Sanctity of Life & the Death Penalty: Flip sides of the same “Divine” coin

Introductory Premise

To speak of the sanctity of life and the death penalty as part and parcel of one unified Biblical principle might sound foreign to our ears in this day and age.  I believe the primary reason for it sounding so strange is because of the general overall lack of Biblical preaching or teaching the last 50 to 70 years in America.  While it indeed might sound odd to most readers, these two headings were understood conjointly –flip sides of the same coin— for close to the last 4,000 years of western history.

In the past half century, the church has been retreating from society at large, becoming more and more of an segregated appendage to modern living, rather than the paragon of real life Jesus intended it to be.  Within its doors, it has been retreating from hearing and practicing Biblically revealed truth.  Of particular note is its desertion from proclaiming and advocating law and the ethics of how man shall live.  What Biblical theology is attempted today, for the most part, has become progressively fragmented, confused, and near totally ignored.  Whereas, previously in America for some 350 years (approx. 1600 to 1950 or thereabouts) Biblical theology was the pre-eminent force in shaping (i.e. guiding, informing, influencing, and correcting) our society from top to bottom inside and out, that has stopped.  It died out.  Almost, as incredible as it may seem (in appearance at least) this happened overnight. 

Fantastically, knocking at the door to replace Biblical theology was a host of hungry “ism’s” ready and anxious to fill the void –viewing America as ripe for the picking.  And indeed, unfortunately, it was.  Within a few short decades America experienced and changed for the worse because of the relentless rise of socialism (spurred on by a Marxist income tax system) and its twin brother, statism (known as the faceless un-elected bureaucracy).  Almost as corrosive to the American culture and character was the pervasive spread of atheistic psychology, the coercive advance of evolutionism (masquerading as science), and the dehumanizing death dance of homosexuality advocated on all fronts.  All of these are forms of humanistic secularism vying to replace Biblical thought and practice in every sphere of human endeavor. 

Dr. Benjamin Spock, one of the most influential best known best selling authors of the 20th century, whose un-Biblical advice corrupted or destroyed so many families, had a change of heart and mind at the close of his life.  At age 95, he expressed in his autobiography the disdain he now had with the “ism’s” and their detrimental effect on the culture at large.  He very tellingly concluded:

Man has lost his belief in himself and his sense of direction because of the concepts of evolution, of psychology, and of sociology having undermined the authority of religion and man’s identification with God.  They have induced man to belittle himself, to conceive of himself as merely an animal divisible into a number of mechanical parts and drives.”

And in no other arena (except the university system considered as a whole) were the “ism’s” anymore horribly and completely successful in taking over, than that of law and the justice system.

It is because Biblical foundations and Godly influence has been uprooted and tossed aside (with hardly a drop of blood being shed), that we today ---having now been taught by our new masters— think of sanctity of life and the death penalty as occupying opposite ends, just to draw an absurd picture, of unrelated  spectrums.  In other words, they don’t want us to think of the two together, at the same time, in any fashion.  We, however, must reform our minds to adopt the earlier train of thought that sanctity of life and the death penalty are part and parcel of the same unambiguous unified Biblical teaching.  And it is a package deal; you can’t really have one without the other.  Likewise, you can’t discard one without losing both.  In this sense, it’s instructive to think of them as being like: heaven and hell, past and future, right and wrong.  In other words, they are inseparable (conjoint within the same system).

I am writing this paper to present an overview of the Biblical teaching on sanctity of life and the death penalty.


Some, on first hearing, would undoubtedly accuse me of morbidness in so juxtapositioning the sanctity of life with the death penalty.  What would lead me to write about the two of these together?  What do these seemingly disparate issues hold in common?

Consider first: Every person, every man, woman, and child that have drawn breath in the history of humankind, and everyone that ever will do so, have only one irreducible, implacable, identical characteristic.  Just one.  But it is a big one; you might even call it the big one.  It's the one supreme unifying characteristic of humankind.  It also, frankly, is what separates humankind from animals.  And surprisingly, this characteristic serves as the foundation and very reason that sanctity of life and the death penalty are, to use an old phrase, joined at the hip.

Biblical theology in this area of study (specifically Biblical Anthropology) at its most fundamental core asks basic questions such as: What is God like?  What is man like?  What is the nature and outcome of God’s creative acts?  What, if anything, makes man unique and intrinsically valuable?  And what is the foundational relationship of God and man?

We can only afford to briefly touch on some of these topics in a most general way for the purpose of this study.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,”… So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.
Genesis 1:26a & 27

The one most basic thing we all have in common is that we share and participate in being “image bearers.”  We all retain, albeit fallen and sin-burdened, a measure of the image of God.  It is the one common thread of reality throughout all history of humankind.  We are all like Him.  God is God.  We are an image of God, tarnished, yes, but still a reality. 

Those of us redeemed, saved, born-again, have more of the image restored, though we too, still suffer from inward sin.  The reality that every person retains (James 3:9) the image of God is what concerns us.  God is the Creator; we are His creation.  But we are a marvelously unique part of His creation work, because He created us in the image and likeness of God.

We are image bearers.  That is what makes us intrinsically unique in all of creation.  This image bearing is what separates us from the rest of creation.  We each have inestimable value in the world and are joined in the community of mankind because we have the likeness of God, regardless of any other multitude of differences between us.

It is very instructive to clearly grasp that the sanctity of life is a Biblical principle.  From a comparative religion standpoint, Biblical faith is the only religion in the history of humankind to have this fully historically grounded, developed, and specifically articulated, sanctity of man’s life principle.  Indeed, it is central to the Biblical message in the whole, and in the part.

Theologically, sanctity of life is referenced and understood as a creation ordinance.  A creation ordinance is something God put into place as a part of the nature, design, and/or desired outcome of what he created.  For instance, in Genesis 1:26b, man is given dominion over the earth.  Dominion is a creation ordinance.  It is a God given command, law, and responsibility.  (And God shaped/designed creation to function with man’s dominion as His ongoing command/rule/law).  God exercised dominion in creating.  We (the image of God) exercise dominion in the responsible use and refashioning of this material world.  We are, in essence, charged with being Biblical environmentalists!

Sanctity of life is a creation ordinance because of the intrinsic value of God’s image residing in man.  Sanctity of life is explicitly developed as a command and law further on in the Scriptures, as we will see later.

Sadly, this sanctity of life principle has all but disappeared from modern thought and practice, except in the corrupted borrowing by liberals and leftists using the verbiage without the substance.  Its theological undergirding, development, and cultural manifestation was uniquely hammered out by, and advanced through, the rise of Western Civilization. 

Any solid student of history will tell you that the term “Western Civilization” is a euphemism employed to designate the advancement of Christianity throughout the ages.  Bottom line, the spread of Christianity worldwide is what history has been about since the death of Christ on the cross nearly 20 centuries ago.

It is encouraging to know that God has given us resources with which to guide and direct our energies in this historically unfolding drama (i.e. the spread of Christianity). 

The command by God to, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  (Amos 5:24) is God’s way of telling us that our efforts here on earth in this life are to strive for the fullest practical implementation of His justice right now, even today!

And in the New Testament, we find a corresponding command in the Lord’s prayer; we are explicitly taught to say, believe, and hope for, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, here on earth


God is the Definer of words (and Architect of the principles of life).  We had better pay attention to His definitions, which are eternal and immutable, rather then fancying ourselves as being up to the ever so heavy task of defining.  Why do I call it heavy?  Because defining is precise judgment.  When you have defined something, you have pronounced your judgment upon it.  I believe that we’d all be a lot better off in the long run, if we attempt to think God’s thoughts after Him, rather than striking out on our own, depending on our sin corrupted abilities.

God defines.  He is the defining God.  Life, death, justice, mercy, and love have their proper understanding and inter-relationship according to how God defines them.  He has given us His written word, that we might, with due diligence, glean understanding of how He views things (to enable us to think His thoughts after Him).  Clearly, our only hope to rightly understanding the mysteries of life is to follow His lead.  And that is my attempt in this writing.

God defines every human life as highly valuable because of the intrinsic image and likeness we have of Him.  That is the very foundation of the sanctity of life principle.  We are valuable because we are image bearers.  Now, here comes a central principle: God has the ultimate right to define and set the value of an image bearer and the image he bears.  In other words, God has a right to protect His image, and the reflection of His image.  And He does exactly that throughout His recorded history in the Scriptures, as we will see.

Here is another central principle to factor in.  Just as God created man and made the sanctity of life an intrinsic facet of man’s creation, so too, God made the death penalty a part of His creation.  Sound odd?  Maybe so; but it shouldn’t, for that is the case in point.

In the garden He created, God planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  And He said, “ but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in that day that you eat of it you shall die.”  (Genesis 2:17b).  In the early chapters of Genesis we see the very first institution and use of the death penalty, though actual physical death was delayed, spiritual death was exacted in that day.  What we have seen is, that by God’s hand and decree, the death penalty was an intricate part of the creation act.  God pronounced the penalty of death should Adam disobey and eat of the fruit he was commanded not to eat of.

Biblically speaking, the death penalty as a civil punishment (i.e. Capital Punishment) is applied for a multitude of reasons under differing dispensations.  Examples of its use include but are not limited to murder, violent rape, kidnapping, and homosexuality.  It is not within the scope of this paper to argue the various aspects of these civil law usages of the death penalty, nor whether they each have ongoing validity. 

We will concern ourselves with only one application.  God’s universal eternal decree of death as the penalty for premeditated murder, and how it relates to the sanctity of life; that is our subject.

It is the position of the writer that the Bible, taken as a whole, reveals a consistent pattern of proscribing or upholding the death penalty for murder as an ongoing unchanging Scriptural mandate. 

We will examine three major Biblical defenses of this position. 

1.       The Noahic Covenant.  A covenant God made with Noah that has never been revoked, suspended, or superseded.  In other words, it is still fully in force and is God’s command for us today!

2.       The Mosaic Law.  This covenant begins with the Ten Commandments, and includes “You shall not commit murder,” This covenant incorporates detailed applications of the Ten Commandments, including the explicit pronouncement of Capital Punishment for the crime of murder.

3.       The New Testament’s positive affirmations that use of the death penalty is Biblically sanctioned in the New Covenant.

The Covenant with Noah

In the single verse of Genesis 9:5, three times in short order God says, “I will require….”  It is clear in the context of this story of the covenant God made with Noah (Genesis 9:1-17) that the reckoning God will require for murder is nothing less than full compensation, or in other words, compensatory death.  A reckoning is an accounting, a just accounting or just judgment.  This is God’s pronouncement of what constitutes justice on earth for the crime of murder.  God says clearly that a just reckoning is the forfeiture of the life of the murderer.

And notice the foundational reason God says Capital punishment is required.  It is required because the innocent that was murdered bore God’s image, “…for in his own image God made humankind.

For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another.  I will require a reckoning for human life.

Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind.
Genesis 9:5-6

The words here are very clear, unambiguous, and transcend the passage of time from the days of Noah in the very distant past, to the 21st Century with so little clarification necessary.  A life for a life: God’s symmetry, if you will.  We learn from these words that even animals that take a human life are to be put to death.  How much more so should a life be required of a human being (a fellow image bearer) that cheapens everyone’s life and afflicts damage on God’s image by the act of murder, as well as taking the life of an innocent human being.  God has the right to protect His image as He chooses.  And this Scripture specifically states He chooses to impose the ultimate penalty in this world (Capital Punishment) for damage done to His image.

Note:  This passage cannot be spiritualized as some form of future action on God’s part.  That’s because it explicitly proscribes that the life of the murderer is to be taken by man!

Let me make a practical application of the above teaching in the form of a question: What, in this passage, is the chief reason for God’s proscription of Capital Punishment in the case of murder?

1.     Deterrence?  No.  While it is true that the one forfeiting his or her life will never murder again –which is good- still, it’s not the chief reason.

2.     Deterrence?  No.  It is true that if Capital Punishment is applied consistently and carried through in a Biblical fashion, it will greatly deter potential future murders by others, but still, this is not the chief reason.

3.     Revenge?  No.  There is a sense of righteous avenging closure for all involved, and that is good, but this is still not the chief reason.

4.     How about democratic majority vote in favor of Capital Punishment for murder?  No.  Just because the majority, according to all polls, want to see

a revitalized practice of Capital Punishment –that is not reason of any kind to implement it.  A majority voted for Clinton –twice!  A majority vote gave Hitler unlimited authority.  We are told that a majority of the popular vote was for Gore.  Majority does not make right, nor does it constitute a chief reason!

The chief, fullest, and most fundamental reason for Capital punishment as the penalty for murder is because… …it is the reckoning God requires!

John Calvin

Whether one is aware of it or not, the Bible, Calvinistic theology and English common law, all three together constitute in substantial part, the underpinnings this country was built upon and they supply the reasons its freedoms were founded and established.  Most people professing Biblical Trinitarian faith, which was the overwhelming majority of Americans in this country’s first 250 years of history (1600 to 1850), were of Calvinistic persuasion.  If not full professing Calvinists, they were at least heavily influenced by and towards that theological approach.

[Note: Before we examine what Calvinism’s beliefs are, let me say the above assertion in no way denies or marginalizes the significant contributions of others in the formation of this great nation, such as Methodists, Baptists, and also the Catholic constituency.  In example, Maryland was a mostly Catholic colony in its founding, and yet had a good history in regards to the practice of religious tolerance.

It must be recognized however, that the Catholicism of North America was far different than that of Central or South America.  And quite a far cry from the Catholicism of Europe, too.

The Catholicism of North America was (and is) heavily influenced by American individualism, important Baptist views of church and state, and other features unique to the emerging American Character.  There were much friendlier working and rest relationships enjoyed with Protestantism and the Baptist/separatist’s faiths (more so than anywhere else in the world, the three communities were found for the most part peacefully intermixed).  Baptist influence because of its great victorious insistence upon the separation of denominational church and state, helped create a much less heavy handed Catholicism that was also less controlled by Rome.

Religious tolerance was an American gift to the world.  During the period in view, 1600 – 1850, tolerance as a practice was, at best, still a far distant dream in most of Europe –and for the rest of the world!  Still is today too.]

The Bible, Calvinistic theology and English common law, all three together constitute in substantial part, the underpinnings this country was built upon, and supply the reasons its freedoms were founded and established.

The direct influence of the Bible itself upon the American Character cannot be over stated.  The Bible was central (primary) in the American way of life from the early 1600’s to the middle of the 20th Century.  The first act of the Constitutional Congress was to print 20,000 Bibles for the new nation.  It was the source of our national morality, the central means used to learn language and history, the inspiration for evangelism and outreach, and it was for 350 years the most widely spread, read, and used book on this continent.

Calvinism is the informal name given to the central theology developed by the lawyer turned theologian,  John Calvin.  He was a 15th century French/Swiss reformer following closely on the actions of Martin Luther.  His INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION, was completed and first published at the unbelievably young age of 21.  Through its many revisions, it served as the most influential textbook for reformation doctrine and insight outside of Lutheran Germany. 

Compared to Luther,  John Calvin was much more systematic and voluminous in his written studies of Scripture and theology.  This reformer’s life work, directly led to such people and movements as:

·        The French Huguenots

·        John Knox and Scottish Presbyterianism

·        The Covenanters

·        The Dutch Reformed Church, and Reformed South Africa

·        Jonathan Edwards and the first Great Awakening in America

And last in this list, but not least in stature, is that the American Experiment cannot be understood apart from  John Calvin.

All of us, at one time or another, have read and studied our Founding Fathers.  (Though if asked to name more than 3 or 4 of the more than 250 of them that there were, I wonder, how many of us would be stumped?)  Sadly, it would be surprising for most people to learn the central place John Calvin occupied in the formation of America.  John Adams, the second President of these United States, wrote,

"Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised.  Religious liberty owes it most respect."

Adam’s use of the word Geneva references Calvin’s theology and insistence upon following the Bible as providing the norm for societal life and instruction as to civil law.  Continuing this train of thought, the legendary German historian, Ranke –one of the profoundest scholars of modern times— says:

“John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.”

In addition, John Bancroft, the leading American historian of the nineteenth century, simply referred to  John Calvin as the:

“Father of America.”

And he also stated,

"He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty."

To further drive home the significance of Calvin’s contributions and influence upon America, historians that are more recent also credit him as being the father of Evangelicalism.

Chiefly, Calvinism means at least the following: God is Sovereign; God saves sinners; the Bible is the true written word of God; the Bible applies to all of life, it has the right questions and answers.  Jesus Christ is King over all right now, and should be firstly and chiefly acknowledged as such.

Therefore, the King’s Words, i.e. the Bible, should be the basis and source for law, justice, culture, and the reformation of this world on all levels: personal, family, church, civil, and state.  For these very reasons, I turn to the Bible to present the positive case for Capital Punishment, rather than first turning to church pronouncements, law history books, or philosophy proper. 

If the Bible doesn’t teach it, neither should I.

Common Law

Earlier, I mentioned English common law as the third underpinning this nation was built upon.  What follows can serve as a brief introduction.

Common Law developed over many centuries in the British Isles along side and in conjunction with the advance of Christianity.  Common law was the first type of law in extensive use in the North American colonies, being a direct inheritance from our Scots/English/Welsh/Irish homelands.  I believe God blessed and used the advance of common law.  I believe that for the most part, it is reflective of Biblical wisdom, logic, principles, and examples.

England’s foremost Advocate/Barrister, William Blackstone, wrote the most absolutely definitive and authoritative commentaries on English common law ever printed.  Significantly, he sold many more thousands of copies of his work in America than in the British Isles.  The founders of this nation loved it –they couldn’t get enough of it.  Blackstone was required reading at almost all colonial universities.

The standard legal reference authority the courts employed more than any other for the first 150 years of United States history was Blackstone.  Here is a powerful quote demonstrating Blackstone’s central legal point of view,


One aspect of common law particularly relevant to our discussion concerns the idea of injured parties.  The old saying regarding this is “No harm, no foul.”  In other words, to have a broken law, there must be some injured party.  [One need be only slightly familiar with today’s court systems and rulings to realize this common sense approach to law is all but gone.]

Thus, for our topic at hand, we should ask the question, “Who is the injured party in a murder?  Ask most legal authorities, and they will say today’s answer is The State.  (What they won’t tell you, as readily, is that the answer, “the State,” is the socialist definition and designation of the injured party; that’s right, a good lot of the law practiced in the United States today is Marxist socialism.)  The Bible however, declares the dead person, God, the land, and the civil government as all being injured parties.  Now, if you will follow carefully along with me, this is where it gets quite interesting.  There is a spot in the Psalms where the Psalmist cries out, “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned.”  (Psalm 51:4).  That is not just poetic prayer. 

Actually, every sin we commit is first and foremost a sin against God, including the sin of murder.  But with murder, the connection is even more direct.  For each time someone is murdered the image of God is destroyed.  And we have already amply shown that God is most jealous (or guarding) of His image, and thus does not take its destruction lightly. 

God, as a joint injured party (so to speak) in the case of murder, proves a significant factor in our belief that the Biblical proscription of Capital Punish-ment as the civil penalty for 1st degree murder as being, a, universal ongoing law.  God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8).

Let us drill into our heads the main thoughts of the first Scripture passage we examined demanding Capital Punishment for 1st degree murders, in the Noahic Covenant.  We have seen that God puts extraordinary value upon His image and image bearers.  And why shouldn’t He?  And when that image is destroyed by murder, God, and God alone, determines the value of that loss, and what is to be done about it.  And the reason He gets to make the call is because He is God, the Judge, the Definer of justice, and it is His image and His created image bearers that must be accounted for.  

Mosaic Law

Now, we will now survey those Scriptures of the law given to Moses, which most fully reference our topic.  Our study will of necessity be brief.  However, to further pursue this topic in depth, I make full reference to three works, one each by authors Dr. Rousas John Rushdoony, Dr. Lloyd Bailey, and Dr. John Murray that the reader can profitably consult.  Each work is eminently worthy of extended examination.

You shall not murder.

Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17 

This commandment (in English, the shortest of the ten) is quite succinct, straight forward, and a powerful defense of the sanctity of life.  It stands united with the rest of the Ten commandments, whose purposes while not limited to, include defenses of: the sanctity of marriage (seventh commandment); the sanctity of worship (first through fourth commandments); and the sanctity of our thought life (tenth commandment).

As alluded to earlier, I would enjoin the reader to please not confuse the Biblical sanctity of life principle with, for instance, Albert Schweitzer’s heretical teaching of,  “reverence for all life.”  The Biblical picture in counter-distinction is reverence for God, alone!  And God decides the value of a life and when, where, and if it becomes forfeit.  Schweitzer’s teaching is merely a worship of life rather than worship of the source of life, the Creator God.  He replaces the God of the Scriptures, with a “god of life” pantheistic kind of approach. 

What is God’s civil law pronouncement for breaking the sixth commandment?

Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death.  If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee.  But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.

Exodus 21:12-14

Now this is the case of a homicide who might flee there and live, that is, someone who has killed another person unintentionally when the two had not been at enmity before: Suppose someone goes in the forest with another to cut wood, and when one of them swings the ax to cut down a tree, the head slips from the handle and strikes the other person who then dies; the killer may flee to one of these cites and live.

Deuteronomy 19:4,5

There is no mistaking what these two texts say about consequences for breaking the sixth commandment.  The above passages translate very well for the modern reader. 

For a fuller understanding, we must be aware that the sixth commandment was itself given to emphasize and protect life; so, it was, in essence, a sanctity of life commandment.  In light of such, capital punishment being the sentence for premeditated homicide, it is best understood as also providing a hedge against committing this hideous crime.

It is instructive to note that these passages also include an “out” for cases of accidental death blows or some other act of God.  Clearly, such provision demonstrates God’s justice and mercy, and that He is concerned with very specific details recognizing that each situation has profound uniqueness.

If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness.  Moreover you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer who is subject to the death penalty; a murderer must be put to death.

You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.

Numbers 35:30,31,33

There are several principles being set forth in the above three verses that gives us dramatic insight into the mind of God concerning murder. 

First, for a just conviction there must be solid evidence of guilt.  Please hear this: God is as much (and truth be told, more) against false convictions (either intentional or by error) as any dyed in the wool liberal of today!  But, the possibility of wrongful conviction –then or now- in no way removes the Scriptural obligation binding us to pursue a Biblically informed Capital punishment practice as the only God sanctioned sentence for conviction of premeditated murder. 

In that day they had no finger printing, there was no DNA evidence, they didn’t take hair samples, photographs and video recorders weren’t even a dream, and the FBI wasn’t around to help.  So, what do we see?  We see God making a provision that there has to be two solid witnesses, in order to pronounce this “once done” irrevocable sentence. 

Is it possible that in today’s world some modern evidence could substitute for one or even both human witnesses?  Those committed to applying Scriptural truth in practical ways that are honoring to God should address that important question.

A second principle from the verses above is the prohibition against ransoming a murderer.  Again, this is a very important and specific provision that argues for blind justice.  Rich people could not ransom their selves, family members, friends, or anyone else!  A ransom is a kind of bartering.  A modern example of such would be plea-bargaining.  This prohibition against ransoming would emphatically bar employment of our modern plea-bargaining system in any case of witnessed premeditated homicide, thus stopping any lawyer from preemptively tilting the scales of justice.  Scripturally speaking, what we see here, is another strong evidence that God demands justice to be blind (i.e., no respecter of persons, thus no favored status for the rich or powerful).

A third principle found in these verses seems almost as if it was ripped from the front page of today’s newspapers!  “Environmental Pollution.”  The Biblical principle being presented here is that murder defiles the land (i.e. the country) in which the murder takes place.  Murder pollutes the land.  The shedding of Innocent blood defiles and pollutes the environment.  When the Bible here uses the term land, it is not just referencing the physical environment, rather it’s use of that term would include the physical, societal, and governmental aspects as they relate to murder and how human culture is affected by such a crime.  Again, the Scripture (which cannot be broken) is categorical in it’s stating of the precise and only way for restoration of the land.  And that way is the washing of the land through the just shedding of the blood of the murderer.  Blood for blood.  What is being demanded is human expiation (atonement) under a Biblically imposed and directed standardThis is an earthly atonement for the here and now only.  It is not to be confused with, nor does it compete with, the eternal atonement that Christ bought on the cross, for His own.

[To get a fuller picture of what the Bible teaches about blood, life, and justice, read Exodus 21:23a together with Genesis 9:5&6 in light of Leviticus 17:11.]

Before leaving this examination of Mosaic Law, undoubtedly some of you are asking or thinking about mercy, what role does it play?  Good question.  We are attempting to base our thoughts and actions on what God says, so, what if anything does He say about mercy concerning those convicted of 1st degree homicide?  I will answer this question by quoting the fine exegete and popular author Ken Gentry, “God’s law expressly forbids appeals to pity in Capital cases (Deuteronomy 19:13).”  Apparently, God reserves any mercy to be dealt out, to His hands alone.  Case closed.


There is a theological and subsequently legal concept that I need now to touch upon.  What is Personhood?  And how is it germane to the topic we’re exploring?

What is Personhood?  From whence does it come?  How is it recognized and legally regarded?  To find the answer to these questions depends directly on one’s belief system.  Actually, in this case, it depends on the belief system the society as a whole more or less subscribes to.  All government is by its very nature religious.  Government is inescapably religious.  So, the question becomes “What religion does the government recognize and practice?”  In example, the communist articles of faith would include an explicit denial of God’s existence and thus under Communism any talk of God and the legal system is irrelevant, except for the denial of His existence.

The United States, on the other hand, in its most basic and foundational paper –the Declaration of Independence—emphatically sets forth that life and Personhood are joined together as a gift from our Creator God:

“All men are created equal.”

The equality spoken of here primarily refers to being equal under the law in Personhood –justice is blind.  Legally, it is helpful to view the Declaration as a kind of preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  Viewed corporately, if the Constitution acts as the charter and by laws, then the Declaration would be the initial pledge of purpose, vision, and delineated goals for incorporation. 

So, in the one approach, the State confers Personhood (socialism), and in the other system (Biblical truth recognized and practiced), God does so.  Which is correct?  In this lifetime, it depends on your belief system.  I believe in the God of the Scriptures, therefore I believe that Personhood is a creation gift from the Creator God.   Legally, that is also how this country regarded the issue from our beginnings and continued to operate under such belief until the 1947 ruling in Everson vs. Board of Education.  In that ruling there occurred a drastic, far reaching formal change in the position and practice of the Supreme Court and thus subsequently of the United States government as a whole.  For a fuller account explaining what precisely happened, see appendix: A.  

Several hundred years of precedence (Both English and American) was tossed aside, and the Court was put on a new course.  This action thus resulted in divorcing the Federal Government from acknowledging and affirming God’s rightful first place in the scheme of all things, including that of acknowledging Him in the establishment and upholding of this nation’s government and laws. 

Hundreds of previous (prior to 1947) rulings the Supreme Court had made that decisively declared as a matter of law that the United States was a Christian Nation, a Christian Commonwealth, and that the Bible was the source of our laws, and that advocated in multiple rulings that preeminence be given to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as being Mankind’s one true hope, went up in smoke.  Arbitrarily, instantly, the court substituted itself in place of God, the Bible, and the Constitution.  It’s own brand of secular humanism and the means of a majority vote of judges, as ruling, became the new order of the ages. 

Precedence and sound exegesis of an objective Constitution being no longer accepted, resulted in any restraining effect or means of appeal to an objective standard being lost on the ash heap of history. 

Now a days nothing is law until the Supreme Court says it is; and they can change their minds on anything for any reason at any time: that is fiat law enthroned.  The rulings of the current sitting Supreme Court (at any time from 1947 on) became the new standard of American Jurisprudence.  Rather than an objective understanding of the constitution as the authors understood it, providing a bulwark against tearing the Constitution down, what developed from this ruling was nothing less then the floodgates opening for fiat law by a new forensic dictatorial totalitarianism.  The constitution became a paper lion no longer with a substantive roar!  Like the putty nose on a clown that can be reshaped at will, the constitution now can mean whatever the current majority of  Judges wants it to mean.  And what we have seen as the fruits of that ruling being played out in our society at large for the last 55 years is nothing less than the total removal of our heritage and collapse of our culture.

What is Personhood?  That is a most difficult question to answer.  It is the other side of the divine coin “image bearer.”  Image Bearer and Personhood are very equitable.  From whence does it come?  It comes from God.  To whom does Personhood extend?  Historically, under the Biblical norm, Personhood began for an unborn child when the child’s expectant Mom first realized she was pregnant.  Philosophically, for the last couple of hundred years, the Bible believer would say full Personhood begins when life begins, at conception, which is what Blackstone taughtHow is it recognized and legally regarded?  It is recognized and affirmed by government.  But, you must understand that in the Biblical model, government is recognizing the reality of Personhood, not conferring it.  It is kind of like canonization in regards to the Scriptures.  Did the church actively choose which writings would be Scripture so that writings became Scripture by church action?  Or did it passively (under the influence of the Living Word) recognize and affirm what was already inherently Scripture by its very nature and then separated it from that which wasn’t Scripture?  I, of course, affirm the latter.

From a purely legal standpoint, Personhood is full recognition of a human being under the law as being of equal worth, standing, and value before the law (i.e., =before God).  Let me draw some analogies to help us think right on this.  Personhood is to the human being what mind is to the brain.  And each pair enjoy a unified relationship (during life, at least!)  The brain is the essence; the mind is the person fully personified. 

You can’t have one without the other, but they are not synonymous.  Also, Personhood and the human being are somewhat analogous to Spirit and Body –again, you can’t have one (living) without the other.  It is a package deal.  The human being is the essence; the Personhood is the individual.  We all share in “human being-ness”; but we each have a unique individual Personhood.

Personhood (the individual)……………………………………human being-ness

Mind (unique)……………………………………………………… brain


*and, Biblically speaking, these two together become “a living soul”

Personhoods (three unique individuals)…………………..God being-ness

(Father, Son, Holy Spirit)                             (–the Godhead)

In reality, the question of Personhood boils down to a spiritual question.  We have Personhood because it is what we are by creation, or birth, from our Creator God.  We each have Personhood because God has Personhood.  We are all human beings because God created us human beings.  In the Reality we call God, there are three Persons existing in one Essence (Being, or Substance).  Each person –Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-- within the Godhead are distinct, each an individual Personhood.  Yet they exist inseparably joined in what is called the Godhead.  That is also called the Trinity.  The triune God has Personhood, three distinct Personhoods.  Man, being made in the image of God has essence (being, or substance) in that he is a human being, he shares in “human being-ness.”  Man as a creature has Personhood because we bear the image of God.  We reflect the image of God; we are like Him.  And that Personhood (image bearing) is what makes us unique from each other, and separates us from any other created order.

Let us now note two clarifications so that we not become confused.

First, Personhood is not to be equated with citizenship.  Citizenship is something conferred upon someone by a nation or state; it is not something intrinsic to the human being.  Citizenship is strictly a legal question and thus can be given, denied, or taken away.

Personhood is not a scientific question, per se.  Being human, or designated as Homo sapien sapiens, is a matter of scientific inquiry, specifically, a matter of DNA and RNA, chromosome pairs, and parentage.  Again, Personhood is a spiritual question, not a scientific one.

Finally, you might say Personhood, for those of us operating under the Biblical framework, is the equivalent of a euphemism for image bearing.  And that seems to bring us full circle.

          The abortion debate boils down to one question.  Does Personhood extend to unborn babies?  If you think it does, you are pro-life, if you think it doesn’t, you are pro-choice. 

The abortion question is not one of, “Is the unborn child human or not human?”  The unborn child is unquestionably fully human, with a full set of human chromosomes making Homo sapien sapiens. 

The abortion question is not one of development, as the pro-choice faction often wants to frame it.  Medical science tells us, the human being does not develop fully in the physical, mental, and emotional arena’s until about, on average, reaching age 26.  Physically, mentally, and personality wise, many people never fully develop, so development cannot be used for deciding the abortion question.  Development is a very subjective sliding scale enveloping many plains.  Development after or before birth is not an intrinsic standard for deciding either Personhood or the abortion question.

As said earlier, from at least the 1500’s on, Bible believing Christian Nations understood life and Personhood as jointly beginning from conception onward.  Again, that is what Blackstone taught, and what the Supreme Court observed from the late 1700’s to the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. 

Roe/Wade was a fiat ruling that threw out hundreds of years of accepted understanding that Personhood was intrinsic in the human being before and after  birth.  Sadly, individual rulings in more than 20 states prior to Roe/Wade had also failed to recognize the gravity of the Personhood question, thus paving the way for Roe/Wade. The same ruling also invented “a right to privacy,” something never before found in the constitution.  Exegesis was abandoned.

Life for life

From very early on in the formation of the Christian faith, abortion was viewed as killing a human person.  Unborn children were understood as participating fully in Personhood. 

When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.  If any harm follow, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Exodus 21:22-25

I state it without fear of contradiction, a straight forward exegetical rendering and reading of this passage fully equates the life of the yet to be born with the already born.  Death of a miscarried child brought about by irresponsible actions of adults is viewed as worthy of the same penalty as premeditated murder.  Life for life. 

In other words the transgression in view in Exodus 21:22-25 is equivalent in God eyes with first degree homicide (if death of the mother or premature new born baby or babies occurs).  Think about that.  The ramifications are incredibly startling to the modern mind. 

This precise Scriptural civil law and its straight forward unambiguous teaching can be directly applied to premeditated abortion.  There is no getting around it. 

These verses teach that Capital punishment is the order of God as the proper sentence for the mischief killing of an unborn child. 

Thus, how much more so should it be the sentence for conviction of premeditated homicide of the unborn child –namely, for willful chosen abortion?  Biblically, the mother that willfully chooses abortion and the Doctor that aids her should both be put to death.

[Note: abortion to save the life of the mother would not come under or be in included in this civil law & sentence passage.  It would be a separate question, though none the less a tough one!]

One of the definitive studies of the Ten Commandments to come forth in the second half of the 20th century appears in R. J. Rushdoony’s THE INSTITUTES OF BIBLICAL LAW.  A daunting work, though quite readable, it is an extraordinarily beautifully written commentary.  Overall, it is highly rewarding reading, even considering the extra effort needed.  Dr. Rushdoony lists 18 offenses the death penalty was used for.  We’re only dealing with number one, Capital Punishment, for the crime we would today call (in most states) premeditated murder, or first degree homicide.

A fuller understanding of our topic will be most aided by reproducing a passage of Dr. Rushdoony’s brilliant work:

Abortion, the destruction of the human embryo or foetus, has long been regarded by Biblical standards as murder.  The grounds for this judgment are the sixth commandment, and Exodus 21:22-25. Cassuto’s explanatory rendering of this latter passage brings out Its meaning: When men strive together and they hurt unintentionally a woman with child, and her children come forth but no mischief happens— that is, the woman and the children do not die—the one who hurt her shall surely be punished by a fine.  But if any mischief happens, that is, if the woman dies or the children die, then you shall give life for life. [1] The comment of Keil and Delitzsch is important: If men strove and thrust against a woman with child, who had come near or between them for the purpose of making peace, so that her children come out (come into the world), and no injury was done either to the woman or the child that was born, a pecuniary compensation was to be paid, such as the husband of the woman laid upon him, and he was to give it . . . by (by an appeal to) arbitrators.  A fine is imposed, because even if no injury had been done to the woman and the fruit of her womb, such a blow might have endangered life. . . The plural . . . is employed for the purpose of speaking indefinitely, because there might possibly be more than one child in the womb.  “But if injury occur (to the mother or the child), thou shalt give soul for soul, eye for eye wound for wound”: thus perfect retribution was to be made. [2]

The importance of Exodus 21:22-25 becomes all the more clear as we realize that this is case law, i.e., that it sets forth by a minimal case certain larger implications.  Let us examine some of the implica- tions of this passage: First, very obviously, the text cites, not a case of deliberate abortion but a case of accidental abortion.  If the penalty for even an accidental case is so severe, it is obvious that a deliberately induced abortion is very strongly forbidden.  It is not necessary to ban deliberate abortion, since it is already eliminated by this law.  Second, the penalty for even an accidental abortion is death.  If a man who, in the course of a fight, unintentionally bumps a pregnant woman and causes her to abort, must suffer the death penalty, how much more so any person who intentionally induces an abortion?  Third, even if no injury results to either the mother or the foetus, the man in the case is liable to a fine and, in fact, must be fined.  Clearly, the law strongly protects the pregnant woman and her foetus, so that every pregnant mother has a strong hedge of law around her.  Fourth, since even a mother bird with eggs or young is covered by law (Deut. 22:6, 7), clearly any tampering with the fact of birth is a serious matter: to destroy life is forbidden except where required or permitted by God’s law. [3]

The principle enunciated in the above specific case law can be applied elsewhere.  For example, let us examine the question of killings by drunk drivers.  In principle, the Bible would equate death at the hands of a drunk driver as no different from premeditated murder.  The logic would be that no one forced “the drunk driver” to drink and then drive (which all agree is a criminally irresponsible act).  Also, any holder of a driver’s license knows that a 2 to 4,000 pound vehicle driven at even modest speeds, can produce tremendous horror and death in short order if not properly controlled.

Clearly, the Biblical standard for personal responsibility is revealed as being much higher than current American thinking and legal practice.

There is another very important legal principle being developed in this Exodus passage that we must take note of before we move on.  And that is the principle of restraint as expressed in the common law dictum, “punishment must fit the crime; it must be proportionate to the offense, neither lesser or greater.”  [Rushdoony, p. 229]

Considering the world surrounding the original hearers of Exodus in their day, this passage is a bright beacon of mercy, equal justice, and practiced restraint against cruelty all rolled into one.  Why?  Because it says an eye for an eye, in example.  Nothing more, and nothing less, is the standard for imposing proper justice.  In the world surrounding them, one might lose one’s life by causing a lost eye in another man.  Thus, we see the restraining power of the principle of equal loss being played out.  On the other side of the example, a man causing the loss of an eye in a woman, might only have to pay a small fine, if anything.  Examples of this legal inequality because of the legally inferior status of women in the world outside the Biblical community are legion, from ancient times right up to and including today’s Muslim world!  Finally, this passage is a beacon of mercy because there is no penalty (in example) for insult, loss of face, or personal hurt feelings, thus giving legal protection for poor people from the often unjust whims and rages of the rich and mighty.

The New Testament

The whole question of studying the Old Testament’s teachings concerning the death penalty as an avenue to understand what we are to be pursuing (advocating) in today’s world would be moot, if in the New Testament the OT teaching were somehow shown as clearly ended, changed, or superseded.

Let me at this time present an important interpretive Biblical insight:

That which the New Testament does not specifically and fully end, change, or replace, is still in force today!  If it hasn’t been ended, changed, or superseded, it is fully valid for life now.  For instance, the Proverbs and Psalms are just as true and applicable for life today as they were when originally written by those under the Old Covenant.   

When the Apostles Paul and Peter write about the beauty and power of Scripture they do not distinguish OT vs. NT, much less do they discard or relegate the OT to some kind of second hand “has been status.”  Secondly, the OT is quoted throughout the NT in positive power and appreciation.  Thirdly,  Jesus said Scripture couldn’t be broken!

Does that mean that we are still under the yoke of the law?  NO!  Are we still under the Old Covenant?  NO!  In regards to salvation, the law has indeed, as the Bible says, been nailed to the Cross.  The Old Covenant has indeed, passed away, as the teaching of the book of Hebrews affirms.  But, in regards to being our guide (or tutor) as to what is right and wrong, a source of moral understanding, a standard for societal interaction and civil law, and our teacher to fill our consciences so that we might know what is pleasing to God, the Law-Word is still the powerful & must be obeyed voice of God.

The New Testament was not written to replace the Old Testament.  It has little meaning or validity apart from its relationship to the OT.  And the OT remains a great mystery and unfulfilled apart from the NT. 

The NT’s real purpose is, in large measure, to enlighten us as to the true meaning of the OT, and then to show that that meaning, Covenantally speaking, has been brought to completion in Jesus and His work!

Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures.  But fulfilling them in no way, shape, or form, diminishes their ongoing purpose and validity of application for living in today’s world.  Here is a solid example.  Commenting on Matthew 5:43,44, where Jesus advises love instead of hate, Duke University’s Dr. Lloyd Bailey writes,

“It should be realized first of all that Jesus’ contrast is not with the Hebrew Bible (which does not advise hating one’s enemies)…” 

[See Proverbs 25:21,22 and Leviticus 19:17,18.]

“…but with this ordinary tendency of human behavior: to disdain one’s enemies and to favor one’s friends.”  Professor Bailey continues, “to assume, in this context, that Jesus suddenly starts rejecting the moral regulations of Torah concerning murder is little short of astonishing, especially in view of how the section begins (think not that I have come to abolish the law…)”

[See Matthew 5:17-19.] 

Dispensationalists and others make the mistake of teaching that the New Covenant has done away with the law, all of the law.  Such teaching is false, as detailed above.  We do not keep the law to be saved.  I offer to that 100% agreement!  But we do strive to keep the law out of thanks for or positive affirmation of having been saved.  We recognize that the law is indeed good!  (And that it can no longer hurt us!) 

God loves His law eternally.  Read Psalm 119 if you question that proposition, then get back to me.  The law is still, as it always was, a standard for measuring our actions, not for the purpose of redemption, but rather for us, for furthering godly living.  We are saved by the work of Jesus.  We live and confirm our salvation daily, and conform our lives to the image of  Jesus, by upholding all of the Scripture’s ongoing commands and instructions (OT and NT) through the power of the Holy Spirit only!  That is why we study the written Word of God –the whole Word!

And again, how do you decide what is an ongoing command?  I now repeat this primary interpretive Biblical insight (i.e., guiding tool):

That which the New Testament does not specifically and fully end, change, or replace, is still in force today!  Silence in the NT does not equate with repeal!  If it hasn’t been ended, changed, or superseded by the NT, it is fully valid for life now.

Who has the power to say any part of God’s Word is now moot?  I answer, God and God alone has that power.  So, I implore the reader to not listen to some scheme of man, no matter how ingrained or traditional.  Rather, seek to understand what the Word says and teaches, believing God’s Word to be eternal and alive and fully in force save where the Giver of the Word Himself changes it.  The practice of OT shadows is dead, yes, nailed to the cross.  But that is because the NT explicitly says it is.  The Old Covenant has passed away, yes, indeed it has.  But that is because the NT says it has.  The required obligatory physical observance of the Sabbath is dead, yes.  Why?  Because the NT doesn’t repeat this command?  True, and important, but not decisive.  Remember, silence does not equate with repeal!  Rather, required physical Sabbath observance is dead because the NT says it is no longer obligatory, and it goes even further saying that it is now a matter of individual choice if one wants to observe it or not (Romans 14).  Also, the NT instructs us that the purpose of the Sabbath observance has been fulfilled, in that, rather than a one day a week resting  (i.e. a shadow), we now rest 24/7 through and by abiding in Christ –that is the ongoing Sabbath!  [See Hebrews 4:1-11.] 

The validity of Capital punishment for murder, on the other hand, is alive because the NT never ends, changes, or supersedes it with something else.  Indeed, the NT where it does speak, positively endorses the post-resurrection governmental use of the death penalty, as we will see below.

The creation ordinances are still in force.  We are still under command to be fruitful, to multiply and fill the earth.  We are still under command to exercise responsible dominion over the entire world and everything in it. 

The Noahic Covenant is still in force: rainbows are still in the sky.  God is unflinchingly keeping His word to never destroy the world again by flooding. 

We are still under command to recognize and enforce the sanctity of life, and in the crime of murder, to pursue His required reckoning of life for life because we still retain the image of God, and His Law-Word is still living and valid!

The Mosaic Law is just as valid today as when it was given, except where it is ended, changed, or superseded by the NT.  Here are some examples of its ongoing validity.  Though not repeated in the NT, incest, and bestiality are just as much sins today as when the law was given.  Silence in the NT does not equate with repeal!

Let us now examine three New Testament passages concerning the death penalty.

Our first passage is Acts 25:11a, “Now if I am in the wrong, and have committed something for which I deserve death…” Here Paul seems to say that there are acts deserving of death.  At the very least, he seems to allow for such.

Next, in Romans, 1:32, “They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die…”

Paul seems to be speaking in reference to unrepentant committed long-term practicing homosexuals, and he is applying God’s decree saying that God says they deserve to die, and that the homosexuals even know such!  If homosexuality is, still worthy of death (a topic for a different paper!) in God’s “estimation,” then, common sense would seem to dictate that a murderer must certainly still be deserving of death.  Isn’t that a reasonable extrapolation?

But what about using the death penalty in the post-resurrection world?  Does the New Testament ever positively and explicitly endorse execution by governing powers?  Does it express a positive thrust in favor of the death penalty’s use?  I believe the evidence is in the affirmative.

Our third Scripture and the most primary NT passage for this topic is Romans 13:1-10.  Craig Keener offers us historical insight by commenting on verse 13:4b:

“…bearing the sword refers to the standard method of execution in this period (beheading); in earlier times the ax had been used.  Swords were carried in front of Roman officials to indicate their authority over life and death.

[Quoted from THE IVP BIBLE BACKGROUND COMMENTARY: New Testament, by Keener, Craig S., InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1993]

But if you do what is wrong you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain!  It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrong doer.

Romans 13:4b

Knowing that this sword reference is to execution, one need only read the Roman’s passage in full to see that it positively affirms a godly use of execution by governing powers.

Jesus, and the New Testament


Go, and sin no more

        We will now examine the most referenced NT text cited as evidence of the death penalty having positively ceased as being God mandated.  Advocates against pursuing the death penalty for murder say that Jesus Himself ended any use of the death penalty.  But did he?

The argument is usually presented in this manner.  They would contend that the death penalty has been done away in the whole by the example of the part.  (Remember that there are 18 Scriptural crimes where the Bible employs the death penalty at various times under differing dispensations.  I am presently contending only for one, Capital punishment for murder.)  Yes, I agree, the whole can and often is done away by the part or the example of the part to be precise.  But, they have a miss-understanding of the Scripture they use as their basis, and thus their attempts to apply such to the discussion are wrong.

We will now read the passage often referred to as, The Woman Caught in Adultery.

Early in the morning he came again to the temple.  All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him,  “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now what do you say?”  They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him.  Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground the sins of each of them.  When they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus straightened up and said to her, Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No Lord.”  And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way and from now on do not sin again.

John 8:2-11 (NRSV)

What anti-death penalty advocates will say is,  Jesus superseded the death penalty and taught that mercy and exhortation to sin no more should be employed as the replacement “sentence” to the previously law demanded death.

Does that square with the text?  I think not.

In Jesus’ time, adultery was rather rampant among the leaders, including the scribes and Pharisees.  So, our first observation on this passage is that we have hypocrites (as Jesus himself labeled them elsewhere) trying to test our Lord so that they could charge Him and do away with Him!  Secondly, though citing Moses, they really didn’t follow in general or in particular what the law said.  The law demanded that both offending parties be put to death, they only presented the woman for punishment.  (Perhaps one of them was whom she was sleeping with!)  Next, the reality of that day was that this law was rarely if ever enforced as they could not stomach it and only pursued this case to test  Jesus, to try and trip him up in front of the crowd he was teaching. 

Therefore their motives were nothing but evil.  They were not seeking to follow God’s Law-Word in godly fashion; rather, they were attempting to employ surreptitiously what Moses said, towards their own evil ends of trying to trip  Jesus up.  What a foul thing.

When  Jesus said, “anyone among you who is without sin” he meant any without the sin of adultery.  He knew their sins, which is why He wrote them out --literally convicting them!  None stayed; they all left.  They knew that if they accused her and opened the door to execution, their guilty-selves would be next!  With all of them gone and only  Jesus left, she could not be stoned, because the law requires a minimum of two witnesses against her for the sentence to be carried forth.  [Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22]  Thus, what we see in this passage is  Jesus clearly up holding the law, not setting it aside!

This cannot be read as an example of  Jesus doing away with the law.  Far from it!  This is an example of  Jesus, again, going by the clear unen-cumbered dictates of the law and not allowing it to be used towards evil ends in His presence.  It is  Jesus together with the Law triumphant over His enemies and their tradition.  This is clearly an upholding of the law.

[For further reading, see Appendix: B, The Woman Taken in Adultery, for Rushdoony’s brilliantly argued and full explanation of why this passage is really a strong defense of the ongoing validity of the Law.]


The final objection to the death penalty that I wish to speak to briefly is more philosophical in nature.  There are a substantial percentage of people that put forth the idea that love is now the priority, and thus love has replaced the need to pursue a just enactment of the death penalty, as in the case of 1st degree murder.  Some of these people really get paralyzed on the word love. 

To constantly repeat a mantra of love, love, love, love, does nothing to address the question at hand.  So it is important, right from the get go, to do our best to keep bringing the argument back to a reasonable, rational, clear-headed course.  First, man’s love cannot possibly be greater than God’s is, and we have already delineated at length God’s firm unceasing command that a convicted first degree murderer is to be put to death. 

Again, they would see love as being the supreme revelation of God (“God is love” 1 John 4:8b).  And they would advocate that all things revolve around this standard (Matthew 22:40).  To get to the heart of the matter, they would say, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13b).  They would repeatedly solemnly echo “…Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19b).  Further, they would tell us that we’re no longer under command to seek retribution because love is now operative, apparently over-ruling everything else! 

Does the Bible ever say such?  NO!  Maybe the above sounds pretty nice, eh?  [Actually, it’s pitiful.  It is sad that there are books published everyday with that kind of fallacious argumentation.]  Does God or  Jesus ever come out and plainly say what is above, in context?  NO!  And aren’t they ripping those half verses out of context?  I think so, because the context’s they come from say nothing concerning the sanctity of life or the Death Penalty.  I, on the other hand, have dug out God’s thoughts on Capital punishment for premeditated homicide in context practicing sound exegesis.  Next, yes God is love.  Amen.  But God is holy, too.  “…Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts…” Isaiah 6:3.  Amen and amen!  The Bible balances these two supreme seemingly over-arching attributes of the triune God, and so should we.  No one has the Scriptural warrant for emphasizing one attribute of God to the detriment of knowing and acknowledging another attribute of His.  God is Holy, Righteous, and  Just.  God is Love, Merciful, and full of forgiveness.  He is also Sovereign, but which either attribute you honor, you cannot twist Scripture to proclaim, in example, love in an unbalanced way like in the above view.

An ending thought

The best short work on the Sanctity of Life and the Death Penalty is a small but loaded chapter in Dr. John Murray’s Principles of Conduct.  [Wm. B. Errdmans Publishing Co; Grand Rapids, Michigan; 1957]  One of the best books ever published.  In Chapter 5, pages 107 to 122 he covers both sides of the principle quite thoroughly.  Murray is widely regarded as having had one of the sharpest minds for exegesis in the first half of the 20th century.  The following is part of Professor Murray’s summary comments concerning Capital Punishment for murder:

The perpetuity of this sanction accentuates the gravity of the offense involved in murder.  Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life.  And it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty for the crime of murder…

       The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merits.


End Notes

1. Cited by John Warwick Montgomery in a letter to Christianity Today, vol. XIII, no. 5 (December 6, 1968), p. 28, from Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jenisalem: Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1967).

2. Keil and Delitzsch, Pentateuch, II, 134 f.

3. cited from: Rushdoony, Rousas John; THE INSTITUTES OF BIBLICAL LAW;
 The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company; Phillipsburg, New Jersey; 1973 (The Craig Press).  Portions of pages 263 and 264.

Appendix: A

I first learned of this earth shattering (though sadly, little known in Christian circles) truth, concerning the 1947 ruling, from a workbook entitled:

COMMUNITY IMPACT CURRICULUM, A Biblical Case for Social involvement, Understanding our Times, Christianity in the Public Square; by John Eldredge, Jason Skifstad and Greg Johnson; 1991 Focus on the Family.

I attended a seminar sponsored by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family in the early ‘90’s, and was given this workbook as a part of that training.  Here is an excerpt from pages 20, 21:

At this point, one might be saying, “Wait a minute, isn’t it wrong to mix religion with politics? Isn’t that un-Christian and against the law according to the First Amendment?” In answer to the first question, let’s look at the farewell speech of an exemplary Christian and the Father of our country, George Washington. It’s hard to find this once-famous speech in textbooks today (it’s probably been interpreted as unconstitutional), but regarding religion and government, George Washington said that no one could claim to be a true American or the tribute of American patriotism if they ever attempt to remove religion from politics. In his own words, “It is impossible to govern rightly without God and the Bible.”14 John Quincy Adams echoed Washington’s sentiment when he said, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: that it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of Christianity with the principles of civil government.”15 It looks like both the presuppositions of the top-down theory are true: this really was a Christian nation and, as far as its founders were concerned, to try separating Christianity from government is virtually impossible and would result in unthinkable damage to the nation and its people. Much of the damage we see around us must be attributed to this separation.   But what about the First Amendment? Doesn’t it guarantee separation of church and state? In fact, the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution simply states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” How many times did you hear the word wall? separation? church? state? Did you know that those words are not found anywhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights? Then where did this doctrine come from? It originates, not from the Constitution or any other foundational document of our country, but from a letter Thomas Jefferson sent to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptist Association in 1802, some thirteen years after Congress passed the First Amendment. The occasion was in response to a letter Jefferson received from the group. The letter outlined fears about a rumor that the federal government was about to officially sponsor one particular denomination, that they might create the “Church of the United States” like the Anglican church had been made the Church of England. This is exactly what the First Amendment was intended to prohibit.   Although the framers of the Constitution had made it clear that there would be no official denomination for the country, Jefferson saw fit to reassure these Baptists that the situation had not changed. He said to them,   “I contemplate with solemn reverence the act of the whole American people   which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting the   establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus   building a wall of separation between church and state.” 16 In other words, he reminded them that the First Amendment prohibited government from establishing the preeminence of any one denomination.   But why exactly the phrase “wall of separation between church and state”? This also was a way of reassuring these Baptists, a denomination of which Jefferson was not a member. The metaphor was borrowed from one of their own leaders, Roger Williams, who wrote that the “garden of the church” was to be protected from the “wilderness of the world” by a “wall of separation.” This was a one-way wall which kept the world out of the church but was, of course, never intended to keep the church out of the world. So then, Jefferson was merely speaking their own language to assure them that the federal government had no intention--was not even permitted--to judge between the religious opinions which distinguish the various denominations.   Jefferson’s address fell into obscurity for 76 years, when the U.S. Supreme Court quoted from it extensively to defend a position consistent with Jefferson but opposite to its present understanding. At that time the Court used Jefferson to argue that while the federal government could make no denominational distinctions, it was responsible to enforce civil laws according to orthodox Christian standards. The case was Reynolds vs. United States, (1878) and the plaintiffs argued that laws against polygamy were unconstitutional according to the Establishment Clause and the doctrine of the separation of church and state. However, the Court looked up the letter in question and concluded, consistently with previous rulings, that they were obliged to legislate according to Christian standards of behavior. The conscience of a citizen was protected (e.g., denomination), but conduct was a basis for legal ruling.

It was not until 1947 that our current understanding of the separation of church and state came into being. Again it was a Supreme Court case, Everson vs. Board of Education, but this time the Court only quoted eight of Jefferson’s words: “. . . a wall of separation between church and state.” 18  These eight words, taken out of context from a very minor incident that occurred long after the passage of the First Amendment, have been used by an activist court in a way exactly opposite to their meaning as understood by context and by the court itself in previous rulings!

If we had all the time in the world, we could cite for you case after case where the U.S. Supreme Court defended the Constitution and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have cases on record where the court found that an attack on Jesus Christ was punishable as an offense against the United States of America. That decision from 1947 about the separation of church and state was nothing short of a brand new philosophy for the court, made without any historical or legal precedent, and it has permeated our law, institutions, and land.

The use of eight words ripped out of context from a private letter of a President, to address a very minor incident, written long after the first amendment had been debated and adopted, and was well established as to its true meaning –the court used these eight words with no other consideration, not allowing precedence of its prior legal rulings to enter in, and through such ruling launched a wholesale change of American jurisprudence.  [Detailed, in part, in the body of this present paper (see especially pages 21-26).]

Appendix: B

The Woman Taken in Adultery

By Rousas John Rushdoony

During the course of our analysis of the law, repeated references were made to the confirmation of the law in the Gospels.  It is not our purpose here either to repeat those confirmations or to attempt an exhaustive catalogue of every reference to the law in the Gospels.  One event, however, although cited in some detail earlier, deserves further attention: the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8:1-11. Because this particular incident has been cited as an instance of the setting aside of the law, as the prime example, in fact, it needs further attention because it in fact is a confirmation of the law. Had the incident been at all antinomian, it would have provided the scribes and Pharisees with exactly the charge they wanted with which to condemn Jesus. The charge of Jesus against the scribes and Phari- sees was precisely their antinomianism; He had strongly denounced them publicly for their neglect of the law for tradition (Matt. 15:1-10). No answer was possible against this charge: clearly, the leaders of the people had set aside the law by means of their humanistic legal tradition. The whole point of the attack of these leaders was to try to show that Jesus, when confronted by the hard facts of a concrete case, would be no more a strict champion of the law than they were. The culminating example of this attempt to embarrass Jesus was this incident of the woman taken in adultery. To ask for the full enforcement of the law, the death penalty, would have been to invite hostility, because the pre- vailing attitude was one of moral laxity. To deny the death penalty would have enabled the Pharisees to charge Jesus with hypocrisy: He would then have been in the same school of thought as the Pharisees He condemned. Quite obviously, Jesus did not take an antinomian stand, because the Pharisees left, confounded, and the incident obviously confirmed Jesus as the champion of the law. A woman had been “taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4). The woman was “brought unto him.” We cannot assume that she came voluntarily. She may have been dragged there, but the text does not indicate this. Apparently “the scribes and Pharisees” involved had police powers, or had, with the assistance of the authorities, used such legal powers as were necessary to compel her compliance. Having such legal authority, they were also requiring that Jesus preside at the hearing. The man involved in the act was not brought forward; we have no knowledge of the reason for this, although it would appear

that it would have aggravated the “offense” of Jesus had He either demanded the death penalty for a woman, or, on the other hand, allowed an adulterous woman to go free. More emotional reaction could be milked by the use of an adulterous woman than an adulterous man. “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him” (John 8:5-6). The reason for the incident is plainly stated: grounds for an accusation against Jesus were sought. Would Jesus persist as the champion of the law, or would He retreat into the use of some aspect of the pharisaic tradition? “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not” (John 8:6). At this point, the comment of Burgon is most telling and deserves full citation:

The Scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to our SAVIOR on a charge of adultery. The sin prevailed to such an extent among the Jews that the Divine enactments concerning one so accused had long since fallen into practical oblivion. On the present occasion our LORD is observed to revive His own ancient ordinance after a hitherto unheard of fashion. The trial by bitter water, or water of conviction (See Num. v. 11-31), was a species of ordeal, intended for the vindication of innocence, the conviction of guilt. But ac- cording to the traditional belief the test proved inefficacious, unless the husband himself was innocent of the crime whereof he accused his wife.  Let the provisions of the law, contained in Num. v. 16 to 24,

be now considered. The accused Woman having been brought near, and set before the LORD, the priest took “holy water in an earthen vessel,” and put “of the dust of the floor of the tabernacle into the water.” Then, with the bitter water that causeth the curse in his hand, he charged the woman by oath. Next, he wrote the curses in a book and blotted them out with the bitter water; causing the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse. Whereupon if she were guilty, she fell under a terrible penalty,—her body testifying visibly to her sin. If she was innocent, nothing followed. And now, who sees not that the Holy One dealt with His hypo- critical assailants, as if they had been the accused parties? Into the presence of incarnate JEHOVAH verily they had been brought: and perhaps when He stooped down and wrote upon the ground. it was a bitter sentence against the adulterer and adulteress which He wrote. We have but to assume some connexion between the curse which He thus traced “in the dust of the floor of the tabernacle” and the words which He uttered with His lips, and He may with truth be declared to have “taken of the dust and put it on the water,” and “caused them to drink of the bitter water which causeth the curse.” For when, by His Holy Spirit, our great High Priest in His human flesh addressed these adulterers,—what did He but present them with living water (v. 17. So the LXX) “in an earthen vessel” (2 Cor. iv. 7; v. 1)? Did He not further charge them with

an oath of cursing, saying, “If ye have not gone aside to uncleanness, be ye free from the bitter water: but if ye be defiled”—On being presented with which alternative, did they not, self-convicted, go out one by one? And what else was this but their own acquittal of the sinful woman, for whose condemnation they had shewed them- selves so impatient? Surely it was “the water of conviction” as it is six times called, which they had been compelled to drink; where- upon, “convicted by their own conscience,” as St. John relates, they had pronounced the other’s acquittal. Finally, note that by Himself declining to “condemn” the accused woman, our LORD also did in effect blot out those curses which He had already written against her in the dust,—when He made the floor of the sanctuary His “book.”1

Because this incident took place in the temple (John 8:2), Burgon’s comment is all the more to the point. The temple dust He wrote in met the requirements of the law. His action placed every accuser on trial immediately; that they were aware of this, the text makes clear, for we are told that all felt “convicted by their own conscience” (John 8:9). Charges had been made against the woman by the “scribes and Pharisees.” Their charges represented a clear-cut case against a woman taken in “the very act” of adultery. The counter-charges by Jesus, by His actions and by His declaration, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7), broke them. As themselves guilty men, they suspected secret evidence on His part against them They were busy trying to collect evidence against Jesus; this made it easier for them to believe that Jesus had done the same to them. These scribes and Pharisees had preferred charges against the woman in the place of her husband; Jesus placed them in the husband’s category by invoking Numbers 5 by His writing in the dust.

If they were guilty, and Jesus knew of their guilt, then, if He invoked the death penalty, could He not charge them also? By invoking

Numbers 5, Jesus in effect placed them on trial also: did they come

to judgement with clean hands? It will not do to plead the “high moral standards” of Pharisees, These men were planning the death of Jesus. In the face of their deliberate and calculating plans against God’s Messiah, the sin of adultery was a trifling matter to such men. They had no stomach for an accusation against them which could cite God’s requirement a death penalty. When Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7), He was not referring to sins in general but to the sin of adultery. A general statement would mean no court of law is possible; the specific reference meant that men 1. John W. Burgon, The Woman Taken in Adultery, p. 239 f. On the evidences for the authenticity of this passage, see p. 246 ff.

guilty of a crime were not morally free to condemn that crime in another unless they condemned it in themselves. We are told that all these scribes and Pharisees were then “convicted by their own conscience” (vs. 9). Moreover, Jesus had confirmed the death penalty; He had simply demanded honest witnesses to step forward and execute her, to “first cast a stone at her” (vs. 7). To remain as witnesses against her was to invite witnesses against themselves; to testify to a witnessed fact and confirm a death penalty against the woman was to invite a witness unto death against themselves. They left. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: Go, and sin no more (John 8:10-11). At this point, it is necessary to distinguish between civil or juridical forgiveness. Civil forgiveness occurs when a condemned person pays the penalty for his crime, when restitution is made and the moral claims of the law are satisfied. A thief who had robbed a man of an ox and restored fivefold is thereupon forgiven. Religious forgiveness requires as a prior condition restitution, or civil forgiveness. A thief cannot be forgiven religiously if he has not made restitution. There is a similar distinction between civil condemnation and religious condemnation. Civil condemnation is for offenses against the civil law; religious condemnation is both for offenses against the civil law and for disbelief of God and His law-word. The two kinds of forgiveness and condemnation are distinct but related. Jesus had been asked to make a pronouncement on the civil law with respect to adultery; He affirmed the death penalty. The witnesses, however, had withdrawn their charge and had disappeared. There was thus no legal case against the woman. Legally, Jesus could not therefore sustain a case: “Neither do I condemn thee.” But a moral case existed. The humility of the woman, who ac- knowledged Him to be “Lord,” indicates some evidence of change in her, and perhaps regeneration. But Jesus simply said, “Go, and sin no more,” an echo of His words in John 5:14, “sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” It is more than possible that she was religiously a changed person, and forgiven by God’s grace. We are simply told that no ground for legal condemnation existed at the moment. This does not rule out subsequent legal condemnation; her husband, if she had one, is not evident in this episode, but he would have had grounds for some kind of action, under existing law, if he chose. This is not the concern

of the text. She was granted acquittal in terms of the evidences of the immediate “hearing.” Jesus recognized the reality of her offense by His warning, “Go, and sin no more.” The fact of this warning indi- cates some evidences of a change in her, since it was contrary to our Lord’s practice to warn those who would not be warned (Matt. 7:6). For Christ to tell an unregenerate person to “sin no more” is unreason- able. The particular sin referred to was adultery. She was charged with a responsibility to chastity as an aspect of her new life in Christ.

The woman addressed Jesus as “Lord” (John 8:11); the scribes and Pharisees simply called Him “Master” (vs. 4), and the disciples them- selves often spoke of Him as simply “Rabbi” (John 1:49). Her con- duct here indicated a changed person. In brief, instead of any evidence of antinomianism, this episode confirmed emphatically the position of Jesus as the champion of the law, and He confounded the attempts of the scribes and Pharisees to prove otherwise. The sin of Phariseeism was thus exposed. Phariseeism, first of all, denied the necessity of conversion. Man, by his unaided free will, is able to save himself, to choose between good and evil and make himself good. Both free will and self-salvation were thus affirmed, and pre- destination and conversion or regeneration denied.2 Second, the Phari- sees had, while professing to hold to the law of God, converted it into the traditions of men. Thus, they had denied the Biblical doctrines of justification and sanctification and were accordingly the particular target of Christ’s denunciation. The Pharisees, professing to be cham- pions of God’s word, were in fact its enemies and perverters. 2. See Hugo Odeberg, Phariseeism and Christianity (St. Louis: Concordia, 1964).

I am very happy to have presented the above extended passage which is quoted from Rousas John Rushdoony’s INSTITUTES OF BIBLICAL LAW, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, The Craig Press, 1973

 “I most heartily recommend this, his central and finest work, to the reader."

Emerging Church Economics

There are too many errors in this book for unsophisticated readers. McLaren’s book has value only to readers who recognize the mistakes but are willing to learn about a position that springs from ideology and a theological framework. For me, the emerging church movement is enough to consider by itself without flawed economics intertwined

Mordecai Kaplan: Rethinking Judaism for the New World

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