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Should a Christian Support Political Action to Legislate Capital Punishment?

The purpose of this paper is to inaugurate a discussion of Capital Punishment from a new perspective. I have always been a conservative and an advocate of the Death Penalty. I have also been a "Theonomist," a "Christian Reconstructionist," a defender of the application of the Old Testament to the social and political problems of our day. I have also upheld the traditional view of the State as a "Divine Institution." I now have many questions that are causing me to reject the traditional view of both the State and of "the sword." I would like to pose some of my questions and gain your insights and hear your opinions. I am not an "expert," I'm just a student of the Scriptures, and I trust you are too.[1]

Capital Punishment and the State

Most of my questions about the death penalty revolve around the issue of the State. To the question posed above I tend to answer "No" if for no other reason than that all efforts to increase the power of a non-Christian State tend to undermine the strength of the Family.

I have been studying the Anabaptists of the 16th century, many of whom were tortured and executed for their faith,[2] for independent study of the Bible, and for belief in "the separation of church and state," that is, their belief that the State had no right to do many of the things it was doing (although they did not speak in terms of "a wall of separation").

Some Anabaptists questioned the goodness and even the legitimacy of the State. They did so by questioning the use of violence, or "the sword." Since one of the basic (if not defining) characteristics of the State is the power to execute people, to question "the sword" is not only to question capital punishment but the very power of the State itself.

I question the State itself. The Bible presents us with a social ideal which is Patriarchal, not Political. The Family is the basic unit of society, and the Family is not commanded by God to form a State. Such an act is in fact forbidden. We will examine this anti-poltical perspective in more detail.

Belief in the legitimacy of the State and some of the more important doctrines it has promulgated, has led to much confusion in the interpretation of the Scriptures. The modern doctrine of "The Separation of Church and State" has been a particular menace in the study of the Old Testament Statutes which have traditionally been used to support Capital Punishment. We will also have to examine this concept in more detail.

Capital Punishment and God's Law

But even if we had the perfect State (granting the possibility of such) with you and I heading it up (granting the permissibility of such), I would still have doubts as to how we should enact the "judicial laws" of the Old Covenant; specifically, I wonder,

Is it Now God's Prescriptive Will
for One or more Men
to Shed Another Man's Blood
for Capital Crimes?

By "Capital Crimes" I mean crimes for which the Bible commands a response of killing, whether by stoning, or any other means. This question contains four issues that must be resolved before a Christian can unreservedly lobby for Capital Punishment in our day. Each of these issues prompts many questions, which I shall number for easy reference.

Go to Discerning God's Will


1. "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11).  [Back to Text]

2. By both the Catholics and the Reformers. The Anabaptists were part of the Reformation, but they advocated a more consistent reformation, which threatened the "progress" of the "magisterial reformers" (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli) who wanted the approval of the State before returning to the Scriptures. These events are chronicled in our Studyletter, "Generic Christianity"..  [Back to Text]