Under a non-Christian government anything can become a capital crime. For example, under the heading "Capital Punishment," Bouvier's Law Dictionary reveals those crimes, at the end of the 18th Century, that were punishable by death:
"…in England, as late as [King] Geo. III. [1738-1820], there were about two hundred offences punishable by death, among which were cutting down a tree, robbing a rabbit warren, harboring an offender against the revenue acts, stealing in a dwelling-house to the amount of forty shillings, or in a shop goods to the amount of five shillings, counterfeiting the stamps that were used for the sale of perfumery, etc." 1
Moreover, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for a government to make the adherents of any religion it opposes or the descendants of any lineage subject to the death penalty. Consider Balak, King of Moab in Numbers 22-24, Haman in the book of Esther and the Herods of Bible history.
Asaph's prayer stands as a warning to God's people for all times:
O God, do not remain quiet; do not be silent and, O God, do not be still. For, behold, Thine enemies make an uproar; and those who hate Thee have exalted themselves [into governmental positions of authority]. They make shrewd plans against Thy people, and conspire together against Thy treasured ones. They have said, "Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more." (Psalm 83:2-4 NASV2)
Anyone who thinks that this is not a legitimate reason to be opposed to capital punishment ought to consider the parents of the Israelite baby boys under Pharaoh's reign - Exodus 1, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego under Nebuchadnezzar's reign - Daniel 3, Daniel under Darius' reign - Daniel 6, John the Immerser under Herod's reign - Matthew 14, and Stephen under the Pharisees' jurisdiction - Acts 7. Those victims were, undoubtedly, for abolishing the death penalty under the non-Israelite and/or non-Christian governments of their day.
Only a Christian government founded upon the never-changing and perfect morality of Yahweh's laws can be completely trusted with the implementation of the death penalty.
Two or Three Witness
The requirement of two or more corroborating witnesses to any capital crime is clearly mandated in the Scriptures as a requisite for the death penalty:
At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. (Deuteronomy 17:6)
In contrast to Yahweh's judicial protocol, even with capital punishment being administered as rarely as it is today, there have been numerous cases where someone has been put to death under America's current judicial system predicated exclusively upon circumstantial evidence.
Perjury: A Capital Crime in Capital Cases
Under the law of Yahweh, it is unlikely that someone would testify falsely in capital cases since, in Yahweh's wisdom, a perjurer in such cases was himself to be put to death:
If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before YHWH3, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; and the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:16-21)
Except on behalf of his past and possible future victims, I found it difficult to rejoice when Ted Bundy was finally executed. The antagonists to the death penalty are at times correct; capital punishment sometimes is not a deterrent to future criminals. In fact, according to King Solomon, sometimes capital punishment is a catalyst for more crime:
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. (Ecclesiastes 8:11 NASV)
When felons, such as Ted Bundy, can postpone their execution for prolonged periods of time by means of America's appellate system, criminals are encouraged in their unlawful behavior rather than deterred. You can almost hear the reasoning of a would-be criminal as he contemplates a life of crime:
"First, they have to catch me, and if they do, I might escape! If I don't escape, the prison system isn't so bad. Heck, it's three square meals, a bed, as much television as I want and I don't have to work for a living! And, what's the likelihood of any judge or jury sentencing me to death for my crime? Even if they do, I'm sure to have some sympathetic humane group attach themselves to my cause and plead for leniency or even clemency! And, even if a judge won't hear of it, I have the appellate courts to rely upon. And, if my case is not overturned, how many years on death row will it be until they actually execute me. By then I'll be an old man and I won't care anyhow! Looking at it this way, the odds are in my favor!"
And he is right! Under America's current judicial system, the odds are in the criminal's favor! Capital punishment can only be the deterrent to future potential criminals that God intends it to be, if the execution of a properly convicted criminal is carried out posthaste.
Stoning and Burning at the Stake
Opponents to the death penalty believe that any form of capital punishment is inhumane. Even the champions of capital punishment seem to always be looking for a less cruel method to execute someone condemned to die. Both opponents and proponents alike claim to be motivated by mercy. However, someone needs to ask the question: "Mercy for whom?" Certainly not the victims or the victim's next-of-kin! Certainly not society! Certainly not potential criminals! To put it succinctly, non-repentant murderers, rapists and other capital felons do not deserve mercy.
The immediate removal of a criminal from society is only capital punishment's secondary purpose. The primary purpose is its future effect upon the masses, that is, to deter others from criminal behavior so that there will be fewer criminals and, therefore, fewer victims. Consequently, in order for the death penalty to be the greatest possible deterrent, Yahweh made the form of execution to be harsh and harrowing, what some people might even term "cruel and unusual." In other words, the harsher the punishment, the greater the deterrent becomes. As a simple illustration: People are less likely to write checks against insufficient funds when they are penalized thirty dollars rather than thirty cents. Likewise, people are less likely to commit felonies when the consequence is the maximum penalty for that crime. This would be true especially if it is made mandatory that the whole community attends and even participates in public executions as required according to Yahweh's law:
…YHWH spake unto Moses, saying, Bring forth him that hath cursed without [outside] the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. …And he that blasphemeth the name of YHWH, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land…. (Leviticus 24:13-16)
…YHWH said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without [outside] the camp. (Numbers 15:35)
The Execution of Achan
Yahweh did not prescribe hangings, decapitations, firing squads, gassings, electrocutions or lethal injections as the methods of execution in capital cases. Instead, there are only two methods of execution authorized in the Scriptures. Stoning is called for most often, probably because it allows for the blood avenger or next-of-kin to be personally involved in the execution:
…if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities [of refuge]: Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. (Deuteronomy 19:11-12)
The following list delineates the crimes for which the offender is to be stoned:
- 1st Commandment Transgression/Other Gods Before Yahweh - Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 13:1-10; 17:2-5; Luke 19:27; Romans 1:30-32
Witchcraft - Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27
Contempt of Court - Deuteronomy 17:5, 9-13
- 2nd Commandment Transgression/Idolatry - Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 13:1-10; Romans 1:30-32
- 3rd Commandment Transgression/Blasphemy - Leviticus 24:10-16, 23; John 10:30-33
- 4th Commandment Transgression/Sabbath Desecration - Exodus 31:14-15; 35:2; Numbers 15:32-36
- 5th Commandment Transgression/Extreme Cases of Child Rebellion - Exodus 21:15 (striking one's parents); Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9 (cursing one's parents); Deuteronomy 21:18-23 (stubbornness, rebellion, gluttony and drunkenness); Romans 1:30-32
- 6th Commandment Transgression/Murder - Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 21:12, 14, 28-31; Leviticus 20:2; 24:17, 21; Numbers 35:16-21, 30-31, 33-34; Deuteronomy 19:11-13, 21; Romans 1:29-324
Kidnapping - Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7
Perjury in Capital Cases - Deuteronomy 19:16-21
- 7th Commandment Transgression/Adultery - Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22-24; John 8:3-5
Homosexuality - Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-32
Incest - Leviticus 20:11-12
Bestiality - Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 20:15-16
Non-Virgin Deceitfully Marrying - Deuteronomy 22:13-24
Rape - Deuteronomy 22:25-27
The second method of execution imposed in the Bible is burning at the stake. It is prescribed for only the following two crimes:
- Marriage to Both a Mother and Her Daughter - Leviticus 20:14
- Whoredom by a Relative of a Priest - Leviticus 21:9
There are also two capital crimes for which the Scriptures do not designate the form of execution:
- False Prophets - Deuteronomy 18:20-22
- Those Who Set Aside the Law of Moses - Hebrews 10:285
Yahweh’s Penal System
Under Yahweh's penal system, prisons are unnecessary except for detainment until a trial convenes and a verdict is rendered:
…the Israelitish woman's son blasphemed the name of YHWH, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: …And they put him in ward, that the mind of YHWH might be shewed them. (Leviticus 24:11-12)
…while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. … And they [Moses and Aaron] put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. (Numbers 15:32-34)
Incarceration is not a part of Yahweh's punitive design. A convicted criminal is either put to death or is required to pay restitution to the victim or victim's next-of-kin, depending upon the crime. If someone is unwilling to pay the restitution required by the law in non-capital cases, their contempt of court then becomes a capital crime for which they should be executed:
…the man [guilty of contempt of court] that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before YHWH thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously. (Deuteronomy 17:12-13)
America's prison system forces the victims to pay twice: First by the criminal and then by a government that taxes them to pay for the housing, feeding, clothing and entertainment of the murderers, rapists and thieves who victimized them. Under Yahweh's penal system, only the criminal pays.
Repentance and Conversion
Prior to any execution there needs to be Biblical instruction and the opportunity for repentance. Legal precedence for this is found in Ezra 9 and 10. We are informed that "The holy race [the Israelites had] intermingled with ["married"] the [non-Israelite] peoples of the lands." Ezra called for the guilty to repent and then honored their repentance when those Israelites put away their foreign wives. Thus, in Yahweh's sovereign plan, genuine repentance could be a consideration when judgment was being rendered in criminal cases. The Apostle Paul wrote about people who had committed capital felonies but who had become a part of the church of Corinth. The church was, in this sense, the New Covenant equivalent to the Old Testament city of refuge:
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind [homosexuals], nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus6, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Judges, victims or the victim's next-of-kin can consider such repentance and conversion as an extenuating factor when deciding whether such a person should be put to death, except in murder cases. Note, there were no murderers listed in the previous passage. Yahweh's law demanded that murderers must be executed:
…ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I YHWH dwell among the children of Israel. (Numbers 35:30-34)
But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him [the murderer] from mine altar, that he may die. (Exodus 21:14)
King Solomon spared Adonijah's life for his crime when Adonijah took hold of the horns of the altar in the tabernacle - 1 Kings 1:50-53, but he did not spare Joab's life for his crimes of murder when Joab took the same desperate measure - 1 Kings 2:28-34.
Deterrent or Not
The opponents to capital punishment argue that the death penalty is not a deterrent to future lawbreakers. You must choose to believe either the rationale of these modern-day "pacifists" (who are often the same people who promote murdering babies while in the womb of their mothers) or Yahweh the creator and sustainer of the universe. Yahweh puts an end to the debate:
When the scoffer [the disobedient] is punished, the naive becomes wise…. (Proverbs 21:11 NASV)
The execution of justice [judgment] is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity. (Proverbs 21:15 NASV)
…when thy [Yahweh's] judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. (Isaiah 26:9)
The phrase (or something almost identical), "And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you." follows the mandate for the death penalty four times in Scripture - Deuteronomy 13:11, 17:13, 19:20 and 21:21. Additionally, the Apostle Paul made it clear that capital punishment is indeed a deterrent, when carried out quickly and according to Biblical protocol:
For [Christian] rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it [the Christian ruler] is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath [punishment] upon the one who practices evil. (Romans 13:3-4 NASV) 7
If the death penalty is not a deterrent to criminal behavior, then those who claim that capital punishment is barbaric are right. This would then mean that Yahweh, the God of the Christian Bible, is also barbaric since he clearly instituted capital punishment for at least twenty different felonies. Those who call themselves "New Testament Christians" regretfully play right into the hands of the anti-capital punishment pacifists. Such Christians make a distinction between the "God of the Old Testament" and the "God of the New Testament." They declare that "the God of the Old Testament was a cruel, vengeful and hard God" whereas "the God of the New Testament is loving and merciful and a God of grace." Are there two gods in the Bible? The Bible adamantly rejects such a notion:
…I am YHWH I change not…. (Malachi 3:6)
Jesus [the] Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)
Moreover, consider also the following Old Testament descriptions of Yahweh:
…YHWH God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. (Exodus 34:6)
"O give thanks unto YHWH; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever. (1 Chronicles 16:34)
…thou [Yahweh] art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness…. (Nehemiah 9:17)
"Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord YHWH, "rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? … "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord YHWH. "Therefore, repent and live." (Ezekiel 18:23-32 NASV)
Whether viewed from the Old Testament or New Testament perspective, Yahweh is a God of love, grace and mercy. Thus, capital punishment, conceived by a loving and merciful God, cannot be barbaric. Instead, Yahweh instituted capital punishment as a deterrent to criminal behavior, and it is a deterrent when it is administered according to His Word.
There are many liberals and non-Christians who are opposed to the death penalty. Christians, likewise, should be opposed to capital punishment except when it is carried out according to Yahweh's laws, preferably by a Christian government, based upon the testimony of two or more witnesses and with the stipulation that premeditated or intentional false witnesses be put to death. The death penalty must also be administered in a timely manner, and stoning or burning at the stake should be the preferable methods of execution.
Both the Old and New Testament8 ordain the death penalty as a judgment for, and a deterrent to, capital crime. Nevertheless, it must be implemented in the Biblically ordained fashion, or it could cause more harm than good. As we strive and work toward the Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, it must be understood that it cannot be accomplished by compromising Yahweh's ways.9
A copy of this article is available in MS Word in a zipped file and can be downloaded HERE.
1. John Bouvier, "Capital Punishment," Bouvier's Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia of the Law (Kansas City, Missouri: Vernon Law Book Company, 1914) Volume 1, p. 420.
2. All scripture is quoted from the King James Bible unless otherwise noted.
3. Where the Tetragrammaton "YHWH" (the four Hebrew characters that represent the personal name of God) has been incorrectly rendered as "the LORD" or "GOD" in Scripture, the author has taken the liberty to correct those passages and insert "Yahweh."
4. Killing someone in self-defense, stopping someone in the commission of a crime, accidental killing, killing someone in war and capital punishment are not considered acts of murder.
5. Certain Christians erroneously use Ezekiel 18:13 to teach that usury is a capital crime. The context (verses 10-13) demonstrates that the person to be executed was to be put to death for "all these abominations," which included murder, idolatry and adultery. Anyone of those three acts alone is a capital crime for which the perpetrator should be put to death.
"Thou shalt not commit usury" is not one of the Ten Commandments; it is a statute under one of the Ten Commandments. A statute is never punishable with a penalty more severe than its commandment. "Thou shalt not commit usury" belongs under the 8th Commandment - "Thou shalt not steal." The punishment for stealing was restitution, not execution.
6. "Yeshua" is the English transliteration of our Savior's Hebrew name, and is preferred by the author.
7. For an expository explanation of Romans 13:1-7, Christian Duty Under Corrupt Government, A Revolutionary Commentary on Romans 13:1-7, by Evangelist Ted R. Weiland, may be ordered from Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363. A $8.00 donation is suggested.
8. Opponents to the death penalty often cite John 8:3-11 in which Yeshua pardoned the woman caught in adultery. However, rather than repealing capital punishment, Yeshua upheld it. In fact, it is often overlooked that Yeshua initially declared that the woman should be stoned. However, in the absence of the required two witnesses, Yeshua could not administer the law of Yahweh, so He let the woman go free. Had Yeshua not upheld and perfectly kept His Father's law, He would have been a sinner and could not have been our Savior. The same applies to Yeshua's statements in Matthew 5:38-41. Rather than overturning the Old Testament law and morality of Yahweh on criminal punishment, Yeshua was simply addressing personal vengeance.
9. Capital Punishment - Deterrent or Stimulus? is available on a 60-minute cassette tape from Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363 for a suggested donation of $4.00, or it may be obtained on listen-and-return basis.