Does Jesus Oppose the Death Penalty?

For some reason it is hard for people, including even most evangelicals, to imagine Jesus supporting a death penalty for any sort of crime.  On the other hand, if He claimed to be God the Son, “I and the Father are one,” and to forgive sins, and those outrageous claims He made, it was clearly the God who revealed Himself in the rest of the Scriptures that Jesus claimed to be, not some other god.  The heretics who dissent from this are historically called Gnostics or Catharists.

There are a lot of death penalties in the Torah, most Christians being agreed that many of them are not required in our time.  And, in regard to a different issue, Jesus [the very Author of the Torah] concedes that it — as written for a civil and ethnic society — compromised His ideal.  In Matthew 19:8 He makes a marked concession; “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”  Perhaps if the chosen people had been the Scandinavians or the Navajos, the details of the Torah might have been different; but that is speculation.

Genesis 9:5-6, however, is not part of the law addressed particularly to Israel, but part of the so called Noahic covenant for all mankind.  Here God, and therefore Christ, declares;

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning.
From every beast I will require it and from man.
From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
By man shall his blood be shed,
For God made man in His own image.

If Jesus is God, what God says, Jesus says.  What Jesus says is not confined to those words that are in “red letters” in some Bibles.  And those “red letters” don’t happen to mention, as we have heard, homosexuality; but they also don’t say what level welfare state benefits need to be set at or what the minimum wage should be!

I can also see no suggestion that the position the Roman Catholic Church has apparently recently switched to [and hosts of martyrs testify to the fact that this is a very new one for the Church of Rome] that God and therefore Jesus find confining a chainsaw murderer to life without parole in Pelican Bay infinitely morally preferable to his execution, has any warrant in the Old or New Testament.  The recent switch of the Roman Church on this is a remarkable one; especially as on so many other fronts of life and sexuality issues they remain able to stand contra mundum.

Nevertheless, the death penalty is not something I’m strongly disposed to campaign for today.  As I argued in a post a few years ago, I would like to ban lethal injection, because it resembles medicine too much; and if we lose lethal injection, it is quite possible that we will lose the death penalty entirely.  That is a risk I am willing to accept.  Plus, there are the arguments about innocent people being executed [though I can’t think that innocent people in Pelican Bay is much better, at least they can be let out when they are discovered], and the fact that the penalty has been applied too much to certain races rather than others, I won’t miss it if it goes.

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