment seems justified. We simply correct the error. However, when someone rapes an innocent woman he has committed a moral wrong, a wrong for which punishment does seem justified. As Greg Koukl aptly noted, "When there is a rational wrong, we correct the error. When there is a moral wrong, we correct (or punish) the person."5 "The goal of justice is penal, not remedial; moral, not therapeutic."6
Responding to Objections
Objection: Capital punishment is contrary to the pro-life ethic of Christianity.
Response: This argument, known as the “seamless garment,” misunderstands the nature of the pro-life ethic. “Pro-life” does not mean we are opposed to taking the life of anything and everybody. It means we are opposed to the unjust taking of innocent human life, or murder (as opposed to mere killing). To argue that consistency of the pro-life ethic demands that one oppose capital punishment as well as abortion confuses guilt with innocence. The unborn are innocent human beings who possess the right to life; murderers are guilty human beings who have forfeited their right to life by unjustly taking the life of another human being. To kill an innocent and defenseless human being in the womb is an unjust taking of life, while killing those who are guilty of unjustly robbing others of their right to life is the just taking of life. “The right to life is not an absolute; it can be forfeited. This moral right is only prima facie; it stands only until challenged by some greater law, like justice or protecting the lives of the innocent.”7
Objection: Jesus would show mercy and forgive.
Response: Implicit in this objection is the acknowledgement that capital punishment is a just form of punishment. Mercy is only requested when the punishment is justly deserved. When the prescribed punishment is unjust, justice, not mercy is demanded.8
This objection also proves too much. It not only argues against meting out capital punishment, but all forms of punishment. So what do you do with evildoers; i.e. those who are a danger to society? Do you invite them into your neighborhood to murder you or your neighbors so they can receive forgiveness again and again and again?
While Jesus may forgive, Jesus does not demand that Caesar forgive as well. God may forgive the sins we have committed against Him, but this does not cancel out the consequences for sins we have committed against other men. There are temporal consequences for sins we commit in this world. Some of those consequences come from God, while others come from man. For example, even though God forgave David of his sins of murder and adultery, there was a temporal price to be paid: David's child died (II Samuel 12:1-15).
Furthermore, Jesus’ command to forgive applies to individuals, not governments. As Andrew Tallman writes: "Jesus was not trying to establish forgiveness as the guiding principle of government. He knew this was impossible. Forgiveness is an individual matter, and doesn’t even factor into governmental matters. Likewise, punishment, which is entirely a government domain, is not something individual citizens are tasked with doing. Jesus was instructing individuals, not writing a constitution. Judging a state’s laws by their forgiveness is like judging a fish for how well he rides a bicycle."9
Objection: Putting someone to death won't bring back the victims.
Response: As Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason once noted, neither will life in prison. Nothing will bring them back from the dead. Does that mean, therefore, that no punishment should be given a murderer? If the basis on which we mete out justice is determined by its ability to undo the crime committed, then no justice could be meted out on a murderer because nothing can undo the death of the victim(s). This argument simply proves too much.
Objection: Innocent people have died because of this practice.
Response: Dennis Prager offered a pointed response to this objection:
If preventing the killing of innocents is what should determine capital punishment policy, one should support capital punishment. It is the absence of the death penalty that leads to more innocent people being killed. When there is no death penalty, convicted murderers kill other prisoners and guards; and, when these murderers escape, they kill innocent civilians. If those of us who are for the death penalty have blood on our hands when the state executes an innocent man, abolitionists have the blood of innocents on their hands every time a convicted murderer murders again.10
The blade cuts both ways. Yes, some innocent people have been wrongly executed, but many more innocent people have been killed by murderers who were later released from prison. If we are truly interested in protecting the innocent we would be in favor of eliminating future murders by eliminating present murderers.
There is no question that our finitude may result in the death of some innocent individuals, but this fact is not sufficient grounds to do away with executing appropriate and just punishment for those who do deserve it. In the words of Dennis Prager, "We don't end a good policy because it's flawed ."11 If we did, we would not have any policies left. Besides, there are many safeguards in place in a just society such as ours to ensure that our judgment is well-informed and not hasty.
Lots of people die from good things. Innocent people die in car and plane crashes, but we don't do away with cars and planes because the good they bring outweighs the bad. We try to make cars and planes safer. Likewise, our lack of omniscience should not cause us to abandon the good and just practice of capital punishment. We simply try to make our justice system better. And we have. Modern forensics makes it highly unlikely that we are convicting very many innocent men (e.g. DNA evidence).
Objection: The fallibility of man guarantees that innocent people will be wrongly condemned. Some things I accept the possibility of error, taking life, I can't.
Response: This line of reasoning not only argues against capital punishment, but against all forms of punishment as well. All forms of justice are fallible, because human beings are fallible. Should we do away with our justice system because innocent people may be fined or incarcerated for crimes they did not commit due to man's fallible judgment? Do we have to be omniscient before we can execute justice?
If we should not execute the appropriate form of justice against a murderer simply because we are not omniscient-and could be mistaken in our judgment-then we should not execute any form of punishment for any supposed crime because there is always the chance that our judgment could be mistaken, and thus the judgment undeserved (and any form of punishment meted out on the innocent is unjust). Short of omniscience, then, how can we make any judgment?
God was surely aware of the fact that man is not omniscient, and may execute an innocent man on occasion. This imperfection of human knowledge and judgment, however, did not stop God from issuing the command. Unless one is willing to argue that God made a mistake in delegating this responsibility to finite men, there is no excuse to ignore the divine command.
Objection: Arguing against capital punishment on the basis of man's fallibility does not argue against all forms of punishment. Capital punishment is different from all other forms of punishment in its finality: it is an ultimate and totalizing judgment.
Response: No punishment can be undone, and any amount of punishment meted out on the innocent is unjust. If one is wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison, have they not received injustice? If they were acquitted after only 20 years, have they not received injustice for the 20 years they lost? It is just as wrong to punish an individual with 60 years of incarceration for a crime they did not commit as it is to condemn them to death for the same. Either way injustice has been wrought, and the consequences are grave.
It should also be noted that this objection assumes there is a difference between killing those who deserve, it and killing those who do not. Killing those who do not deserve it is viewed as uniquely wrong. This implicit admission solves the dilemma at hand. We do not do away with capital punishment to avoid killing the innocent. We simply make sure we do not put someone to death who may be innocent.12 One way this could be done is to raise the bar for sentencing (not conviction) someone to death from “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” to “guilty beyond any doubt.”13
Objection: Capital punishment does not deter crime.
Response: Most importantly for Christians, God sure thought it would (Dt 17:13).
This objection may not be empirically verifiable. As Dennis Prager noted, “We can never measure how many people do not do something.”14 Of course, there are studies that have tried to prove that capital punishment does deter crime, even attempting to quantify how many crimes can be prevented. Studies have reported that for every murderer we fail to kill, it will result in the deaths of between 3-18 more innocent people. When Illinois stopped the death penalty, there were 150 more murders over a four year period compared to the prior four years. It’s even been argued that the deterrent effect would increase if we reduced the amount of time death row inmates spent in prison before being executed. For every 2.75 years of reduced prison time, one murder could be prevented.15 While some dispute the methodology of these studies, there is reasonable evidence to suggest that there is at least some deterrent value to capital punishment. Wholly apart from the statistics and studies, we all recognize that humans (even evil humans) are risk-adverse. We don’t typically engage in activities without a risk assessment. The riskier the activity is to our self-interests, the less likely we are to engage in it. If people have good reason to believe that they will be caught for their crime, and they know that they will be executed, they will be less likely to engage in that crime.
If, one day, it is determined that there is little deterrent value in capital punishment, it may be due to how it is administered. In most states, death row inmates sit on death row for decades before they are finally executed. We are also more and more reluctant to execute someone for just a single murder. Perhaps capital punishment would be a greater deterrent if it was administered for every murderer and in a more speedy manner (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
It should be pointed out that if capital punishment does deter at least some capital crimes, then those who would abolish capital punishment share the guilt for the additional individuals who will be harmed or killed because the criminal had no deterrent.All of this aside, the principle purpose of capital punishment is not deterrence, but justice. It serves to take from the murderer what he deliberately took from the innocent; i.e. his life. No greater injustice could be wrought than to allow a murderer to keep his own life when he deliberately took the life of someone else.16
Objection: We cannot trust the government with the power of life and death. The only person I trust with that power is God Himself.
Response: It is not the government who condemns a man to death; juries condemn a man to death. Juries are made up of the accuser's peers and neighbors. And juries do not flippantly decide to kill someone. They have to sit through a trial and listen to evidence from both sides. If they are going to convict someone and sentence them to death, the evidence must point to guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. While this does not ensure that juries always get it right, our standards of judicial review make it difficult to get it wrong (especially in the age of DNA and forensics).
It will not help to say one favors capital punishment so long as God is in control of meting it out, because God did not design the program like that. His command was given to men for men to carry it out. The guilt of the accused is for us to determine. Once their guilt has been determined by men, their penalty is fixed by God and the demands of justice.
Objection: Who are we to play God in taking the life of another human being?
Response: “Executing murderers is not playing God. It is obeying Him.”17
Objection: If God has commissioned human government to execute capital punishment, was Nero's murder of Christians and Hitler's murder of Jews in the will of God?
Response: There is a clear difference between murder and capital punishment. Murder is unjust killing, while capital punishment is just killing. Not all killing done in the name of the government is good or justified. God never gave license to human government to kill whomever they want. They are only given license to execute those who have wrongly taken the lives of others. Nero and Hitler killed innocent men, knowing they were innocent. Their acts, therefore, were acts of murder, not justice. As such they were outside of the scope of God's command.
Objection: Capital punishment is not administered equally across economic lines. We have a justice system for the rich and a justice system for the poor. Those who are wealthy can afford lawyers to get them off the hook; those who are poor cannot. We cannot separate equality from justice. The process of justice is just as important as its equal administration.
Response: Can the command of God for justice be ignored because the institution (human government) He ordained to mete that justice out does so imperfectly or with partiality? How does it follow that since human government may not fulfill the duty of justice at times, that they are excused from executing justice at other times?
I am not at all convinced that we have two standards of justice in this country (one for the rich and one for the poor), but even if I were convinced, how does it follow that if the guilty-rich escape justice that we are unjust in delivering it to the next guy? If we excuse the poor from justice simply because the rich bought their way out of it we are guilty of double injustice: neither party got what they deserved.
In pitting equality against justice, equality has been elevated at the expense of justice. To argue that we should not mete out justice unless we are going to do so equally is unjust in itself, because under this policy nobody receives justice, and thus God's purpose for human government is never realized. How is that superior to God's purposes being realized imperfectly? This ethic, if followed, would only bring equal injustice at the expense of justice, and injustice on this level is far worse than justice applied inconsistently.
Greg Koukl illustrated this truth in the following scenario: "If one man is paid for a job (he gets what he deserves) and another isn't, how do you rectify the inequity? You don't take away what the first man deserves, withholding his pay because the second man didn't get paid. That would double the injustice."17 While 5% of those executed may have been wrongly condemned, do we right the wrong by failing to administer justice to the other 95%? This would only result in 100% injustice.
Objection: Capital punishment is not administered equally across racial lines. While blacks are a minority of the overall population, they constitute a majority of death row inmates.
Response: There is also a disproportionate number of men on death row. While men represent 49.2% of the overall population, they constitute 98.4% of all death row inmates. Does this mean capital punishment is not administered equally across gender lines? No, it means men commit more capital offenses than women. Likewise, maybe the reason blacks are disproportionately represented on death row is because they actually commit more capital crimes than non-poor white men, whatever the reason may be.19
The only way to determine which thesis is true is to examine each and every case involving a capital crime. To demonstrate that capital punishment is not administered equally across racial lines, one would have to show that a greater percentage of black men convicted of a capital crime were sentenced to death than were white men. If, let's say, 25% of white men convicted of a capital crime (in states that allow for the death penalty) were sentenced to death, while 50% of black men who were convicted of a capital crime (in states that allow for the death penalty) were sentenced to death, then there would be grounds for claiming racial inequality in the application of the death sentence. If that cannot be shown, then there are no grounds for claiming racial inequality in the application of the death penalty. The only inequality would be in the number of whites versus blacks who are committing capital crimes.
Objection: Was God unjust for not having Moses or David killed for their premeditated murders?
Response: What God chooses to do with His own image-bearers is His business. In the same way that it is within God's prerogative to take innocent human life (because as the creator of human life it is God's to do with it what he wills; whether it be to give or to take), likewise He can spare guilty human life if He so chooses to do so in mercy. While God may kill the innocent or show mercy to the guilty at His own discretion, that is His prerogative, not ours. We have been given one command and one command only: he who sheds man's blood shall have his own blood shed by man. Life is not the government's to decide what to do with it, and when to make exceptions. Apart from divine intervention, government has the divine-ordained responsibility to take the life of the individual who unjustly took the life of another human being.
Objection: It is hypocritical to teach that one should not kill, and then kill those who kill others.
Response: Murder is not at all the same as killing. Murder is the unjust taking of human life. Killing is the just taking of human life. We are killing those who murder, to teach that murder is wrong.
Objection: Capital punishment denies the sanctity of human life.
Response: Andrew Tallman answers this objection best:
There are two ways for our justice system to show that something is sacred: by protecting it from violation and by punishing those who violate it. Clearly, in this case, the two are interconnected. Life is uniquely precious, which is exactly why taking the life of one who deliberately takes innocent life is the only way to affirm life’s sacredness. Rather than proclaiming the preciousness of life, allowing a known murderer to live is a declaration that life is not precious enough to justify the forfeit of another life as punishment. When something is sacred, that does not mean that it cannot be violated. Rather, it means that it must be violated only in the rarest of cases and only in the most deliberate of ways. The almost absurd solemnity with which we execute people in this country is not a defect of our system, but a testament to the importance we attach to human life. Instead of eroding the sanctity of life, execution practiced with such regard actually affirms it.20
1. Dennis Prager, "George Will and Capital Punishment"; available from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/dennisprager/dp20031104.shtml; Internet; accessed 21 January 2005.
2. Edward Feser, “Catholicism, Conservatism, and Capital Punishment”; available from http://rightreason.ektopos.com/archives/2005/12/catholicism_con.html#more; Internet; accessed 13 December 2005.
3. J.P. Moreland, The Ethics of Life and Death, p. 115.
4. Dennis Prager, “George Will and Capital Punishment.”
5.Greg Koukl, “Two Wrongs, Two Rights”; available from http://www.str.org/free/reflections/apologetics/relativism/twowrong.htm; Internet; accessed 21 January 2005.
6. Greg Koukl, “The Bible and Capital Punishment”; available from http://www.str.org/free/studies/capipuni.htm; Internet, accessed 20 January 2005.
8. Andrew Tallman, “What About Mercy and Forgiveness?: Religious Objections to Capital Punishment”; available from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/AndrewTallman/2008/05/01/what_about_mercy_and_forgiveness_religious_objections_to_capital_punishment?page=2; Internet; accessed 04 May 2008.
9. Andrew Tallman, “What About Mercy and Forgiveness?: Religious Objections to Capital Punishment”; available from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/AndrewTallman/2008/05/01/what_about_mercy_and_forgiveness_religious_objections_to_capital_punishment; Internet; accessed 04 May 2008.
10. Prager, “George Will and Capital Punishment.”
12. Andrew Tallman, “Why Would Anyone Support Capital Punishment? (Part 5)”; available from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/AndrewTallman/2008/03/20/why_would_anyone_support_capital_punishment_part_5; Internet; accessed 04 May 2008.
13. Andrew Tallman, “Why Would Anyone Support Capital Punishment? (Part 4)”; available from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/AndrewTallman/2008/03/12/why_would_anyone_support_capital_punishment_part_4; Internet; accessed 04 May 2008.
15.Associated Press, “Studies: Death Penalty Discourages Crime”; available from http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/06/11/studies-death-penalty-discourages-crime.html; Internet; accessed 31 December 2015.
16. Andrew Tallman, “Why Would Anyone Support Capital Punishment? (Part 4)”; available from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/AndrewTallman/2008/03/12/why_would_anyone_support_capital_punishment_part_4; Internet; accessed 04 May 2008.
17. Andrew Tallman, “Is Capital Punishment Loving”; available from http://www.townhall.com/Columnists/AndrewTallman/2008/05/06/is_capital_punishment_loving?page=1; Internet; accessed 04 May 2008.
18. Koukl, “The Bible and Capital Punishment.”
19. Andrew Tallman, “Why Would Anyone Support Capital Punishment (Part 4)”; available from http://www.townhall.com/Columnists/AndrewTallman/2008/03/12/why_would_anyone_support_capital_punishment_part_4?page=2; Internet; accessed 13 March 2008.
20. Andrew Tallman, “Why Would Anyone Support Capital Punishment? (Part 5)”; available from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/AndrewTallman/2008/03/20/why_would_anyone_support_capital_punishment_part_5; Internet; accessed 04 May 2008.
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